The discovery of a new species of prehistoric raptor in some remote hills in Argentina -- the first ever found in the Southern Hemisphere -- could rewrite what we know about the ferocious creatures.
The raptor was about 6 feet from head to tail, weighed about 60 pounds, lived 90 million years ago in what is now Patagonia and, like other raptors, used razor-sharp claws to slash at prey.
"They were small and fast carnivorous dinosaurs," said Diego Pol, a researcher at Ohio State University, where the fossil remains were analyzed.
Although it may have had feathers, like other prehistoric raptors -- including the frightening Velociraptor made famous in the movie Jurassic Park -- this one probably couldn't fly, the researchers say.
In 1996, researchers at the Argentine Museum of Natural History found fragments of the raptor's vertebrae, ribs, legs and part of a foot (with a telltale claw), while searching an arid hill in the province of Neuquen where other dinosaur remains have turned up.
But the fossil eventually known as Neuquenraptor argentinus didn't preserve any DNA, and it took years to map its anatomical and skeletal characteristics.
Eventually, scientists determined that it was a previously unknown species, according to Pol and Fernando Novas, the lead author of a recent paper announcing the discovery in the journal Nature.
Neuquenraptor joins about a dozen well-known raptor species. Their numbers have been increasing steadily since the 1970s because of popular interest in dinosaurs and stepped-up efforts to find more of their remains.
Raptors thrived until they were wiped out with other dinosaurs 65 million years ago by climatic changes that many experts believe were brought on by an asteroid strike.
The discovery is likely to raise new questions about the range of prehistoric raptors, because it's the first verified set of remains found in the Southern Hemisphere.
"The fact that these animals were found there is pretty significant," said Matthew Carrano, curator of dinosaurs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, who was not a part of the study.
Until this discovery, all the verified raptor remains were found in Europe, Asia and North America.
-- Dennis O'Brien
Getting kids off the couch
Fed Up! Winning the War Against Childhood Obesity, by Susan Okie (Joseph Henry Press, $24.95).
This book puts it right out there: American kids are fat, and they are getting fatter.
Harvard-trained doctor and journalist Susan Okie tackles the subject of childhood obesity with the latest scientific research and compelling street reporting. She paints a picture of a wealthy, educated nation losing children to inadequate understanding of nutrition, poor diets and preventable health problems.
In 30 years, obesity in the United States has more than tripled among children age 6 to 11. Today, 15 percent of the nation's children are obese -- a statistic that Okie says puts the problem at epidemic proportions.
Today's children live in a world designed to produce coach potatoes. They don't walk enough, they watch too much TV, and they eat foods that don't properly fuel their bodies. Meals at home and school are inadequate. As a result, health problems such as heart disease and diabetes are skyrocketing among the young.
In her book, Okie introduces the reader to real kids, and explains in a compassionate way the science behind fat. She also puts forth a plan for parents, schools and communities to make changes.
Bottom line: Okie's book couldn't be clearer: Our nation's future depends on reversing the trend of childhood obesity.
-- Mary Beth Regan
Did you know...
Parkinson's disease is a motor system disorder, the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Its primary symptoms are trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and impaired balance.
-- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Drinking declines with age
As people age, their alcohol consumption goes down, according to a report from scientists at UCLA in this month's issue of The American Journal of Public Health.
Researchers drew their conclusions from federal health surveys that, among other questions, asked more than 14,000 people about their drinking habits over a 20-year period.
The study found a steady decline in drinking as time went on. Researchers attributed the change to a variety of factors, including the fact that older people often don't feel as good when they drink as younger people. They may also cut back to avoid an aggravating medical problem or avoid adverse interactions with drugs they're taking.
The pattern, though, may be changing, the study found. The research showed that younger people are not cutting back as much as their elders did.
Limited diet, longer life
A new study may help to explain why starvation diets can extend the life spans of some animals.