samples so her team can analyze the
DNA. “Many pictures I don’t give a sec-
ond thought to,” she says. But the photos
of the Galveston Island canids were “a
little bit different.… It just doesn’t look
typical of a standard coyote.”
She was also drawn in by Wooten’s
concern for the animals’ welfare. The
canids live on an increasingly urban-
ized island and sometimes cross into
people’s yards or end up as roadkill.
“He really, really cares, and I wanted to
help,” vonHoldt says.
Wooten took tissue samples from
the bodies of two canids killed by cars.
He later lost one of the samples and so
instead sent the scalpel he had used on
the animal’s carcass.
VonHoldt’s team compared genetic
profiles from the Galveston animals
with profiles from four groups of wild
coyotes, Yellowstone’s gray wolves,
Canada’s eastern wolves and captive-
bred red wolves from a Washington
zoo. The DNA analysis revealed that
the two Galveston specimens were
mostly coyote but carried genetic
A 240-million-year-old case of bone
cancer has turned up in a fossil of an
extinct turtle relative. Dating to the
Triassic Period, the fossil is the old-
est known example of this cancer in an
amniote, a group that includes mam-
mals, birds and reptiles, scientists report
online February 7 in JAMA Oncology.
The fossilized femur from a shell-less turtle relative, Pappochelys rosinae,
was found in southwest Germany in
2013. A growth on the bone led a team
of paleontologists and physicians to
analyze the fossil with a micro CT scan,
a technique that provides a detailed,
3-D view inside an object.
“When we saw that this was not a
break or an infection, we started looking at other growth-causing diseases,”
says paleontologist Yara Haridy of the
Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. The
verdict? Periosteal osteosarcoma, a
malignant bone tumor.
“It is almost obvious that ancient animals would have cancer, but it is so very
rare that we find evidence of it,” Haridy
says. This tumor from the Triassic offers
evidence that cancer is “a vulnerability
to mutation deeply rooted in our DNA.”
— Aimee Cunningham
The venomous striped eel catfish, North
America’s fox squirrel and 64 other
species are considered invasive threats
to native species in the European Union,
scientists report in the March Global
Change Biology. Emphasis on the word
“threat.” None of these species has been
found yet in the EU, except in captivity.
But many of the most worrying are
expected to invade EU territory within
10 years, likely due to human activity.
Species could stow away on a ship or an
airplane, or escape from a zoo or a lab.
Scientists whittled down a European watch list from 329 invasive species to 66
using a technique called horizon scanning. Experts scored the likelihood of each
creature arriving in the EU in the next decade, establishing itself and changing local
The eight most threatening species include East Asia’s voracious northern snakehead, a fish that has wreaked havoc in U. S. waters since the early 2000s. Other “very
high risks” are the aggressive rusty crayfish, a species native to the Ohio River that
can spread fungus or diseases harmful to local species, and Asia’s golden mussels,
prone to accumulating on native plants and clogging pipes. — Stephanie Parker
A fossilized femur of Pappochelys rosinae, an ancient
turtle relative, has the oldest bone cancer yet
discovered. A micro C T scan of the front of the femur
(circled at left) reveals the extent of the tumor’s
growth (area to the left of the dotted line).
variants shared with only the red
wolves, the researchers reported in
the December Genes. Since the red
wolves — and thus their DNA — were
thought to be extinct in the wild, the
researchers dubbed the stretches of
red wolf DNA ghost genes.
These ghosts are worth keeping
around, vonHoldt says, urging conservation measures that preserve not just
species but genetic diversity at every
level. Saving the ghost DNA could let
some part of red wolves live on in the
wild, much the way that Neandertals are
still present in the 1 to almost 3 percent
of Neandertal DNA carried by modern
people of Asian and European ancestry
(SN Online: 10/10/17).
Conservation efforts are mostly
geared toward saving rare or endangered species, not preserving genetic
diversity within common species, such
as coyotes, vonHoldt says.
Wooten agrees the Texas canids are a
treasure to be protected: “We have buried genetic gold in Galveston.”
— Tina Hesman Saey
Rare find: an ancient
turtle relative’s tumor
Europe names 66 most worrying invasive species
The striped eel catfish (Plotosus lineatus) is one
of eight species considered a “very high risk”
for invading parts of the European Union.
Front of femur Back of femur