Top stories: Disappearing insects, Descartes’s bulging brain, and a priceless botanical breakdown

Top stories: Disappearing insects, Descartes’s bulging brain, and a priceless botanical breakdown

Where have all the insects gone?

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon: Car windshields used to be covered in the spring and summer months with the remains of insects. That’s not the case in many places today. Observations about splattered bugs don’t count as scientific, so now researchers are turning to more than 30 years of data collected by a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists across western Europe. And what they’ve found supports the anecdotes: dramatic drops—up to 80%—in insect populations across dozens of sites.

Descartes’s brain had a bulging frontal cortex

Scientists have long wondered whether the brains of geniuses could hold clues about their owners’ outsized intelligences. Modern scientists are trying to figure out what made René Descartes’s mind tick by creating a 3D image of his brain by scanning the impression it left on the inside of his skull. One part that stood out: an unusual bulge in the frontal cortex, in an area that previous studies have suggested may process the meaning of words.

This mysterious human species lived alongside our ancestors

When paleoanthropologist Lee Berger was digging up the cave-enshrined remains of a mysterious new species of hominin named Homo naledi in 2013, two spelunkers pulled him aside. They had found what looked like an ancient thigh bone in a completely different cave. Now, the thigh bone, a skull, and other fossils—collected as an afterthought—are putting a startling date on H. naledi’s existence: 236,000 to 335,000 years ago. That would mean a creature similar to ancient human ancestors lived at the same time modern humans were emerging in Africa and Neandertals were evolving in Europe.

Botanists fear research slowdown after priceless specimens destroyed at Australian border

This week’s news that Australian customs officers incinerated irreplaceable plant specimens has shocked botanists around the world, and left many concerned about possible impacts on international research exchanges. Some have put a freeze on sending samples to Australia until they are assured that their packages won’t meet a similar fate, and others are discussing broader ways of assuring safe passage of priceless specimens.

Smuggled dino eggs gave birth to ‘baby dragons’

In the early 1990s, scientists discovered an unusual cache: a set of large, thick-shelled fossil eggs topped by a single dinosaur embryo, previously entombed in rocks smuggled out of the Henan province of China. After the fossils were recovered and ultimately returned, scientists carefully analyzed the embryo—nicknamed “Baby Louie”—and determined that the 90-million-year-old remains represent a new species of giant oviraptorosaur, which they’ve dubbed Beibeilong sinensis, meaning “baby dragon from China.”

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