What’s in a name?
An ancient mammal that some researchers dubbed “ManBearPig” had long pregnancies and gave birth to highly developed young that grew up much faster than expected. Such an approach to life could help explain how some mammals took over the world after dinosaurs’ demise, Maria Temming reported in “‘ManBearPig’ lived fast, died young” (SN: 10/8/22 & 10/22/22, p. 12).
Several readers remarked that the creature’s nickname bears a resemblance to that of the ManBearPig character from the animated television series South Park. Was the show the inspiration for the name?
“In short, yes,” says paleontologist Gregory Funston of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Funston wondered how to describe the appearance of Pantolambda bathmodon to Temming. “After some deliberation and comparison to bears (they share a short face), pigs (a rounded torso) and humans (five-fingered hands and feet), I joked that … it was a kind of ManBearPig,” he says.
Of course, in reality, P. bathmodon would have looked quite different from the South Park character, Funston says.
In the show, the fictional ManBearPig is a demon — a grotesque chimera of human, bear and pig features. It has beady yellow eyes, a pig’s snout, gnarly bear fangs, one contorted human hand and one bear paw with razor-sharp claws. Its upper body is half fur, half human skin. And its lower body is a bizarre amalgamation of human thighs and pig feet.
P. bathmodon, on the other hand, looked more like “a large red panda or binturong, although it isn’t closely related to either of these animals,” Funston says. “The group of mammals that it does belong to [has] no living descendants. And like many other groups of mammals from this time, [P. bathmodon’s group] would have appeared somewhat generalized to our eyes, combining familiar aspects of many mammals but without any of the distinct features that we use to separate major mammal groups today.”
Biological anthropologist Tina Lasisi, one of our SN 10: Scientists to Watch, studies the evolution of curly hair in humans, Aina Abell reported in “Curly hair starts conversations about human variation” (SN: 10/8/22 & 10/22/22, p. 28).
Reader Gillian Ingram found Lasisi’s research on human variation fascinating.
“As a civilian watching science, I find the diversity within us amazing.… [Lasisi’s work has] opened a great sea of possibilities,” Ingram wrote. “It is good to remember we are all very closely related, but our diversity should be explored and celebrated too.”
In the family
Researchers have linked variants of a hair shaft gene called PADI3 to most cases of uncombable hair syndrome, which presents in people as silvery, spangly, spun glass hair that stands on end, Meghan Rosen reported in “Why some hair can’t be tamed” (SN: 10/8/22 & 10/22/22, p. 5).
Reader Diane F. Klein shared a family connection with uncombable hair syndrome.
“My first cousin, born about 1960, had whitish hair when she was a little girl that stood out from her head like a fluff. It was shocking to see. My aunt could not control it,” Klein wrote. “My brother, born in 1957, also probably had it. His hair was blondish white, and when he was a toddler, it stood out from his head like a wheat field, softly wafting in the wind.”