New Mammal Family Discovered

| 41 Comments

The New York Times has an article today about a new rodent discovered in Southeast Asia that’s so different, it’s been placed in its own family.

‘Oddball Rodent’ Is Called New to Science.

They live in the forests and limestone outcrops of Laos. With long whiskers, stubby legs and a long, furry tail, they are rodents but unlike any seen before by wildlife scientists. They are definitely not rats or squirrels, and are only vaguely like a guinea pig or a chinchilla. And they often show up in Laotian outdoor markets being sold as food.

It was in such markets that visiting scientists came upon the animals, and after long study, determined that they represented a rare find: an entire new family of wildlife. The discovery was announced yesterday by the Wildlife Conservation Society and described in a report in the journal Systematics and Biodiversity.

The new species in this previously unknown family is called kha-nyou (pronounced ga-nyou) by local people. Scientists found that differences in the skull and bone structure and in the animal’s DNA revealed it to be a member of a distinct family that diverged from others of the rodent order millions of years ago. “To find something so distinct in this day and age is just extraordinary,” said Dr. Robert J. Timmins of the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the discoverers. “For all we know, this could be the last remaining mammal family left to be discovered.”

It sure does look delicious. While I don’t know any details about this new mammal, there are several predictions I can make about it based on our knowledge of evolution:

  • It will have red blood cells that lack nuclei.
  • It will have three middle ear bones.
  • It will have continuously growing incisors.
  • It will be endothermic.

And so on. I can make these predictions based on known synapomorphies within the mammal or rodent lineages. These are characters inherited from the common ancestors that all mammals (or rodents) share. If this new species is not related through ancestry with other rodents and mammals, and was perhaps “specially created”, there is no reason to suspect that it would have these characters, especially since they are not relevant to the morphological appearance of the animal.

41 Comments

Looks good. Let’s eat.

Does it taste like chicken?

Prediction made by evolution: it will have similar DNA to other rodents. Prediction made by ID:

Yeah but those predictions are based on the evolutionary assumptions behind the lineages and the notion of common ancestors and therefore when those predictions are supported you will say that evolution is supported but you are just reinforcing a fundamentally circular blah blah blah.

Do I get an interview with Nature yet?

Of course it will have similar DNA to other rodents. It was designed to have similar DNA to other rodents. My guess is that this rodent branched off from the other rodents several thousand years ago when the Laotians asked Masta Designa G to design them a new, tastier rodent for their markets. Yo! Nice work, G!

“Yeah but those predictions are based on the evolutionary assumptions behind the lineages and the notion of common ancestors and therefore when those predictions are supported you will say that evolution is supported but you are just reinforcing a fundamentally circular blah blah blah.”

I don’t want to sound rude, but this makes no sense to me at all.

Before I drop a stone, under ordinary circumstances, I can make predictions. I can predict it will fall to the surface of the earth (assuming there is a clear path), and indeed, with a little knowledge, I can predict the velocity at which it will hit the ground to a high degree of accuracy. Those predictions are not directly based on my “assumptions”. They are based on my knowledge of the theory of gravity (something I am by no means an expert in). Ultimately, certain very elementary “assumptions” do underly the theory of gravity (we can believe our senses, other humans exist and can also see what we see, etc), but almost everyone accepts these. The reasoning displayed above is analagous. Based on the theory of evolution, we should predict that the animal has certain traits; many more than are listed, in fact (by the theory of evolution it should be diploid, to take an obvious example, whereas by “special creation” or “intelligent design”, it could have any ploidy, or indeed, a non-DNA based genome). If the predicted traits are there, the theory of evolution is supported. “Intelligent Design” can’t be supported or challenged by any traits of this animal, since a magical designer could either “mimic evolution” or not, arbitrarily. (Caveat - I just realized that the article describes “molecular testing”, implying a DNA-based genome, but I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote).

By your logic, any successful test of any hypothesis or theory would be “circular”. How do you propose that ideas be tested?

steve Wrote:

Prediction made by evolution: it will have similar DNA to other rodents. Prediction made by ID:

I can fill in the second one. Seems to me, ID predicts a sort of “phylogenetic mosaicism” at the DNA level. In other words, some parts of its genome will be most closely related to one known rodent, while other parts will be most closely related to a some other known rodent.

