Life

A fossil flower from one of life’s early bloomers, plus monkey business and shark cleanings in this week’s news

Early flowers
One of the oldest fossil sprigs of a flowering plant has turned up in a Chinese rock formation dating from 122.6 to 125.8 million years ago. Now named Leefructus mirus, the extinct species had jagged-edged, three-lobed leaves and five-part seed structures much like the modern buttercups and their relatives. That connection would put Leefructus near the base of the eudicots, one of the five major lineages of today’s flowers. Pollen from the fossil record has indicated that eudicots were indeed blooming by this time, but fossils of plants themselves have been rare, an international research team reports in the March 31 Nature. —Susan Milius

BEGINNER BUTTERCUP More than 122 million years old, one of the earliest fossil sprigs of any flowering plant shows features found in today’s buttercup family. Ge Sun and David Dilcher, reproduced with permission from David Dilcher

Monkey shows business acumen
Monkeys can swing through jungles with the greatest of ease, but you wouldn’t expect them to be savvy investors. Of 21 monkeys, one lone capuchin did figure out how to make his assets grow, researchers report online March 10 in PLoS ONE. The monkeys were investing raisins with two bankers: one who always doubled the initial raisin investment, and another who always returned the same payout of eight raisins,regardless of the principal invested. In a series of tests, only one subject, a Tonkean macaque named Sha, figured out how to maximize his profits by investing different amounts depending on who was paying out, an international team of scientists reports. —Laura Sanders

Talkin’ ’bout the shark wash
New video data shows that sharks know where to go to get spic and span. Pelagic thresher sharks (Alopias pelagicus) visit submarine mountains for a good bathing, an international team reports online March 14 in PLoS One. Sharks seem to frequent these potentially dangerous shallows to find cleaner shrimp, hungry crustaceans that love to eat up fish parasites. And when the predatory fish arrive, they know just what to do. Dirty sharks swim with their noses pointed down, possibly to give shrimp good access. The shrimp, too, have it down. They go right for the shark’s pelvis, where a bevy of flatworms can often be found. —Daniel Strain

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