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New Shrew Has Spine of Steel 93

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the loki-shrew-harder-to-find dept.
sciencehabit writes "It's the size of large rat, but it can reportedly withstand the weight of an adult man standing on its back. Meet the hero shrew, a molelike creature that owes its near-mythological status to a remarkable spine, thickened by extensions of bone that interlock like fingers. The structure was thought to be unique among mammals — until now. An international team of researchers in the village of Baleko, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, made a surprising find: a slightly different shrew with a similarly 'heroic' backbone. Today in Biology Letters, they introduce Thor's hero shrew (S. thori), named for mammalogist Thorvald Holmes, but invoking the Norse god of strength. The researchers don't yet know how its strength compares to that of S. somereni. After exploring the shrews' swampy palm forests habitat, the researchers also have a new guess about why the spine evolved: They suggest that the creatures might wedge themselves between the trunk of a palm tree and the base of its leaves, then use the strength and flexion of their muscular spine to force open this crevice, revealing insect larvae—a food source that other animals can't access."
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New Shrew Has Spine of Steel

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 24, 2013 @01:07PM (#44372319)

    There will be no taming of this shrew!

  • They suggest that the creatures might wedge themselves between the trunk of a palm tree and the base of its leaves, then use the strength and flexion of their muscular spine to force open this crevice, revealing insect larvaeâ"a food source that other animals can't access."

    Yeah.. it could be that. Or, "ZOMFG WHAT IS THAT!?" (stomp) "ITS NOT DYING! DAMN YOU EVOLUTION... Daaaaaamn yoooouuuuuuu...."

    • by cusco (717999)
      I think that's more likely to be Florida's "palmetto bugs" (4 inch long cockroaches that fly). I've stepped on the things with a flat-bottomed shoe, twisted my foot to make sure, lifted my foot up, and had the damn things run away. The only way to get rid of them is to get a ferret (roaches make great toys, and when the toy breaks they make great snacks!) Of course now you've got a ferret running around, which is not that much of an improvement.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Call the orkin man.

        I lived in the south for a while, Georgia has the same things. They spray around the house and it keeps them from ever infesting. If they already infest your home surely some kind of poison can kill them.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Ferrets are really cute and friendly animals. However they smell absolutely horrible, which makes them difficult to live with as pets.

        • by cusco (717999)
          I actually like their musky scent, but they're incredibly destructive, steal things, and rather than being litter trained they train YOU where to put the litter box(es). They'll dig to the bottom of every house plant, open drawers and strew the clothes around, climb to the top of things you thought unscalable, push everything off every shelf, and fill the space under the refrigerator with their stolen "treasures". I loved my ferret, but no one else would have ever put up with him.
          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Wow, that sounds like a total PITA. I had one briefly, for a few days, which I found outside (probably someone's escaped pet). It was really nice, and we kept it in a bathroom, where it made a bed in the trash can. We gave it to a ferret rescue person as soon as we could. Being locked in the bathroom (to keep it away from our cats), we never saw those other issues, but I just couldn't get over the smell.

    • by eth1 (94901)

      They suggest that the creatures might wedge themselves between the trunk of a palm tree and the base of its leaves, then use the strength and flexion of their muscular spine to force open this crevice, revealing insect larvaeâ"a food source that other animals can't access."

      Yeah.. it could be that. Or, "ZOMFG WHAT IS THAT!?" (stomp) "ITS NOT DYING! DAMN YOU EVOLUTION... Daaaaaamn yoooouuuuuuu...."

      As someone who's had pet rats before, I can totally believe that quote. If I was sitting on the floor, and he wanted to get on the other side of my leg, for example, he'd go UNDER it. Never mind that there was zero space, he'd just wedge his nose under, heave my leg off the floor, and keep going like that until he could squeeze through. They're quite strong that way.

      • As someone who's had pet rats before, I can totally believe that quote.

        Yes, but slashdot moderators, ever eagle-eyed for someone to attempt humor, have stomped on my comment. I suppose it's just further proof that while voles can evolve, moderators cannot.

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      When I clicked the title... I thought they had replaced the shrew's spine with metal. I was expecting a date for when they could replace mine. Damn!