After all, that’s exactly what we see with organisms that we know for a fact were designed (i.e. GMOs).

Of course, if that were true for all (or even most) “natural” species, we’d already have proven it. As of today, the Entrez Nucleotide database includes almost 39 billion base pairs of DNA sequence, from I don’t know how many species. Surely if such a design signature existed, we’d have seen it by now.

The good news, for the ID crowd, is that this is the perfect response to “Rev Dr” Flank’s frequent requests for a scientific test of ID. The bad news, of course, is that ID flunks the test!

SteveF all you need to do is to break the vicious cycle of reasoning by telling us what else explains these similarities. And BTW please do not use the words ‘intelligence’ and ‘design’ unless you have explained them.

Steve:

Can’t you make these predictions about laonastes aenigmamus simply because you know that it wouldn’t have been placed in the order rodentia (or suborder hystricognathi) if it lacked the predicted characteristics?

I predict that everything learned about this animal, no matter what it may be, will be found compatible with design. Just like everything else.

People, you need to get your sarcasmometers updated. I thought SteveF’s line about being interviewed for Nature was pretty funny.

Harold and Shiva, excellent points, both.

BUT notice SteveF was being WAY facetious. His mimicry of an IDer was so good that I was only alerted by the “blahblahblah”, and then of course the great smirky appeal for getting an article in Nature.

Look closer, you’re all wearing the same jersey. Now shake hands and have a Gatorade! Second half is about to start.

Nat Whilk Wrote:

Steve:

Can’t you make these predictions about laonastes aenigmamus simply because you know that it wouldn’t have been placed in the order rodentia (or suborder hystricognathi) if it lacked the predicted characteristics?

I’m not sure if you’re talking to me or one of the other steves.

But anyway, the fact that it has been placed in the order rodentia does allow me to make these predictions. (Though the characters I listed, with one exception, are common to all mammals and are not diagnostic of rodents.) Now if the world were a different place, the animal’s taxonomic placement might not tell me anything. But because of evolution, it does tell me something. Regardless of whether or not the researchers checked these particular characters (and I doubt they checked whether or not it had nucleated red blood cells, for example) the fact that it has characters placing it within mammalia and rodentia tells me about a bunch of other characters it must have as well. I know that it will have these characters well before anyone observes them.

To put it another way, I can predict that every animal that has hair will also have three middle ear bones, every animal that has mammary glands will have anucleated eurythrocyes, etc. There is no physiological reason for these things to be correlated at all, much less so perfectly. They are the result of common ancestry.

qetzal wrote:

I can fill in the second one. Seems to me, ID predicts a sort of “phylogenetic mosaicism” at the DNA level. In other words, some parts of its genome will be most closely related to one known rodent, while other parts will be most closely related to a some other known rodent.

After all, that’s exactly what we see with organisms that we know for a fact were designed (i.e. GMOs).

Of course, if that were true for all (or even most) “natural” species, we’d already have proven it. As of today, the Entrez Nucleotide database includes almost 39 billion base pairs of DNA sequence, from I don’t know how many species. Surely if such a design signature existed, we’d have seen it by now.

qetzal –

That’s an excellent point. It’s hard to think of a better single argument against ID. Too bad it’s probably too complicated for your average state legislator, school board member, etc. to understand.

Exceptions where “phylogenetic mosaicism” does exist are interesting in their own right as evidence of biological history: mitochondrial DNA, chloroplast DNA, relic viral DNA in a eukaryotic genome, etc.

Apparently, Prof. Timmins had further observations to make:

“Let me just clean this femur for you,” slurp, smack, and as he dabbed the corner of his mouth with a napkin Timmins continued, “and you can see the similarity to the chinchilla, although not as much meat.”

“The similarities don’t end there,” the professor continued, reaching for a succulent haunch, “unlike squirrel that can be a little gamey, this rascal works well sauted or in a light cream sauce.”

“I’m looking forward to future experiments with this unique little guy,” Timmins mused, “I was thinking, wrapped in bacon with capers would be nice, or perhaps with a chipotle-raspberry glaze.”

“Well, don’t just sit there,” he admonished, “we’ve got research to do! Pass the ketchup.”

“Does it taste like chicken?”

http://www.improb.com/airchives/pap[…]/chicken.htm

looks like the data is inconclusive on that.

