May 30th, 2012
For some time now, it has been well-established that modern birds are the direct descendants of theropod dinosaurs from the Mesozoic. Due to such an extensive lineage, birds therefore are a model group for studying the interconnectivity of evolution of development (evo-devo biology). Birds are unique among mammals in their biodiversity and complex and bewildering anatomy. Using an array of techniques, a new study has demonstrated that birds exhibit a type of heterochrony, known as paedomorphosis, which means that through development, they have a tendency to retain the morphology of the juveniles of their ancestors. At least four 'paedomorphic episodes' in the history of birds are thought to have occurred, interspersed with local peramorphosis (development beyond the ancestral adult state) in the beak.
A selection of some of the archosaur skulls used in the above study. Copyright: Nature Publishing Group
May 23rd, 2012
Without a doubt, one of the greatest stories of evolution is the transition of tetrapods from swimming to walking. This ecological transition requires a great deal of morphological and mechanical reorganisation, particularly in the limbs to become weight-bearing structures. Ichthyostega is a critical species in unravelling this mystery, and a new analysis using a three-dimensional reconstruction has shed additional light on variation in early limb mobility. It was discovered that, unlike typical tetrapods, Ichthyostega did not employ a lateral sequence walking method, and lacked the rotary motions to entirely lift its body from the ground. Ichthyostega may have been unique in this restriction of hip and shoulder mobility, which imposes some restrictions on candidates for Middle Devonian trackways.
May 21st, 2012
Eumelanin has been hitting the headlines over the last few years due to its presence in feathered dinosaurs. However, it is a much more ubiquitous chemical with a hyperdiverse array of functions than just colour in feathers. Previous examination of eumelanin structures are based on scanning-electron spectroscopy, combined with biochemical data which has shown that fossilised melanin is distinct from similar bacterial structures. A new technique adds to this arsenal of techniques by using high-resolution chemical mass spectrometry to identify fossilised eumelanin in Jurassic (>160Ma) cephalod ink sacs. Comparison with modern squid demonstrated that this eumelanin is identical to that found in the ink that squid use to confuse predators, providing evidence as to the ecology of these ancient creatures.
May 17th (Australia time) 2012
Dinosaurs and Australia were two words that usually weren't said in the same sentence 15+ years ago. It has only been over the past years that dinosaur palaeontology has begun to kick-start in OZ. Frankly its quite odd that dinosaur remains have been rare in OZ, especially as the correct ages and areas can be found. However, some dinosaurs including sauropods, theropods, ornithopods and a type of ankylosaur are known. Although a relatively new found (2004) has now officially been reported. A large collection of bones, all belonging to titanosaur sauropods, have been found at Plevna Station near Eromanga.
MASSIVE FIND: Scott Hocknull (left) and helpers with 1.5m femurs of a titanosaur. Picture: Outback Gondwana Foundation Source:The Courier-Mail
May 9th 2012
A new research paper in the journal Paludicola has been released today; the journal is published by the Rochester Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology. The research was undertaken by co-creator of palaeocritti Dean Lomax and leading ichthyosaur expert Prof. Judy Massare. The paper focuses on the rediscovery of a large but incomplete ichthyosaur skeleton, identified as Leptonectes, held in the collections of the Sedgwick Museum Cambridge; the specimen is associated with two embryos. This ichthyosaur block was donated to the museum by famous early geologist and fossil collector Thomas Hawkins in the 1800s. This new study describes the first ever documented occurrence of the ichthyosaur genus Leptonectes found associated with embryos, the embryos of which include an almost complete skeleton with a skull. The embryos are found to be late term; the mother may have died due to birthing complications.
May 1st 2012
To top off an awesome week in the Palaeo-literature, a new study has provided an alternative look at one of the most dramatic events of all time: The end-Cretaceous mass extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. This event is typically attributed to exclusively abiotic factors such as a bolide impact or mass volcanism, with biotic consequences. A new look at this event has analysed the morphological diversity (or anatomical disparity/variability) of dinosaurian lineages in the [millions of] years leading up to the extinction interval, as opposed to using raw or corrected species-diversity counts. Major lineages in fact were exhibiting evidence of morphological variation on both a geographic and intra-clade level. Graviportal herbivores such as the then-cosmopolitan hadrosaurs were in decline long before the event, whereas the carnivorous theropods, medium-sized herbivores and Asian taxa remained neutral. This provides new evidence for decline in some lineages long before the events of the mass extinction.
