Some 99 million years ago, a small animal with a weird elongated toe died and became partly entombed in amber. Its lower leg and foot remained undisturbed until miners discovered the fossil in Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley in 2014.

The preserved toe measures less than half an inch from knuckle to claw-tip, making it 41% longer than the next longest digit on its foot. A handful of Cretaceous bird fossils have been found in Burmese amber, but this is the first to be identified as a new species. Named Elektorornis (“amber bird”) chenguangi, it was smaller than a modern sparrow and belonged to a family of birds called Enantiornithes.

Its elongated toe structure has never been observed in other birds, living or extinct. Its foot also sported an unusual layer of bristled feathers, “unlike any adult bird known today,” said paleontologist Jingmai O’Connor, a co-author with Lida Xing. Xing’s team speculated that the bird may have used the digit to probe cracks in trees for insects and grubs.

Light pollution’s tie to West Nile in birds

Light pollution can extend by 41% how long sparrows are infectious with West Nile virus, which could make it more likely that they transmit the disease to mosquitoes and on to people, a study found.

Meredith Kernbach, a University of South Florida doctoral candidate and lead researcher, published her findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “This is really the first study that’s kind of investigating the effects of light pollution on infectious disease,” Kernbach said.

Laser tech induce mice hallucinations

At the Stanford University School of Medicine, the mice are seeing things.

With new laser technology, scientists triggered hallucinations in mice by switching on a few neurons with beams of light. The research was reported in the journal Science.

The technique promises to provide clues to how the billions of neurons in the brain make sense of the environment. The research also may lead to new treatments for psychological disorders, including uncontrollable hallucinations.

In the first wave of the experiments, researchers used light to learn how various types of neurons worked. Then they designed a device that allowed them to deliver beams of red light that could strike dozens of individual brain neurons at once.

The scientists inserted two genes into mice neurons in the visual cortex, where neurons detect patterns that the brain assembles into a picture. One gene made the neurons sensitive to the red laser light. The other caused neurons to produce a green flash when turned on, letting the researchers track responses to stimuli.

Then the researchers turned off the monitor, leaving the mice in darkness. Now the scientists switched on the neurons without anything for the rodents to see. The mice responded as though they were actually seeing an image.

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