From dinosaurs to birds — How did that happen?

This drawing shows the dinosaur lineage which evolved into birds shrank in body size continuously for 50 million years. From left are, the ancestral neotheropod, the ancestral tetanuran, the ancestral coelurosaur, the ancestral paravian and Archaeopteryx. (AP Photo/Davide Bonnadonna, Science)

This drawing shows the dinosaur lineage which evolved into birds shrank in body size continuously for 50 million years. From left are, the ancestral neotheropod, the ancestral tetanuran, the ancestral coelurosaur, the ancestral paravian and Archaeopteryx. (AP Photo/Davide Bonnadonna, Science)


Scientists have mapped how a group of fearsome, massive dinosaurs evolved and shrank to the likes of robins and hummingbirds.

Comparing fossils of 120 different species and 1,500 skeletal features, especially thigh bones, researchers were able to build a “family tree” for the two-legged group of meat-eating dinos called theropods. That suborder survives to this day as birds.

“They just kept on shrinking and shrinking and shrinking for about 50 million years,” said study author Michael S. Y. Lee of the University of Adelaide in Australia. He called them “shape-shifters.”

Lee and his colleagues even created a dinosaur version of the iconic ape-to-man drawing of human evolution. In this version of the drawing, shown above, the lumbering large dinos shrink, getting more feathery and big-chested, until they are the earliest version of birds.

For a couple decades scientists have linked birds to this family of dinosaurs because they shared hollow bones, wishbones, feathers and other characteristics. But the Lee study gives the best picture of how steady and unusual theropod evolution was. The skeletons of theropods changed four times faster than other types of dinosaurs, the study said.

A few members of that dino family did not shrink, including T. rex, which is more of a distant cousin to birds than a direct ancestor, Lee said.

He said he and colleagues were surprised by just how consistently the theropods shrank over evolutionary time, while other types of dinosaurs showed ups and downs in body size.

The first theropods were large, weighing around 600 pounds. They roamed about 220 million to 230 million years ago. Then about 200 million years ago, when some of the creatures weighed about 360 pounds, the shrinking became faster and more prolonged, the study said. In just 25 million years, the beasts were slimmed down to barely 100 pounds. By 167 million years ago, 6-pound paravians, more direct ancestor of birds, were around.

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Online:

The journal Science: http://www.sciencemag.org

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Reported by SETH BORENSTEIN of the Associated Press. He can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

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Sharks: The perfect tourist magnet

A bin filled with plastic toy sharks are just some of the shark-related items for sale in a souvenir shop in Chatham, Mass. With growing sightings of great white sharks off Cape Cod, local entrepreneurs are feeding the frenzy with their shark-themed memorabilia and apparel. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A bin filled with plastic toy sharks are just some of the shark-related items for sale in a souvenir shop in Chatham, Mass. With growing sightings of great white sharks off Cape Cod, local entrepreneurs are feeding the frenzy with their shark-themed memorabilia and apparel. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Great white sharks are having an unusual effect on Cape Cod this summer, and many tourists are eager to chomp down on some shark-related goodies.

The sharks being spotted in growing numbers are stirring curiosity and a new sort of frenzy — a buying frenzy.

Shark T-shirts are everywhere, “Jaws” has been playing in local movie theaters and boats are taking more tourists out to see the huge seal population that keeps the sharks coming. Harbormasters have issued warnings but — unlike the sharks in the movies — the great whites generally are not seen as a threat to human swimmers.

Among the entrepreneurs is Justin Labdon, owner of the Cape Cod Beach Chair Company, who started selling “Chatham Whites” T-shirts after customers who were renting paddle boards and kayaks began asking whether it was safe to go to sea.

“I mean, truthfully, we’ve probably grown about 500 percent in terms of the sale of our shark apparel,” he said. The T-shirts, hoodies, hats, belts, dog collars and other accessories bear the iconic, torpedo-shaped image of great whites and sell for between $10 and $45.

He said his store brings in thousands of dollars in sales of the shark-themed merchandise.

Tourists peer through binoculars in hopes of catching a glimpse of a shark fin from the beaches of Chatham. The resort town has a large population of gray seals — the massive animals whose blubber is the fuel of choice for great white sharks. Local shops sell jewelry, candy, clothes and stuffed animals with shark motifs.

