This week we invite you to step away from your regular news cycle and enjoy these exciting, feel-good nature stories from around the world!

Ancient News

During the Mesozoic, or "Middle Life" Era, big reptiles like dinosaurs were known to rule most of the planet, from Siberia all the way down to the Antarctic. This period of time was aptly known as the "age of reptiles" or the "age of dinosaurs." This week scientists are not only rejoicing the discovery that the earliest dinosaur eggs may have been soft-shelled, but they're also celebrating the first fossilised dinosaur egg to be found in Antarctica (which, incidentally, may also have had a soft-shell)!

A side view of the fossil of the giant soft-shelled egg found in Antarctica. Image © Legendre et al. 2020

The exciting findings were published in two separate studies last week and they collectively add a great deal to what we know about ancient reptile reproduction. Researchers showed that hard-shelled eggs evolved three separate times throughout the dinosaurs’ reign on our planet. "The assumption has always been that the ancestral dinosaur egg was hard-shelled," said Mark Norell, palaeontologist and curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

A lack of calcified eggshells in two separate dinosaur embryo finds – one from Mongolia and another from Argentina – sparked in inquiry from palaeontologists who found that the chemical composition of the dino eggs resembled that of soft eggshells. "We had to come up with a brand-new proxy to be sure that what we were seeing was how the eggs were in life, and not just a result of some strange fossilisation effect,” Jasmina Weimann, co-author and graduate student at Yale, said in a press release.

Meanwhile in Antarctica, a research team uncovered a 68-million-year-old fossilised egg measuring nearly a foot long. It's the second largest egg fossil ever discovered and the only one of its kind to be found on the chilly continent. The egg – believed to have belonged to an ancient marine creature – was also shown to lack the internal structure and pores of hard-shelled eggs suggesting that it, too, may have been soft.

What egg-cellent news!

Rediscoveries and new life

Nearly 130 years ago, an Italian explorer named Elio Modigliani knocked on the door of a natural history museum in Genoa and handed over a lizard specimen preserved in alcohol that he'd discovered during an expedition to Indonesia. But this was no ordinary creature. The reptile – decorated with a horn that protrudes from its nose – was scientifically described as Modigliani’s lizard (Harpesaurus modiglianii), and no new specimens would be recorded until 2018.

Biologists working in Indonesian recently encountered a nose-horned dragon lizard which had been lost to science for over a century. Image © Putra et al. 2020

It's recent rediscovery came thanks to a stroke of good fortune. While surveying birds in North Sumatra, a biologist happened upon a curious-looking lizard carcass. He sent the find to herpetologist Thasun Amarasinghe who immediately suspected that it was the elusive nose-horned lizard unseen for over a century. A second specimen found in the same area confirmed its identity.

The preserved lizard at the Genoa museum is pale blue, but the new specimen shows the reptile's natural colour is mostly green (Modigliani's decision to preserve his lizard in alcohol likely played a role in the colour discrepancy). The rediscovery offers a glimmer of hope for the reptile's conservation, and herpetologists are hopeful that more of the lizards are living in the remote mountains of North Sumatra.

Speaking of new life, many animals that have recently emerged from hibernation are debuting their little ones to the world. This includes a grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) named "399" — one of the oldest and most famous grizzlies documented in the wild — who recently emerged from her den in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming with four new cubs! Quadruplets are rare for this species. "It was a huge surprise for everyone because, at 24 years old, most people didn't think she would possibly have any more cubs at all," Thomas Mangelsen, a wildlife photographer and conservationist from Jackson, Wyo., told As It Happens host Carol Off.

News from the depths

Women have made oceanic history! There are now two women who have ventured to our ocean’s deepest spot in the Mariana Trench: the Challenger Deep. At some seven miles below the surface, it is not only the deepest part of the ocean but it is cloaked in perpetual darkness and the temperature is freezing cold. Vanessa O’Brien, now the first woman to visit Earth's highest and deepest points, tweeted her achievement after emerging from the deep. Kathy Sullivan, an oceanographer, astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space was the first of the two to complete this long descent a few days earlier. The momentous dives form part of an expedition focused on mapping the ocean floor and collecting water samples to help better understand our oceans.

In other ocean news, the famous white humpback whale, Migaloo, has been sighted off the south coast of New South Wales for the first time this season. First spotted in 1991, he was the only all-white humpback whale known at the time. Migaloo’s unique name means “white fella” in several Indigenous languages and his annual migration from Antarctica up to Queensland helps provide valuable information to scientists about the migratory patterns of humpback whales. 

Although the coronavirus pandemic has affected work for many scientists around the world, it is exciting to know fascinating discoveries are still occurring!