The authors elaborate on their new study in this video
May 1st, 2012
When people think of the fossil record, the first thing that springs to mind will usually be a nice boney skeleton of a dinosaur. That's probably because these are the most prolific fossils, and what we typically associate with vertebrates in the fossil record. However, calcified cartilage can also be found, as well as rare occurrences of soft tissue. Primary cartilage is fairly well known in the fossil record, however nothing is known about secondary cartilage. Secondary cartilage is known in extant birds, forming as a structure to accommodate mechanical stress. Due to the nestling of modern birds within Dinosauria, a new study has investigated the presence of this tissue within the ornithischian dinosaur Hypacrosaurus stebingeri to determine its phylogenetic origin. Using osteohistology (bone thin-sections), secondary cartilage was located in elements associated with mastication, consistent with its presence in extant birds, and reinforcing the idea that it relates to mechanical stress.
Refs: Paper (open access)
April 30th, 2012
One of the most iconic images of dinosaurian life will always be two pachycephalosaurs going at each other with their hypertrophied skull domes (the frontoparietal bone). However, direct evidence of such behaviour has always been lacking. A newly analysed specimen from the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation (USA) has two large oval depressions on the dorsal surface, which CT scans have shown are pathological lesions resulting from a traumatic injury. Comparison with modern and other extant archosaurs rules out that they are the by-products of taphonomy, bone resorption or infection. Combined with their exclusive dorsal distribution, this strongly supports previous assertions of agonistic headbutting in Pachycephalosaurus.
April 28th, 2012
Maniraptoran theropods are one of the most intriguing groups of vertebrates ever. The huge diversity of this clade during the Mesozoic has revolutionised the way we think about 'transitionary fossils', and provided concrete evidence for the evolution of modern birds from a dinosaurian ancestor. Of these dinosaurs, the Unenlagiidae were a group of small to medium sized forms, found in Argentina and Madagascar. A new finding in the Late Cretaceous of Brazil has extended the range of this enigmatic group. Based on a single dorsal vertebra, a new species name is not erected. The finding does however increase the ecological disparity of this group, based on the predicted size of the organism.
The early tetrapod, Eryops, which may have used it's dermal bone to neutralize acids relating to a terrestrial mode of life. Credit: Cristine Janis
April 25th, 2012
One of the greatest stories in the history of life on Earth is how vertebrates first came on to the land millions of years ago. A number of fossils have helped this transition be understood in great detail, but now studies using modern organisms are helping to shed light on the processes. In extant tetrapods, dermal bone aids the regulation of acid-base balance relating to excess blood carbon dioxide (hypercapnia). Similar dermal bone structures are found in basal tetrapods of the Permo-Carboniferous period, which may have served a similar function as to that in extant tetrapods. Different patterns of dermal bone sculpture likely relate to differing levels of terrestriality, providing clues to the physiological parameters that may have guided the sea-land transition.
April 24th, 2012
Modern animals are plagued by parasites, it's one of the inevitabilities of life. However, finding evidence of parasitic associations in the fossil record is difficult, as often the relative size differences, and lack of 'hard parts' to preserve means that parasitic organisms are often not preserved. New Jurassic and Cretaceous flea-like fossils provide the oldest glimpse of bizarre parasitic insects in the fossil record so far. One of these critturs, or 'pseudofleas', named Strashila incredibilis, had long and powerful hind limbs, a well-developed proboscis, and have been suggested to have fed on contemporary dinosaurs and pterosaurs.