  • Somewhere in a top secret government research lab, nestled in the hills of Canada next to a hydroelectric power plant, lies an organization that is grafting adamantium to the spine of these poor shrews.

  • My dog loves shrews. She hunts them relentlessly. She likes rodents in general but shrews seem to be her favourite. There was a week last winter where she was eating two or three of them a day. It's disgusting but hey, she's a dog.

    The funny thing is shrews fight back. Of all the rodents she's hunted over her long, illustrious life, shrews are the only ones that ever bit her back. Well, that snapping turtle got her but she wasn't trying to eat it, she was just curious. And she only got too close because I wa

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Shrews are not rodents.

      • by Jethro (14165)

        Hey, she's a dog, they look like rodents to her.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          They might, but you should know better. How else will you teach her?

          • by Jethro (14165)

            I have already instilled in her a fine sense of irony. I think that's pretty good.

        • Hey, she's a dog, they look like rodents to her.

          The look like rodents to me too. ;-)

          I remember the first time I came across a shrew in the wild. I was deer hunting, trying to sit still in my blind and could hear something scurrying about in the leaves. Eventually I felt something on my foot, so I looked down, and there was a shrew gnawing on the tip of one of my boot laces. I gave it a little shake, which seemed to discourage it temporarily, but it came back a few times. They don't seem to frighten very easily.

          • by Jethro (14165)

            I've occasionally had mice in my house. They've never done any damage and the cats/dog eventually get them.

            One time there was (I assumed) a mouse that was just ripping things up and eating them, getting into (never opened) things of dog/cat treats, and being smart enough to stay in the cabinets.

            Eventually I made a makeshift trap (i.e. a big enough box) and caught it myself and the first thing I thought was "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT???" It looked like a mouse and a mole had a baby. I guessed that it was a shrew

  • by SailorSpork (1080153) on Wednesday July 24, 2013 @01:35PM (#44372573) Homepage

    The researchers don't yet know how its strength compares to that of S. somereni.

    In other words, they are currently writing up a research grant proposal that allows them to travel the world stepping on shrews. FOR SCIENCE!!!

  • link fail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero (934156) on Wednesday July 24, 2013 @01:36PM (#44372585)

    seriously, is nobody trying to actually RTFA?

  • by NormHome (99305) on Wednesday July 24, 2013 @01:40PM (#44372637)

    Sorry article but Thor is not the Norse god of strength, that's Magni the god of strength and brute force and son of Thor with is the Norse god of thunder.

    • by Valdrax (32670)

      He is the god known for eating his immortal goats over and over again, which he can only do if he doesn't break their bones. So, I guess he's semi-relevant to bones.

      (That said, what a horrible life for his goats!)

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      The whole "[deity] is the god of [aspect]" is a little bit misleading when you're talking about ancient myth. Norse gods all have a bunch of different characteristics, and many of those characteristics were shared among more than one deity. For example, both Loki and Odin can be effective tricksters.

      The idea of Thor as a fellow who is exceptionally strong but not particularly smart is fully in keeping with Norse myths about him, since he spends most of his time either whomping giants and monsters on the hea

      • Right, so Thor being described as "the god of strength" is about as accurate as Zeus being described as "the god of swans" since he was known to manifest himself as a swan.

        i.e. not very accurate at all.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well.. considering how the animal uses it's spine.. atlas would have fit.

    • It's not the only factual error.
      In the first line they call it "the size of a large rat", but its body length (without tail) is actually only 150 mm (6 inch) [umich.edu] long.
      That's pretty small for a rat: the common brown rat has a typical body length of 10 inch, and there are much larger species.

  • by mmcxii (1707574) on Wednesday July 24, 2013 @01:41PM (#44372639)
    Here's the thing I don't like about how evolution is presented...

    researchers also have a new guess about why the spine evolved: They suggest that the creatures might wedge themselves between the trunk of a palm tree and the base of its leaves, then use the strength and flexion of their muscular spine to force open this crevice, revealing insect larvae

    Um, no. The spine did not evolve to meet the needs of the animal, the animal is alive because it had the traits needed to live. This would make much more sense if the statement was that "researchers also have a new guess about why the species thrived while others died."