Shark lovers: “(Great) White sharks are this iconic species in society and it draws amazing amounts of attention,” said Gregory Skomal, a senior marine fisheries biologist who also leads the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, who said people are coming in hopes of witnessing the animals in their splendor. “I have not been approached by anyone who has said to me ‘let’s go kill these sharks.’”

Skomal said sharks have been coming closer to shore to feed on the seals, which he said have been coming on shore in greater numbers because of successful conservation efforts.

Confrontations with people are rare, with only 106 unprovoked white shark attacks — 13 of them fatal — in U.S. waters since 1916, according to data provided by the University of Florida.

Still, officials are wary of the damage that could be done to tourism if one of the predators bites a person. Brochures have been distributed to raise awareness of sharks and safe practices in the event of a sighting.

Kids: Laurie Moss McCandless of Memphis, Tennessee, has vacationed on Cape Cod every summer since she was a little girl and doesn’t remember hearing about sharks back then. But her son is obsessed with sharks, she said, and she’s hoping to hear more about them on their vacation in Chatham.

“He loves all his sharks paraphernalia,” McCandless, 39, said as she bought a shark-themed sweatshirt for one of her three children.

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Reported by RODRIQUE NGOWI of the Associated Press from CHATHAM, Mass. Follow Rodrique Ngowi at www.twitter.com/ngowi

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Online:

Cape Cod Tourism: http://www.capecodchamber.org/

Massachusetts Shark Research Program: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dmf/programs-and-projects/shark-research.html

Atlantic White Shark Conservancy: http://www.atlanticwhiteshark.org/

An eye glass holder in the shape of a shark rests on a shelf in a souvenir shop in Chatham, Mass. With growing sightings of great white sharks off Cape Cod, local entrepreneurs are feeding the frenzy with their shark-themed memorabilia and apparel. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

An eye glass holder in the shape of a shark rests on a shelf in a souvenir shop in Chatham, Mass. With growing sightings of great white sharks off Cape Cod, local entrepreneurs are feeding the frenzy with their shark-themed memorabilia and apparel. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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Someone tried to sneak 67 giant snails into the U.S.

One of the snails from an air cargo shipment of 67 live snails that arrived at Los Angeles International Airport peeks out of its shell on July 1, 2014.  (AP Photo/USDA, Greg Bartman)

One of the snails from an air cargo shipment of 67 live snails that arrived at Los Angeles International Airport peeks out of its shell on July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/USDA, Greg Bartman)

Inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport seized an unusually slimy package — 67 live giant African snails that are a popular delicacy across West Africa.

The snails — which are prohibited in the U.S. — arrived from Nigeria and were being sent to a person in San Dimas, said Lee Harty, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border protection.

The snails were confiscated July 1 and a sample was sent the next day to a federal mollusk specialist in Washington, D.C., who identified them as a prohibited species, Harty said.

The mollusks are among the largest land snails in the world and can grow to be up to 8 inches long. They are native to Africa and can live for up to 10 years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture incinerated the snails after they were inspected, Harty said. The animals are prohibited in the U.S. because they can carry parasites that are harmful to humans, including one that can lead to meningitis.

The snails are also agricultural pests, said Maveeda Mirza, the CBP program manager for agriculture.

“These snails are seriously harmful to local plants because they will eat any kind of crop they can get to,” Mirza said.

The person the snails were destined for is not expected to face any penalties, Mirza said. She said authorities are investigating why a single person would want so many snails.

By KRYSTA FAURIA of the Associated Press from LOS ANGELES.

A person uses two hands to hold a single snail that was part of an air cargo shipment that arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 1, 2014.  (AP Photo/USDA, Greg Bartman)

A person uses two hands to hold a single snail that was part of an air cargo shipment that arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/USDA, Greg Bartman)

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Sailboat freed from Alaska ice

Crewmembers on the Coast Guard Cutter Healy make contact with a mariner aboard his 36-foot sailboat trapped in Arctic ice approximately 40 miles northeast of Barrow, Alaska. The Coast Guard freed the sailboat that was attempting to sail to eastern Canada through the Northwest Passage. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard)

Crewmembers on the Coast Guard Cutter Healy make contact with a mariner aboard his 36-foot sailboat trapped in Arctic ice approximately 40 miles northeast of Barrow, Alaska. The Coast Guard freed the sailboat that was attempting to sail to eastern Canada through the Northwest Passage. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard has freed a Canadian sailboat that became trapped in Arctic ice off the north coast of Alaska.

KTUU-TV reports the 36-foot Altan Girl out of Vancouver was attempting to sail to eastern Canada through the Northwest Passage.

It became trapped in ice 40 miles northeast of Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States.

The Coast Guard cutter Healy reached the sailboat, and with the Altan Girl in tow, on Saturday cut a 12-mile path through ice to open water.

The sailboat’s owner says he intends to wait in Barrow for better weather and to restock supplies.

The Healy is on a National Science Foundation-funded research mission in the Arctic. The Coast Guard says the cutter is continuing with its research.

Reported by the ASSOCIATED PRESS from ANCHORAGE, Alaska.

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Was this this biggest bird ever?

The world's largest-ever flying bird, Pelagornis sandersi is shown in this artist rendering. The gigantic bird had an estimated wingspan of around 21 feet, about the height of a giraffe.  (AP Photo/Bruce Museum, Liz Bradford)

The world’s largest-ever flying bird, Pelagornis sandersi is shown in this artist rendering. The gigantic bird had an estimated wingspan of around 21 feet, about the height of a giraffe. (AP Photo/Bruce Museum, Liz Bradford)

When South Carolina construction workers came across the giant, winged fossil at the Charleston airport in 1983, they had to use a backhoe to pull the bird, which lived about 25 million years ago, up from the earth.

But if the bird was actually a brand-new species, researchers faced a big question: Could such a large bird, with a wingspan of 20 to 24 feet, actually get off the ground? After all, the larger the bird, the less likely its wings are able to lift it unaided.

The answer came from Dan Ksepka, paleontologist and science curator at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn.

He modeled a probable method of flight for the long-extinct bird, named as a new species this week. If Ksepka’s simulations are correct, Pelagornis sandersi would be the largest airborne bird ever discovered.

The big bird relied on the ocean to keep it aloft. Similar in many ways to a modern-day albatross — although with at least twice the wingspan and very different in appearance, Ksepka said — the bird probably needed a lot of help to fly. It had to run downhill into a head wind, catching the air like a hang glider. Once airborne, it relied on air currents rising from the ocean to keep it gliding.

An incredibly efficient glider, Pelagornis sandersi could probably soar for miles and miles over the sea, swooping down to catch its prey in the waves.

To snap up its meals, the bird used pseudo-teeth — a characteristic that Ksepka found just as fascinating as the bird’s massive wingspan. These teeth, Ksepka said, are not anything like our own.

“They don’t have enamel, they don’t grow in sockets, and they aren’t lost and replaced throughout the creature’s life span,” he said. “Instead, the bone just extends from the jaw.”

There were bigger flying creatures than Pelagornis sandersi. Some of the largest pterodactyls had wingspans of up to 35 feet. But they were flying reptiles, not the dinosaurs that birds descended from.

The previous record holder for largest flying bird, Argentavis magnificens, lived only 6 million years ago and hailed from Argentina. It was probably heavier than the new bird — something researchers know because of the size of their hind legs, which had to support their weight.

He added that while it is not possible to know everything about the ancient creature from one skeleton, he is quite certain about one thing:

“This is pushing the boundary of what we know about avian size, and I’m very confident that the wingspan is the largest we’ve seen in a bird capable of flight.”

Reported by RACHEL FELTMAN of The Washington Post

This undated image provided by the Bruce Museum shows a comparative wingspan line drawing of the world's largest-ever flying bird, Pelagornis sandersi, as identified by Daniel Ksepka, Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn. At bottom left is a California condor, and at bottom right is a Royal albatross. The giant bird's skeleton was discovered in 1983 near Charleston, but its first formal description was released Monday, July 7, 2014 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (AP Photo/Bruce Museum, Liz Bradford)

This undated image provided by the Bruce Museum shows a comparative wingspan line drawing of the world’s largest-ever flying bird, Pelagornis sandersi, as identified by Daniel Ksepka, Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn. At bottom left is a California condor, and at bottom right is a Royal albatross. The giant bird’s skeleton was discovered in 1983 near Charleston, but its first formal description was released Monday, July 7, 2014 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (AP Photo/Bruce Museum, Liz Bradford)

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Handmade Canoes? Why Not?