April 20th, 2012
Non-avian theropod dinosaurs undoubtedly are the most popular organisms to have ever roamed the planet, based largely on their presence in the media as ferocious meat-eating tyrants. They also have a high taxonomic and ecological diversity which may relate to their success and dominance, eventually as the birds we see today. A new study has analysed the cranial diversity of non-avian theropods, with some early birds, using geometric morphometrics to observe patterns of morphological variation in correspondence with function. Principal components analysis suggests that the morphology of theropod skulls is strongly associated with dietary preference as well as phylogenetic affinity. Non-carnivorous lineages (such as therizinosaurs) are distinctly different from their hypercarnivorous cousins, suggesting that diet is a primary driver of skull form. Early birds are found to exhibit high ecological diversity, providing clues to their evolutionary success.
Refs: Paper (free to download)
April 18th, 2012
The Cambrian Explosion (542 million years ago) is possibly the greatest known event in the history of life on Earth, representing a time when organisms gained the ability to grow mineralised skeletons, leading to an evolutionary arms race and an explosion in the diversity of multicellular life forms. Significant research has gone into understanding the biological, physical and geochemical (environmental) parameters that drove this event, but little has been done to understand the large-scale events that drove these. New stratigraphic and geochemical data from Palaeozoic marine sediments deposited 540-480 million years ago suggest that geological events such as changes in sea-level and sedimentation rates and processes, producing a distinct surface called the 'Great Unconformity', may have strongly influenced sea water chemistry concurrently with an expansion of available shallow marine habitats.In turn, this may have been an environmental trigger for the onset of skeletal mineralisation, leading to an explosion of taxonomic diversity and morphological disparity.
April 17th, 2012
Direct trophic associations are incredibly rare in the fossil record, typically coming from coprolites or tooth marks. The Jehol group is the latest to reveal direct evidence of feeding behaviour in a seemingly endless bounty of palaeontological delights. An as of yet unidentified theropod left it's mark (i.e., an embedded tooth) in a rib of the holotype specimen of the sauropod Dongbetitan. The lack of bone regrowth around the tooth suggests that feeding occurred post-mortem, something that the relative size disparity between putative predator and prey corroborates. The presence of these teeth suggest that a presently unknown medium-sized theropod was present in the Lower Cretaceous of China.
April 17th, 2012
The Crato Formation of the Araripe Basin in Brazil is globally renowned as a Konservat-Lagerstatten, having produced some of the most exquisite fossils currently known. It is perhaps most famous for its abundance of pterosaur fossils, and has greatly increased our understanding of the evolution of these enigmatic creatures. The most recent finding concerns the presence of bacteria within pterosaur headcrests. These bacteria would have aided the initial decay of the organism and subsequently have been preserved post-mortem by apatite (calcium phosphate), occuring in such an abundance that they actually partially replicate the tissues within which they are found. The presence of these preserved bacterial mats may be associated with the exceptional preservation within the Crato Formation.
Ref: Paper (requires subscription)
April 15th, 2012
Trophic analysis of extinct organisms is critical in guiding our understanding of the evolution of organisms with respect to their ecology and environment. However, the fact that direct ecological or trophic associations are rare means that understanding feeding ecologies can be problematic. A new study shows that three-dimensional microtextural analysis of tooth wear in cichlid fishes is highly sensitive to variations in feeding ecology, and acts as a great tool for understanding the co-evolution of form and function in fossil fishes, as well as other organisms.
April 12th, 2012
A new tyrannosaur has been described from China. The newly uncovered specimen has been named Yutyrannus huali and is known from three individual skeletons, of which include skulls. Protofeathers were also found preserved with the specimen, this means that Y. huali is the largest known species of dinosaur with direct evidence of feathers.
Press Release: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/dinosaurs/9186922/Giant-feathered-dinosaur-Yutyrannus-discovered-in-China.html
Yutyrannus family. Copyright: Brian Choo
March 24th, 2012
Taphonomy is a critical part of Palaeontology. It concerns the decay processes that have occurred since the death of an organism, until the time it is uncovered millions or billions of years later by humans. It can guide our understanding of the preservation of organisms, and provide clues as to exactly what it is that we see preserved in fossils. Beardmore et al. looked at the processes that occurred from death to burial in the Triassic marine reptile Serpianosaurus, constructing a new taphonomic model to assess skeletal completion and articulation. Minor structural loss (fidelity) occurred during a 'floating phase', followed by decay on the sea floor at the 'residence phase'. The amount of decay predicts how susceptible organisms were to weak bottom currents, leading to further element loss and disarticulation. Further decay was arrested by episodic deposition of event beds at various stages during the decay processes.
