Big birds don’t always flock together

If you had to think of the biggest bird you know, you'd probably conjure up an image of an ostrich (Struthio camelus). If you have some familiarity with Australian fauna, the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) might also come to mind. If you're a bird watching champion back home, you might even know about the cassowaries (Casuarius spp.) and the rheas …

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Genetics points to repeated leg loss in lizards

Typically when you one thinks of legless reptiles, snakes come to mind. Their long slithering bodies and forked tongues are unmistakable, and for many people, snakes conjure up their worst fears. If given the choice of holding a lizard or a snake, many people would not hesitate to choose the former. Despite the superficial dissimilarities between snakes …

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Echolocating bats are not all genetically similar

In addition to being able to fly, bats are relatively unique in having the capability to echolocate. Echolocation in bats, just like in a submarine, involves directing sounds out into the environment and detecting the reflecting sound waves. By comparing where the reflecting sounds come from, bats flying in the dark can estimate their distance from prey items and …

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DNA suggests sloths, armadillos and anteaters are each other’s closest relatives

When one thinks of sloths anteaters and armadillos it's difficult to imagine mammals that are more different from each other. Sloths look a bit like lorises and pottos: arboreal, tailless mammals that move quite slowly. Armadillos look somewhat like pangolins, with their scaly armor. Technically, pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, probably have more in common with …

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DNA suggests whales descended from land mammals

If you were asked what kinds of animals a whale most resembles, what would you say? Fishes? Sharks? Manatees? Perhaps even seals and sea lions? Whales live their whole lives in the water, and have a host of anatomical and physiological features that make them feel right at home there. So if DNA encodes these …

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Molecular phylogenetics: Using DNA to determine your ultimate paternity

After the discovery of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), scientists began to learn that this molecule was largely responsible for how organisms look and function and that DNA is passed from parents to offspring. Together, these discoveries explained why we look so similar to our parents, why we tend to look more similar to our siblings than …

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