    The way evolution is presented by most media makes it seem like after a species goes for a few generations it gains some ability like how one can gain a power up in a video game; "Ok... humans make it to the next level... they can either run faster, see further or have faster reflexes.... what will it be?"

    If this animal didn't have the ability to do what it does then it would have probably failed and we would know it now as a collection of bones in some natural history museum instead of a living creature. Now, this is also to say that those with mutations that gave them a stronger spine would be more likely to survive but it's not as if the species had control over the evolution of the spine itself.
    • Or maybe they just meant that an early version of this spine provided a marginal wedging advantage, which allowed the current "power-up" version of the spine to evolve.

    • Here's the thing I don't like about how evolution is presented... researchers also have a new guess about why the spine evolved: They suggest that the creatures might wedge themselves between the trunk of a palm tree and the base of its leaves, then use the strength and flexion of their muscular spine to force open this crevice, revealing insect larvae Um, no. The spine did not evolve to meet the needs of the animal, the animal is alive because it had the traits needed to live.

      And how did the animal acquired said traits. Natural selection. By random mutations some animals had traits that provided a slight advantage over others, surviving longer, procreating more often and passing those genes downs where further refinements in the typical life-and-death struggle would reinforce those traits. In the case of this shrews, it started with a slightly stronger back, which throughout generations lead to the unique and amazing spine structures they now posses.

      Your statement is neither m

    • by cusco (717999)
      No, the spine almost certainly did "evolve to meet the needs of the animal". The needs of the animal are to eat and reproduce. The animal eats bugs in the palm fronds. Shrews with strong backbones can move palm fronds further, thus accessing more food. They reproduce better. Wash, rinse, repeat. The eventual result is shrews with amazingly strong backbones. It's unlikely that the strong backbone appeared unprompted, and the shrews then started to move palm fronds.
    • by Valdrax (32670) on Wednesday July 24, 2013 @02:20PM (#44373043)

      In no way did their statement imply direction or control over their evolution. They merely described the selective pressure under which the mutations would have given them a survival advantage. Don't hijack their words to air your quibbling, semantic pet peeves.

    • by solios (53048)

      This would be why I snort derisively at rapture-like interpretations of The Singularity - evolution is an endless process of optimization, not a directed A to B to C progression. Animals that haven't evolved in millennia - sharks, for example - aren't "Evolutionary dead ends," they are in fact optimized for survival in their habitats.

    • by Livius (318358)

      Or those are just two different perspectives on the same process and you're being needlessly pedantic.

    • by jrumney (197329)

      If this animal didn't have the ability to do what it does then it would have probably failed and we would know it now as a collection of bones in some natural history museum instead of a living creature.

      There are plenty of other shrews in the Congo Basin that do not have this trait, and yet are able to survive.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    and still waiting for the Stainless Steel Rat movies,

    Please

    • by Talderas (1212466)

      Stainless Shrewnado?

    • God no. Don't ruin the books. Want to bet they go straight to 'the grey men' who wind up looking like Nazis, not grey at all.

    • by Gilmoure (18428)

      Casting:

      James B. diGeiz: George Cloony
      Angelina diGriz: Angelina Jolie
      James and Boliver diGriz: James and Oliver Phelps
      Inskip: Bruce Willis
      Prof Coypu: Will Wheaton

  • Thats a (Score:5, Funny)

    by future assassin (639396) on Wednesday July 24, 2013 @02:53PM (#44373425) Homepage

    > They suggest that the creatures might wedge themselves between the trunk of a palm tree and the base of its leaves, then use the strength and flexion of their muscular spine to force open this crevice, revealing insect larvae—a food source that other animals can't access."

    shrewd move

  • ....but invoking the Norse god of strength.

    Magni, son of Thor, was the Norse god of strength... not Thor. Magni was stronger at 3 nights old, then Thor was in his prime.

  • Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints...Only a stainless steel (shrew) can be at home in this environment.

    Thanks to Harry Harrison for predicting this one.

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