;)

I don’t know who first made this observation, but…”It is impossible to distinguish between a creationist and a parody of a creationist. Or at least, darn difficult.

Speaking of which, what happened to all the creationists? In my admittedly irregular lurking, I haven’t seen a creationist post for a while.

well, i think Dave Scott was banned for over-trolling. JAD is hanging out in his monkey cage. Michael is still lurking about. Heddle is also around somewhere, tho his posts usually get the boot.

other than that, I think a lot of them are at home, depressed about the fact that Kansas Kangaroo wasn’t the waterloo they expected.

I’m sure they’ll be back next week.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

To put it another way, I can predict that every animal that has hair will also have three middle ear bones, every animal that has mammary glands will have anucleated eurythrocyes, etc. There is no physiological reason for these things to be correlated at all, much less so perfectly.

This would be in direct contradiction do the proposed unknown ID “designer” who would, it seems, tend to favor variety for the sake of, well, having a bunch of variety stuff. See the article Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C. S. Lewis over at the nonreligious very scientific online journal called the “Discovery Insititute”.

Quote:

Heaven, on the other hand, is a place of rich variety in contrast with the dull monotony of Hell.

“Speaking of which, what happened to all the creationists?”

oh, i almost forgot… FL is still hopping about too:

http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archi[…].html#c29527

Sir_Toejam, Re “looks like the data is inconclusive on that.” Huh. Interesting. Going by that chart, it’s most likely to taste like an “equivocal”, whatever that is.

Henry

But, this is perfectly understandable in terms of ID. It’s a case of (squinting, looking like I’m thinking really hard for that big technical term) “common design!” Just as there is probably One Designer, He would have many similar designs, variations on themes He prefers. Another prediction of ID is borne out!

bill Wrote:

attributed to Prof. Timmins, “.…this rascal works well sauted or in a light cream sauce.”

“I’m looking forward to future experiments with this unique little guy,” Timmins mused, “I was thinking, wrapped in bacon with capers would be nice, or perhaps with a chipotle-raspberry glaze.”

How typical of you over-educated eggheads to go for the fancy-shmancy blue-state restaurant menus and forget the down-home country ways.

Whatever happened to a simple hickory smoked rodent?

Re “This would be in direct contradiction do the proposed unknown ID “designer” who would, it seems, tend to favor variety for the sake of, well, having a bunch of variety stuff.”

Seems like that would conflict with the fact that we can arrange species in a mostly consistent nested hierarchical (or tree).

Henry

Bing,

I thought smoke would overwhelm the delicate flavor, but it might work with pecan or apple wood…

“Whatever happened to a simple hickory smoked rodent?”

bah, just batter ‘em and deep fry.

Bing

How typical of you over-educated eggheads to go for the fancy-shmancy blue-state restaurant menus and forget the down-home country ways.

Whatever happened to a simple hickory smoked rodent?

I bet that kha-nyou make an excellent burgoo.

http://www.angelfire.com/ky/burgoo/

Mmmmmmm.…..burgoo. That would be good, and it would appeal to the down-homely.

With all this talk about rodent recipes maybe we need to open up a separate section devoted strictly to menu planning.

Steve’s Diner??

I’m sure JAD would find his food references actually appropriate there.

harold Wrote:

I don’t know who first made this observation, but … “It is impossible to distinguish between a creationist and a parody of a creationist. Or at least, darn difficult.

Interesting observation.…perhaps it’s because the parody is rarely any more ridiculous than the creationist himself.

Yeah but those predictions are based on the evolutionary assumptions behind the lineages and the notion of common ancestors and therefore when those predictions are supported you will say that evolution is supported but you are just reinforcing a fundamentally circular blah blah blah.

The Theory of Gravity has made progress on the understanding of gravity, yet, fundamentally doesn’t clearly explain the “it” of it. Is it strings? Gravitrons? Quantum gravity theory? Gosh, we know a lot. So much that we can send space craft to land on other planets and build marvelous structures. But we don’t really exactly know what “it” is.

So while we have just an imperfect understanding of gravity, we have theories and models that predict. And when we examine real-life things that happen, like freshman physics and engineering experiments, we see how our theories are tested and hold true. Even with our imperfect understand.