Ref: Accepted manuscript
March 22nd, 2012
Almost every week, a new fossil find is made public that changes our understanding of very early vertebrate or tetrapod evolution. The latest addition comes from a well-preserved sarcopterygian from the Middle Devonian of Nevada, USA. The species, Tinirau clackae, is aiding our understanding both the temporal and morphological underpinning of early tetrapod evolution. Pervasive morphological parallelism appears to have been key in multiple tetrapod lineages, and provides clues as to when our early ancestors first grew digitised limbs and took their first steps on to land.
Ref: Paper (open access)
Photograph, interpretive drawing and reconstruction of Tinirau clackae, holotype specimen. Copyright: Brian Swartz
March 20th, 2012
Conodonts are considered to be the earliest true vertebrates, and were abundant in Palaeozoic and early Mesozoic seas. They look similar to small versions of the modern Amphioxus, and are typically only represented in the fossil record by their tiny and complex tooth elements. However, they did not possess a skeletal jaw system. The function of conodont teeth has been addressed using advanced engineering techniques on 3D models created using synchrotron radiation X-ray computed micro-tomography. It was found that conodont teeth possessed an unparalleled sharpness that maximized applied pressure, as a method of overcoming size limitations. The occlusal style (way in which the teeth come together) is interpreted as being rotational, combined with previous analyses of microwear on conodont teeth.
March 18th, 2012
Longisquama insignis is an enigmatic reptile from the Triassic of Kyrgyzstan. Since discovery, there has been speculation about the identification of elongated projections from the specimens' spines. They have been classed as anything from feathers to plant material entrained with the organism and preserved with it upon death. The latest study focuses on all known specimens of Longisquama, looking at aspects of taphonomy, function, and development of the structures. The projections actually represent feather-like structures similar to those found in avian dinosaurs, possibly representing the initial stages of protofeather development in early archosauromorphs.
March 12th, 2012
A team of Canadian palaeontologists have announced the identification of two new species of ceratopsian dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta: Unescoceratops koppelhusae and Gryphoceratops morrisoni. They help to complete the record of small ceratopsians from this period, as well as providing biogeographical information on the origin of their clade, Leptoceratopsidae. Gryphoceratops is possibly the smallest adult-sized ceratopsian from North America, as well as one of the smallest herbivorous dinosaurs.
Life reconstructions of Unescoceratops koppelhusae and
Gryphoceratops morrisoni. Copyright: Julius Csotonyi.
March 12th, 2012
Acrocanthosaurus atokensis is one of the largest known theropods, hailing from the Lower Cretaceous of North America, being of a similar size and weight to Tyrannosaurus rex. The Cloverly Formation of Montana is renowned for yielding numerous fossils of dinosaurs such as the infamous Deinonychus antirrhopus, and it's presumed prey Tenontosaurus tilletti, as well as fragmentary remains of Acrocanthosaurus. A new partial skeleton representing the juvenile stage for this species has recently been uncovered, providing information on the ontogeny of this mighty predator. Growth lines within the bones suggest that Acrocanthosaurus reached adult maturity in 2-3 decades, and grew at a rate similar to other large theropods. This specimen further suggests that only a single large theropod species existed in the Early Cretaceous of North America, which may be inter-linked with phases of faunal turnover during the Cretaceous.
