Old Age Mutant Ninja Turtles Happy Together?

01Jul12

 Did the earth stop moving for you, too?
“If anything could be more embarrassing than dying while having sex, it might be being preserved in flagrante delicto for millions of years so that members of an advanced species could dig you up, gawk at you, and write a journal paper about your final romantic encounter. For a group of ancient turtles, this nightmare just came true.” Stuff  Science 21/6/12*

 “Imagine me and you, I do. I think about you day and night, it’s only right. To think about the girl you love and hold her tight.The only one for me is you and you for me…so happy together…how is the weather?…we’re happy together.”  ‘Happy Together’   The Turtles*

We’ll never know if the turtles were happy together in their forever frozen pose after such a long engagement and an even longer honeymoon.* The photographically featured duo, sticking their necks out eternally but forever making no progress -and certainly never going back into their shells-were one of nine couples (each a male and a female, no same sex couples here) of a species of aquatic turtle which perished while working on their survival strategy 47 million years ago and were then preserved in flagrante delicto (for our study rather than our delectation) as the first fossil record of its kind among vertebrates.

The unfortunate frolicking fossils provide critical clues about the environment in which they lived: the Messel pit, a fossil site in west-central Germany, which has yielded many well-preserved remains of a range of species. They also raised some interesting questions. Why did the reptiles turn turtle, sink carapace down and expire?

One increasingly air-tight hypothesis is that while surface waters of the ancient lake were oxygenated, deeper layers were oxygen-poor and possibly saturated with carbon dioxide or other toxic substances. The lack of oxygen in deep water would help explain the pristine preservation of creatures whose remains fell to the lake bottom in situ. Formal dress may be de rigueur at many weddings but rigor mortis not so much. Being marinated alive in a lethal turtle soup and then metamorphosing into fossilised stone was no joke for the participants.

Old Turtle Jokes
T
he best turtle jokes are naturally short and snappy. Unfortunately these are the only G-rated anecdotes I can find:
‘A lorry-load of tortoises crashed into a trainload of terrapins. It was a turtle disaster.’ 
It’s short anyway. Or how about:
‘A dishevelled tortoise limps slowly into a police station and announces:. “I’ve been mugged by a murderous gang of mutant teenage snails!” “Calm down,” says the cop. “Just tell us everything that happened.” “That’s a bit tricky,” says the tortoise. “It all happened so fast!”’

Ok, that’s not very short but it’s very old and ancient is a convenient bridge to several scientific discoveries coincidentally  announced over the last week, at a time when the rather slow developing movie “Tortoise in Love” screened at Masters Sumner and “Rock of Ages” was playing elsewhere in this cinema scarce city.

Oldest Galaxy?
Last week it was announced that a team of Japanese astronomers, using telescopes in Hawaii, have discovered a galaxy that is 12.91 billion years old, which would make their discovery the oldest galaxy ever recorded* The discovery was made by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan who used telescopes located on the summit of Mauna Kea.

Scientists postulate that the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago, give or take a leap year or two. If this new finding is validated it could mean the new more powerful telescopes being used by scientists are in fact delving further into the reaches of our universe than ever before as the images below show.*

Oldest Animal?
Also last week University of Alberta scientists say they have uncovered the fossilized trails of an ancient slug, a millimetre wide and three millimetres long, with a discernible front and a rear and a top and a bottom, that proves complex life evolved 30 million years earlier than thought.* Tiny tracks, found in a South American rock formation, date back 585 million years. The fossil find reported on Thursday in the journal Science, allows an important addition to  evolutionary chronology.

In the words of geomicrobiologist Kurt Konhauser: “We now have the oldest physical evidence that multi-cellular life that could move was around between 600 million and 585 million years ago…”  Mobile cells-sounds familiar. It appears that before these animals evolved, there were single-celled life such as bacteria and eventually other creatures such as sponges, which could not move.

It was a very long slug from that era to the age of the amatory turtles and thence to the evolutionary quantum leap which led directly to the Chawners.*  Last Chance for the Chawners, the very last episode, fingers crossed, recapped the weighty issues faced by this English family. It involved one wedding (a re-run, like much on TV) but no funerals. It was screened on TV1 during prime time last night just to remind us that it was also the last night of TVNZ7, which 24 hours later is already an instant fossil.

Old Lonesome George
The death of Lonesome George last week spells the end of the last chance for a tortoise species*.  George, the last remaining tortoise of his kind and a conservation emblem, died last week of unknown causes, the Galapagos National Park said. He was thought to be about 100 years old and the last member of a species of giant tortoise from La Pinta, one of the smallest islands in the Galapagos.

George was scarcely middle aged: the giant Galapagos tortoises could live for up to 200 years old.  He was found in 1972 and had become a symbol of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwins “Órigin of the Species” live laboratory for five weeks in 1835. George belonged to one of the species that helped Darwin formulate his theory of evolution*. As Dean Farrow says “It’s a shame that Charles Darwin isn’t alive today to witness the genetic decay and extinctions of our time”.

At least Ecuador may soon have Lonely Julian in part compensation if the Australian Wikileaks founder manages to avoid extradition to Sweden or worse. The on-line Assange may not be the live drawcard the late giant tortoise turned out to be. The Galapagos National Park, helped by LG, attracted 180,000 visitors last year, some of whom will have picked up on an important principle about the life expectancy of household pets:  “Pets eventually grow old and die, causing your children great emotional trauma. Be sure to only choose pets which will outlive them, such as the giant Pacific sea tortoise.”

What has all this taught us?
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature he finds it attached to the rest of the world”John Muir 
We start with a single thing in nature and end up talking of the expiry of whole species not just special individuals. Of course, a lot of the causes of murderous mayhem as well as the life sustaining ingredients on our Blue Planet were set in train on day dot by the long term physics effects of the Big Bang, filling all space from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle, resulting in the dynamic, organic, volcanic, seismic spaceship on which we travel with other living things.

Solving a very cold case
Whatever the natural and man made causes of the extinction of species, other animals have also played their part in the evolutionary race between extinction and survival, albeit on a more local level. It was also revealed last week that a really cold case in Australia has been solved. No, not the Azaria Chamberlain case: scientists have discovered a frightening weapon used by one of Australia’s deadliest prehistoric predators to attack its prey. Banjo, or Australovenator wintonensis, became the most complete example of a carnivorous dinosaur discovered in Australia after its skeleton was found in central west Queensland in 2006.

Recently paleontologists from the Australian Age of Dinosaur Museum, where the skeleton is currently housed, found a missing claw. Paleontologist Matt White says the 15cm hooked claw was the missing link that showed how the five metre long killing machine was able to dispatch its prey.

This could also well be the missing genetic clue to explain why Aussie sports people have such a highly developed killer instinct- and why the dingo did indeed do it.

 *Blinks
http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/7143581/The-47-million-year-old-sex-act Stuff Science 21/6/12 Phot. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFlNxDGPlvA Happy Together   The Turtles Vid.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbK5p-631KY  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Forever Vid.
http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/lonesome-george-famed-galapagos-tortoise-dies-4944659
Don Gibson – Oh Lonesome Me  Rec.
http://www.inquisitr.com/253965/japanese-astronomers-discover-oldest-galaxy/
Photos of Oldest Galaxy http://www.canada.com/technology/Alberta+researchers+help+find+earliest+evidence+mobile+life/6855988/story.html  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bxk_9bY1rRI   D-Jahsta – Slug Bass Rec.
The Chawners’ Last Chance | Television New Zealand – TVNZ  The very last episode-hopefully. Vid.
http://darwin-online.org.uk/EditorialIntroductions/Chancellor_Keynes_Galapagos.html Darwin’s field notes on the Galapagos: ‘A little world within itself’
http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/7184408/Prehistoric-killers-nasty-weapon-found

#Lyall Lukey  1 July 2012
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz
http://lukeytraining.wordpress.com/ My other (bit more serious) blog

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