And never, ever, do we say it is the “Hand of God” holding everything in its place. Which is the way of ID, which is no explanation at all.

Camels have red blood cells with nuclei.

There is a species of primate which converged on the teeth. It was once placed in a separate order. I cannot remember it’s scientific name.

Rabbits have continuously growing incisors.

Evolutionist Wrote:

Camels have red blood cells with nuclei.

From what I can find, camels do not have red cells with nuclei. Or rather, they eventually lose their nuclei when mature like all mammalian red cells do.

Rabbits have continuously growing incisors.

Yes, and they also have three middle-ear bones and anucleate erythrocytes. The presence of these things in other mammalian orders is not relevant. I can predict that continuously growing incisors will be found in this new species because it is found in all rodents, even if it can be found elsewhere.

There is a species of primate which converged on the teeth. It was once placed in a separate order. I cannot remember it’s scientific name.

This seems like it would be irrelevant in the same way that the last one was, even if it was clear what you were referring to.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

From what I can find, camels do not have red cells with nuclei. Or rather, they eventually lose their nuclei when mature like all mammalian red cells do.

They are, however, little ovals rather than the usual mammalian biconcave shape. This is interpreted by “Darwinists” as an adaptation to desert conditions and coping with dehydration, as the little ovals can continue to flow when the blood gets too viscous to allow the flow of the typical mammalian biconcave erythrocyte.

Whatever happened to a simple hickory smoked rodent?

Which species of hickory tree can be found in Laos?

They are, however, little ovals rather than the usual mammalian biconcave shape. This is interpreted by “Darwinists” as an adaptation to desert conditions and coping with dehydration, as the little ovals can continue to flow when the blood gets too viscous to allow the flow of the typical mammalian biconcave erythrocyte.

Ah, the darwinist’s favorite tool, the made up story.

Let’s apply some real biomath–Intelligent Design Statistics.

Any evolutionary algorithm trying to find the oval shape would have to randomly search through the space of all possible shapes. Taking the letters of the alphabet to be random shapes in the search space, we would expect to find 21 camels with consonant-shaped erythrocytes, for every 1 “o” shaped erythrocyte. Where are all these camels with “f” shaped cells? With “h” shaped cells? Scientists have never found these Missing Camels. Camels, which appeared fully formed one Thursday afternoon in the Cambrian, are living proof of ID.

this really isn’t even worth responding to, but since you insist…

aside from the fact that you have no clue what statistics are, apparently…

1. there is no “evolutionary algorithm” to begin with; natural selection does not “shoot” for a specific design. there is no “end target” in mind.

2. selection is not random, mutations can be, but even these aren’t always completely stochastic. you would know this if you studied genetics.

3. all possible shapes are not relevant. If they were, then you might have some evidence for ID, as we would see lots of variants on blood cell shape like you propose. However, we don’t, do we.

do you even bother to think before you post?

a much more relevant (and intelligent) question might have been:

“if we suppose that ovoid blood cells are an adaptation to desert conditions, why don’t we see ovoid cells in other desert mammals?”

why don’t you ask a question like that, so we think you at least aren’t a complete troll?

I think that the Timmy’s post was meant to be sarcastic…

aww crap. there goes my irony meter again. gotta get that thing fixed.

Posted by Steve Reuland on May 13, 2005 12:19 PM (e) (s)

“From what I can find, camels do not have red cells with nuclei. Or rather, they eventually lose their nuclei when mature like all mammalian red cells do.”

Could have been confusion on my part. ‘Apologies to everyone misled.

“Yes, and they also have three middle-ear bones and anucleate erythrocytes. The presence of these things in other mammalian orders is not relevant. I can predict that continuously growing incisors will be found in this new species because it is found in all rodents, even if it can be found elsewhere.”

Well, yeah sure.

“This seems like it would be irrelevant in the same way that the last one was, even if it was clear what you were referring to.”

I do not think it is irrelevant at all. You know, evolutionists of the old (non-darwinian, 19th. century on-) were willing to postulate a great deal of convergence.

Should one ever come by a character that was not predicted or “predicted,” one could always claim that it’s just convergence. “Irrelevance” might come down to intellectual dishonesty.

I recall there is a short description of this animal (primate) in G. G. Simpson’s 1953 book, “Major Features-“.