Ref: Accepted Manuscript
March 9th, 2012
Just recently, a study came out revealing the colour of a fossilized feather that may have belonged to Archaeopteryx. Now it's younger cousin, the Early Cretaceous four-winged Microraptor, has been given the same treatment, revealing that it had an iridescent black plumage. This reconstruction comes from the analysis of nanoscale melanin-bearing structures called melanosomes, and is revolutionising the way in which extinct organisms are viewed. Further to previous studies where it is the geometry of the individual structures that is used to predict colour, this new study looks at the arrangement of the melanosomes to infer that the feathers had an iridescent sheen. This provides clues to the lifestyle of Microraptor, as modern birds with iridescent plumage are active exclusively during the day. The authors also suggest that the plumage may have primarily been used for signalling as opposed to previous hypotheses suggesting that the feathers were for generating lift for powered flight.
March 8th, 2012
Island-based species are renowned for their extreme variations in size, either being gigantic or dwarfed forms of closely-related taxa. The Hateg Basin of Romania is famous for preserving 'an island of dwarfs' from the Cretaceous, comprising taxa such as the hadrosaur Telmatosaurus and the theropod Balaur, smaller derivatives of their mainland cousins. The latest addition to this enigmatic fossil fauna comes from a series of egg clutches, and closely resemble lithostrotian titanosaur (sauropod) eggs from Patagonia. Within these eggs, the microscopic embroyonic integument (skin) has been recovered, giving unique clues into the conservative reproductive template of these dwarf sauropods. Combined with the relatively lower egg count per clutch, it is suggested that this is a consequence of the "island effect", and also provides additional information on the biogeographical patterns of sauropod dinosaurs.
March 8th, 2012
This small section of paleo news comes direct from Dean Lomax: "In 2009 on a research trip visiting numerous fossils collections with Dr Burkhard Pohl, I was lucky enough to visit a Solnhofen Quarry, and stand in the exact position where a somewhat unique fossil was discovered". This unique specimen belonged to a predator-prey interaction. A pterosaur (Rhamphorhynchus) was found preserved with a large fish (Aspidorhynchus). The jaws of the fish were locked around the wing of this pterosaur. It is unknown whether the pterosaur was dead prior to the fish having 'locked on', but probably was. Another cool feature of this wonderful specimen is that the pterosaur has a small fish stuck in the esophagus of the animal, and also stomach contents (last meal) are preserved between the ribs, and consist of fish. This beautiful specimen has now been written up and published into the scientific journal PLoS ONE.
Image taken from Frey and Tischlinger, 2012.
March 3rd, 2012
A very cool new find has been reported in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (an International Journal for the Geo-Sciences). This new discovery reports a partial skeleton of a dromaeosaurid dinosaur (Velociraptor) that has the gastric (stomach) contents preserved between the ribs. However, within the gastric contents of this specimen are the remains of an azhdarchid pterosaur!
Partial skeleton of Velociraptor. Black arrows point to a pterosaur bone within the stomach contents. From Hone et al., 2012.
February 29th, 2012
Today really has been a weird and wonderful day for Palaeontology. As well as fleas, a cracking new study was published looking at the bit force of, you guessed it, Tyrannosaurus rex. Karl and Peter, two palaeontologists from Up North (UK) used the muscular and skeletal mechanics of a digital model of a whole T. rex skull to look at the maximum force it could bite with. The resultant forces show that it had the most powerful bite of any terrestrial animal ever, and Karl is quoted saying it would be like having a "medium-sized elephant sitting on you". This study is vital in reconstructing the feeding ecology of what is probably the most infamous and notorious organism to have ever roamed the planet.
February 29th, 2012
What do you think of when someone mentions fossils to you? You just pictured a Tyrannosaurus rex, didn't you? Well, what about the other scale of the weird and the wonderful? What about fleas?! Fleas are parasites, as anyone with a pet will know. They have a fossil record too though. It turns out that during the time of the dinosaurs, fleas were around too, bugging the hell out of anything with blood (pun intended). Giant forms have been found, surprise surprise, in China from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Close inspection of their morphology shows that they were fully capable of piercing a dinosaur hide to feast on its blood, as they possessed armoured jaws with sharp dentitions. The fossils also help palaeontologists understand the origins of these little critturs.
February 22nd, 2012
The deposits of Liaoning, China, are renowned for the exquisitely preserved and diverse faunas that they yield. The latest addition to this is an enigmatic toothed pterosaur, Guidraco venator. The etymology of this new taxa is "ghost dragon hunter', referring to it's size and presumable stealth as a flying reptile. The unusual thing is that it's overall morphology is remarkably similar to pterosaurs found in the well-known Crato Formation, in Brazil.
Guidraco venator gen. et sp. nov., from the Cretaceous of China. Copyright: Naturwissenschaften
February 22nd, 2012
Whilst body fossils (such as bones, shells, teeth) are often what one immediately thinks of when someone mentions fossils, trace fossils are equally important in assessment of extinct life. While macro- and microfossils are the dead remains of organisms, trace fossils such as burrows and trackways tell us what extinct organisms were like during life, and are thus invaluable to palaeontologists. The latest extraordinary trackways come from the Miocene of the United Arab Emirates, and represent a herd of at least 13 elephants. From these trackways, it has been inferred that the ancestors of modern elephants exhibited both strong social structure, as well as solidarity, possibly in the alpha male of the represented herd. Occurrences like this are critical in understanding the complex social histories of modern animals, especially those so crucial to modern ecosystems.
Febraury 20th, 2012
Palaeontologist's can look at modern analogues to infer how certain parts of a fossil animal may have looked that may not have been preserved (such as soft tissues), and from that infer the function and life habits of extinct organisms. The latest such analysis involves looking at a spectacular extant archosaur, the American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis. Using anatomical dissections and computed tomography (CT) scanning, the authors of this study looked at the respiratory system and compared it to that of the other dominant group of extant archosaurs, the birds (or avian theropods). It was revealed that the similarity between alligator and bird lungs is striking in many respects, and that the homology between the two represents the plesiomorphic condition for Archosauria. This has important implications in inferring crucial evolutionary steps such as the mechanical adaptations to powered flight in birds.
February 15th, 2012
The Solnhofen Limestone in Germany is perhaps the most famous fossil lagerstatte of all time, yielding perhaps the most famous fossils of all time of Archaeopteryx lithographica. Rhamphorynchus is a pterosaur from the same deposits, and has a hotly debated life history. Typically, morphological analyses of this genus have suggested it has a slow crocodile-like ontogenetic trajectory, and previous histological studies have been on inadequate samples. A new study shows the results of bone microstructure analysis of an ontogenetic series of Rhamphorynchus, suggesting that hatchlings were incapable of flight (the non-volant hypothesis). Furthermore, the study suggests that the onset of powered flight triggered the start of a slower bone growth rate, not reproductive maturity as previously postulated.
February 10th, 2012
Recently a plesiosaur (not a swimming dinosaur, but a marine reptile!) has been discovered in Peterborough, UK. It is believed this specimen may be up to 80% complete, the excavation of this animal has begun.
Ref: Press Release
February 8th, 2012
Late Cretaceous dinosaurs are probably the most iconic of all those that lived during the Mesozoic, including common household names such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops horridus. However, there are numerous bizarre forms that lived along side these. New specimens of the enigmatic oviraptorid theropod Nemegtomaia barsboldi have been uncovered from southern Mongolia, and are preserved in a brooding position on top of a clutch of eggs, an extremely rare preservational occurrence. This represents the fourth oviraptorid genus found associated with eggs through brooding, strongly contradicting early reconstructions of these dinosaurs as egg thieves (hence the name of the group). Furthermore, these fossils show postmortem damage by beetles prior to complete burial.
February 4th, 2012
Until now, taxonomic and phylogenetic evaluations in fossils have relied predominantly on hard tissues, such as bones, teeth, or shells. Now, it appears that soft-tissue remains such as skin impressions contain similar information too. Phil Bell of the University of Alberta, Canada, studied hadrosaur (Dinosauria: Ornithopoda) skin impressions, the results of exceptional preservation. Comparing two species of Saurolophus, he used the geometry and architecture of the scales to taxonomically distinguish two species that are formally delimited previously based purely on osteological data. This is useful, as now soft-tissue can be incorporated into future cladistic analyses of dinosaurs.
February 1st, 2012
Archosauromorphs are a group of organisms that include crocodiles, birds and non-avian dinosaurs. During the Mesozoic, they were without question the dominant group on the planet. A major question for palaeontologists concerns how this dominance arose. Now, Sookias et al. have looked at trait differences between terrestrial Triassic archosauromorphs and then-contemporary basal synapsids, principally testing to see the effect that body mass variation had through time. The previous assertion that Cope's rule (a within- lineage trend of body size increase) is dominant within terrestrial vertebrates is rejected via a number of statistical procedures. Instead, it is found that passive processes are prevalent in controlling these taxonomic and ecomorphological processes, and that achosauromorphs ascended to dominance via opportunistic replacement of therapsids following extinctions, instead of competitive exclusion, facilitated by an increase in body size.
January 24th, 2012
Dinosaur nesting sites are excruciatingly rare, but provide a unique opportunity to decipher clues about dinosaurian reproductive biology and early growth. Continuing previous research, Reisz et al. further demonstrate the significance of a Massospondylus nesting site from the Early Jurassic of southern Africa, by constructing a temporally-calibrated optimization of dinosaurian reproductive biology. They provide insight into reproductive mechanisms in sauropods prior to the evolution of gigantism, as well as early parental care dynamics. Additionally, the egg clutches suggest that certain derived avian reproductive features (e.g., enlarged clutch volumes, brooding) evolved prior only amongst the theropod lineage.
January 24th, 2012
Archaeopteryx lithographica is perhaps the most iconic fossil of all time, representing a critical species in our understanding of the dinosaur-bird transition. Now, it appears that it's plumage may have been entirely black, aiding it's reconstruction. Carney et al. studied the morphological structure of melanin-bearing organelles called melanosomes in an isolated Archaeopteryx feather, comparing it to a diverse dataset of extant birds. They concluded that the entire feather was black and, furthermore, that the presence of these structures may have provided structural support in the wings during early flight evolution.
January 20th, 2012
Within pachycephalosaurids (the dome-headed ornithischian dinosaurs), structures previously described as abdominal ribs or gastralia have been reinterpreted in terms of their architecture as myorhabdoid ossifications (tendons associated with myomeres). These structures are unique amongst all other tetrapods, and only found elsewhere in teleost fish, and they are histologically and structurally disparate from the typical ossified tendons associated with other ornithischian clades.
Ref: FREE Paper
January 19th, 2012
The Burgess Shale deposits of British Columbia, Canada, are infamous for their rich deposits of early animal life, and specifically for preserving the 'soft-parts' of those animals. A new enigmatic stalked organism, Siphusauctum gregarium, with 1,133 specimens known, has been recently described in the open-access journal PLoS One. S. gregarium was probably a filter-feeter based on it's morphology, and even structures such as the stomach, gut, and intestine are preserved. It's phylogenetic affinities are still uncertain, as are many of those from the Burgess Shale.
Ref: hhttp://bit.ly/x8jKdx (FREE paper)
January 18, 2012
A Kent State University researcher has co-authored a new publication describing a hermit crab from the Cretaceous Period, called Mesoparapylocheles michaeljacksoni, the new species honours legendary singer Michael Jackson.
Press release: http://kent.patch.com/articles/kent-state-researcher-helps-discover-new-species-of-fossil-hermit-crab
January 16, 2012
A 'treasure trove' of fossils, including some collected by Charles Darwin have been re-discovered in an old cabinet at the British Geological Survey HQ near Keyworth, UK. Some of the material includes thinly cut and polished sections of wood, including the one pictured below.
Press release: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16578330
Image from link above.
January 11th, 2012
Using advanced muscular and skeletal modelling techniques, a team of palaeontologists reconstructed the locomotory mechanics of the basal ornithschian, Lesothosaurus diagnosticus. They found that locomotor musculature and abilities of Lesothosaurus probably represents a basal dinosaurian condition, disparate to that of extant avian theropods. The novel techniques used are important for understanding the precise biomechanical evolution of extinct organisms.