Canoe building hobbyist Karl Koch of North Londonderry Township shows one of the many wooden vessels he's made throughout the years. He currently enjoys fishing from this 15-foot red cedar strip canoe he built in 2008. (Lebanon Daily News)

Canoe building hobbyist Karl Koch of North Londonderry Township shows one of the many wooden vessels he’s made throughout the years. He currently enjoys fishing from this 15-foot red cedar strip canoe he built in 2008. (Lebanon Daily News)

Most people who want an item bad enough will break down, go out and buy it. Others, however, simply aren’t wired that way.

Karl Koch, age 75, certainly has a mind and drive of his own, for as long as the task is doable, he prefers to build whatever it is he wants with his own two hands. Take for example the four – soon to be five — wooden canoes the retired schoolteacher has built all by himself, just for fun.

Koch’s first canoe, a heavy canvas-hulled 15-footer, was finished in 1963 and lasted him nearly 50 years before giving it away to a younger man with a stronger back. Koch then built three more wooden crafts since 2005, and he’s currently working on a 14-foot strip canoe, which needs just a few more finishing touches.

“When I graduated from Penn State in 1961, a friend of mine bought an old broken canoe for $5 at a yard sale,” Koch explained. “It had a huge, gaping hole in the bottom, but he went out and fixed that thing and boy was it beautiful.

“For two years, I marveled over my friend’s canoe, until one day I decided I would build my own. So I bought a 35-cent canoe building plan I saw advertised in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and that’s how it all began.”

As Koch sat on a shaded bench outside his family’s North Londonderry Township home the talented handyman recalled the mistakes he made on his first canoe.

“I used a table saw to cut the boards, which wasted lumber. I sanded some spots too thinly, and if I hit a rock, that canvas started taking on water fast,” he explained. “It wasn’t sealed right.”

But over the years Koch solidly patched up the old canoe so it no longer leaked and the boat really handled well.

Canoe Two: Later, he started in on his second project, a watertight plywood bind-and-seal kit canoe, which he gave this one to his niece.

Canoe Three: His next was a strip canoe, Koch said. “They are lighter, more beautiful, and you have more flexibility in building exactly what you want.”

“The whole process takes about 200 hours depending on how hard you want to work at it,” said Koch. “I really wanted a red cedar canoe, and to me, it didn’t matter how long it took, so I just built one.”

But even this third attempt did not completely satisfy the mindset of the always-improving craftsman. He found that he built the gunwales a little too high for his liking, and they caught the wind too much, making the craft a bit tippy. He gave this one to his son and started over again with a few adjustments.

Canoe Four: On his fourth attempt, Koch got it right. The lower-riding 15-footer he now uses is perfect for him to handle, it steers well and is light enough for him to portage to the water using the wooden wheel and axle system he rigged up for easy transport.

It has a self-woven deer rawhide seat, custom-built kayak-style paddles, and it perfectly clears the back of Koch’s little Volkswagen Jetta, which he uniquely uses for transferring his wooden vessel to various local lakes, streams and rivers.

“I fish this one pretty hard, as you can see from the nicks on the Kevlar scratch pads,” said Koch. “It’s muddy and dinged up pretty good, but it looks beautiful when it’s wet, and that’s when it really matters.”

Canoe Five: As for Koch’s fifth canoe in progress, which currently resides in his shop among an assortment of homemade snowshoes, woven milkweed ropes and “hobo-style” camp stoves, it may well be his last stint at canoe building.

“I think this might be my final one, but you never know,” Koch said with a smile. “I’m just a farm kid at heart, and I’d rather work with my hands than watch television. Building stuff is in my blood.”

Reported by TYLER FRANTZ of The (Lebanon) Daily News from NORTH LONDONDERRY TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania.

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