BTW, if the newly found animal did not have the features X and Z: in this particular case, the diagnostic characters of the order Rodentia, we would not call it a rodent, right? So, in a way, your prediction cannot really come out wrong, it comes out post hoc. Once you find the animal and examine it, you name it a “rodent” because it possesses the set of characters that are associated with them. THERE COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE A RODENT WITHOUT THOSE PRECIOUS RODENT SYNAPOMORPHIES (sp?) What would be more interesting to hear predictions about, perhaps, is what additional characters the creature would have, or would not have. It would also be interesting to know whether some of these “global” mammalian features have optimal adaptive value. Perhaps we come up with them so often, because they are the best solution?

Just playing the devils advocate here, for the giggles of it. ‘I hope you can make sense of that.

Evolutionist Wrote:

I do not think it is irrelevant at all. You know, evolutionists of the old (non-darwinian, 19th. century on-) were willing to postulate a great deal of convergence.

Should one ever come by a character that was not predicted or “predicted,” one could always claim that it’s just convergence.

Well, first, let me clear up some terminological confusion. I think what you’re referring to is a parallelism. “Convergence” technically means when two lineages converge on a similar solution but are not homologous. For example, bird wings and bat wings are similar in appearance and function, yet the bat’s wing is clearly homologous to the forearms of other mammals and not to the bird’s wing. If an unrelated organism evolved wings that were just like those of a bird, it would be very hard to explain indeed. True convergences (or parallelisms) of this nature are exceedingly rare, if they happen at all. While it’s possible that this new rodent would have characters convergent with some other order, it’s very unlikely. So I feel safe making these predictions in spite of the tiny possiblity that they won’t be borne out. If convergence of the kind you speak of were rampant, it would indeed cast doubt on common descent.

I recall there is a short description of this animal (primate) in G. G. Simpson’s 1953 book, “Major Features-“.

I would not rely on a source that old when it comes to putative mammals of unknown affinity. Some animals that were originally difficult to place (based on a paucity of morphological characters) later became easy to place once molecular systematics came into play. (Though in some cases, molecular systematics added confusion.)

BTW, if the newly found animal did not have the features X and Z: in this particular case, the diagnostic characters of the order Rodentia, we would not call it a rodent, right? So, in a way, your prediction cannot really come out wrong, it comes out post hoc.

I already explained this above in response to another poster. I’ll just repost what I wrote:

Steve Reuland Wrote:

..the fact that it has been placed in the order rodentia does allow me to make these predictions.  (Though the characters I listed, with one exception, are common to all mammals and are not diagnostic of rodents.)  Now if the world were a different place, the animal’s taxonomic placement might not tell me anything.  But because of evolution, it does tell me something.  Regardless of whether or not the researchers checked these particular characters (and I doubt they checked whether or not it had nucleated red blood cells, for example) the fact that it has characters placing it within mammalia and rodentia tells me about a bunch of other characters it must have as well.  I know that it will have these characters well before anyone observes them. 

To put it another way, I can predict that every animal that has hair will also have three middle ear bones, every animal that has mammary glands will have anucleated eurythrocyes, etc.  There is no physiological reason for these things to be correlated at all, much less so perfectly.  They are the result of common ancestry.

Hope that clears things up.

Evolutionist Wrote:

Once you find the animal and examine it, you name it a “rodent” because it possesses the set of characters that are associated with them. THERE COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE A RODENT WITHOUT THOSE PRECIOUS RODENT SYNAPOMORPHIES (sp?)

There is no a priori requirement for there to be any set of synapomorphies that define rodents, nor for there to be a taxonomic category named “rodents” to begin with. All characters could have been distributed randomly amongst animals, making every animal unique and unclassifiable. But characters are not randomly distributed, they’re tightly correlated. This allows me to predict that if an animal contains a certain set of characters, it will also contain a number of other specific characters. I know this even without having seen the animal. This fact also happens to be what allows us to identify a clade that we call “rodents”. So sure, the fact that there already exists a well-defined clade is what allows me to predict what characters it will have, but if it weren’t for common descent, there would be no clade.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on May 12, 2005 10:38 AM.

Horner fudges data–and I’m sorry, but even the small things matter was the previous entry in this blog.

More evidence that the Kansas Kangaroo Court didn’t go well for ID is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter