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The Four-Legged Hugging Snake

July 23rd, 2015

Episode 47 of 158 episodes

The discovery of one of the most primitive and well preserved snake fossils ever found has given key insight into the early evolution of these reptiles. And the surprise is that it has four legs. The specimen has helped resolve a long-running debate over their early evolution, its characteristics firmly suggesting a burrowing ancestry as opposed to an aquatic, as well as suggesting that their limbs were used for other purposes than locomotion before they were lost. Death by Constriction It has long been thought that snakes that kill by constriction do so by squeezing and slowly suffocating their prey. But new research is showing that maybe this slow, lingering death is a lot more merciful. It is thought that the constriction actually cuts off the blood supply to the vital organs of the prey, meaning they pass out quickly and die fairly rapidly. Lizard's Water-Funnelling Skin Copied in the Lab Scientists have unpicked how the skin of the Texas horned lizard funnels water towards its mouth - and copied the principles in a plastic version that could have some engineering applications. Stink Bugs, Sunscreen and Crossword Puzzles Female stink bugs appear to provide their unborn young with a form of sunscreen. Mothers will lay darker or lighter eggs depending on how much light is reflected off a surface, with darker coloured eggs being better protected from UV radiation. Discovered by a Montreal PhD student, who noticed a pattern of egg colouration in those laid on a newspaper crossword in the bottom of their cage, stink bugs are the first animal found to be able to selectively control egg colour in response to environmental conditions. Updates on the New Horizons Mission to Pluto Following its fly-by of Pluto last week, new images sent back from Nasa’s New Horizons probe are revealing tantalising glimpses of the far flung dwarf planet, illuminating frozen peaks and icy planes with some very surprising properties. Professor John Spencer from the team explains why the lack of craters on Pluto’s surface is an unexpected and excitingly revealing discovery, hinting that the planet is not as cold and unchanging as initially supposed. Infections at the Livestock Wildlife Interface Infectious outbreaks tend to hit the headlines when they impact on human health. But there are so many other devastating infections that seem to go under the radar. Now a group of researchers have trawled through the scientific literature to identify those infections that span the livestock-wildlife interface to see where the scientists are concentrating their efforts and where potential research gaps may be. (Image caption: Tetrapodophis amplectus catching Olindalacerta James Brown, University of Portsmouth) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

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