- Extinct 'Godzilla' platypus found in Australia
- Licking the sticky problem
- Ministry seeks system to monitor prison behaviour
SYDNEY, Nov 05, 2013 (AFP) - A giant extinct species of the platypus with powerful teeth has been discovered in Australia, with a scientist on Tuesday describing the duck-billed water animal as a "Godzilla" like monster.
The new species, named Obdurodon tharalkooschild, was identified by a single but highly distinctive tooth found in Riversleigh in the northeastern Australian state of Queensland - a World Heritage site rich in fossil deposits.
"It pretty well blew our minds," University of New South Wales professor Mike Archer told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. of the animal, which is estimated to be about twice the size of the modern platypus.
"And then bang out of the blue drops this monster. Platypus Godzilla."
Scientists had thought that the platypus, which combines bird, mammal and reptile characteristics, had gradually lost its teeth and become smaller over millions of years, but the latest find contradicts that theory.
"We didn't expect this. It's a huge platypus at the wrong time. But there it was," said Archer of the one-metre (three foot) species.
The modern platypus, a timid and nocturnal animal which lives in deep waterside burrows and is found only in eastern Australia, lacks any teeth as an adult and the scientists do not believe the new extinct species was an immediate ancestor.
"Discovery of this new species was a shock to us because prior to this, the fossil record suggested that the evolutionary tree of platypuses was a relatively linear one," Archer explained in a statement.
"Now we realize that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic."
Archer said he was confident that the single tooth, which was discovered by Rebecca Pian, a PhD candidate at Columbia University in the United States, was sufficient evidence of a new species.
"We know it's a platypus, we also know it's very different from any other toothed platypus we've seen before," he said.
Pian, the lead author of the research published in the US-based Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, said any new species, even though incomplete, was an important aid in understanding more about the fascinating mammals.
The extinct species is believed to have been a mostly aquatic animal like its modern descendant and would have lived in and around freshwater pools in the forests that covered the Riversleigh area millions of years ago.
It probably fed on crayfish and other freshwater crustaceans, as well as small vertebrates such as frogs and turtles, said Suzanne Hand of UNSW's School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Archer said scientists already had concerns about the long-term viability of the platypus and the discovery only added to these.
"It only says that there were more kinds of platypus that are now gone," he said.
THE sticky issue of illegal ads at MRT stations and along roads, on pillars and lamp posts, is set to be cut down in size further.
Having already found that anti-stick paint is effective in licking the problem, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has called a tender to apply the solution at 367 island-wide locations, where the advertisements are rife, by 2017.
The tender also calls for anti-stick clear coating with high transparency that can be applied to glass or plastic panels.
Aside from being against the law, these advertisements, which can range in size from Post-It note to A4, leave unsightly stains after being removed. This is especially when strong adhesives are used.
To fight this, the LTA in 2009 began a trial of anti-stick paint at a sheltered linkway leading to Jurong East MRT station. It proved a success.
Since then, the anti-stick paint has been applied at 252 locations. The LTA previously said that the move would help it save about S$100,000 (RM254,000) a year.
The latest tender will expand the coverage to most places here where complaints about illegal ads are common, said an LTA spokesman.
These locations, which include Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 and Boon Lay Way, are selected based on the amount of feedback received about ads being stuck on street infrastructure, such as traffic lights, street lights, sign posts and columns at covered linkways and bus shelters.
Besides applying anti-stick paint, the LTA has, since 2010, also introduced 27 notice boards at 21 MRT stations with heavy pedestrian traffic to give people a better option.
It costs 50 cents (RM1.27) a day to put up an A5-size ad.
The spokesman said there were fewer illegal ads at areas which have notice boards and anti-stick paint. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network
THE Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) is looking for a high-tech warning system which can detect aggressive or suicidal behaviour among prisoners and suspects, allowing officers to step in before it is too late.
To find out what is available in the market, the ministry has put in a Request for Information (RFI) for a "Human Behaviour Early Detection System". This will allow it to assess the feasibility, performance and cost of such a system.
"There is a need for remote round-the-clock surveillance of a room with automated, near real-time detection of suspicious, aggressive and suicidal human behaviours," the RFI documents state.
Similar systems are being explored elsewhere.
The US National Institute of Justice commissioned a study to develop a prototype sensor system which can measure an inmate's heart rate, breathing and general body motions without it being attached to the prisoner.
This warning system will alert prison officers if an inmate's heart rate or breathing exceeds pre-determined limits.
There were 61 cases of assault in Singapore prisons last year, 40 of which were attacks between inmates.
The rest involved attacks on prison staff. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network
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