January 5, 2012
A newly named ichthyosaur, Acamptonectes densus has been described by Valentin Fischer and others. The newly described ichthyosaur is known from three specimens, they were found at Speeton in England and Cremlingen, Germany.
January 4, 2012
Leaping lizards and dinosaurs inspire robot design. A group of biologists and engineers (including students) from the University of California, Berkeley, have studied how lizards manage to leap successfully even when they slip and stumble. This has also taken a look at dinosaurs, and how they may have also used their tails as stabilizers. Check out the video and further info at the link below.
Press release: http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/01/04/leaping-lizards-show-robots-the-value-of-a-tail/
December 15, 2011
Three renowned French paleontologists have stressed for more research in the field of biodiversity history and paleontology in Pakistan.
Press release: http://www.dawn.com/2011/12/15/french-paleontologists-stress-for-more-research-in-pakistan.html
Dec 8, 2011
The first giant titanosaurian dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous of New Mexico, North America has been described. Two enormous vertebrae and a partial femur are referred to Alamosaurus sanjuanensis. This new discovery may present the biggest dinosaur discovered in North America, although the size range has previously been suggested for Supersaurus vivianae.Ref: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/science-technology/Paleontologists-Find-Biggest-Dinosaur-in-North-America-135282703.html
Press release: http://www.app.pan.pl/article/item/app20100105.html
Nate Carroll, left, and Liz Freedman, a doctoral student in Jack Horner’s paleontology laboratory, pose with the complete reconstruction of the cervical (neck) vertebra of an Alamosaurus. Image copyright: Denver Fowler.
Dec 7, 2011
A new study looking at the exceptionally preserved eyes of Anomalocaris - dubbed the first super predator - have been published. Results suggest that Anomalocaris posessed highly acute vision, with each eye 3 cm in length and containing over 16,000 lenses.
Reconstruction of Anomalocaris. Image copyright: Nobumichi Tamura.
Dec 6, 2011
A new ceratopsian dinosaur has been described from remains collected over 90 years ago. Spinops sternbergorum was discovered in Alberta, Canada in 1916. The remains have been stored in the Natural History Museum, London.
Press release: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/news/2011/december/new-horned-dinosaur-hidden-for-90-years-in-museum106428.html
Image reconstruction of Spinops sternbergorum. Image copyright Dmitry Bogdanov.
Nov 24, 2011
Maggy Horvath, a staff member of Syncrude, one of the largest producers of crude oil from Canada's oil sands, has made a fantastic fossil discovery; a near complete plesiosaur. The specimen will be excavated by staff of the Royal Tyrell Museum.
Nov 21, 2011
University Rhode Island (URI) palaeontologist, David Fastovsky has published details of a fossilised nest, consisting of 15 juvenile Protoceraptops andrewsi specimens. The paper has been published in the latest edition of the Journal of Paleontology.
Press release: http://www2.turnto10.com/news/2011/nov/21/uri-paleontologist-publishes-details-dinosaur-nest-ar-837188/
Image taken from above link.
Nov 17, 2011
A new study suggests volcanic eruptions and meteorite strikes likely caused the mass-extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period, the new study rejects that a single meterorite was responsible
Nov 14, 2011
Several fossil whales, sharks and dolphins have been discovered in Chile. Many of the whales are complete, one of the scientists said 15 whales were found in 15 days, astonishing. Watch the video below to learn more about this exciting find.
Press release: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-15723254
Nov 6, 2011
Save Bracklesham Bay to Selsey fossils! Taken from link below - The ‘Save Bracklesham to Selsey Beach for ALL’ group states online: “This is more of a disaster for amateur and professional geologists and palaeontologists, as the stretch of beach from Bracklesham to Selsey is one of the few easily-accessible and very productive Eocene (fossil) sites.
Press release: http://www.chichester.co.uk/community/fossil_hunters_slam_bracklesham_kite_surfing_zone_1_3220903
Nov 4, 2011
Skulls of mammals have been reported from the Late Cretaceous of northern Patagonia, Argentina. The newly described mammal has been called Cronopio dentiacutus, it was around 4-6 inches in length.
Press release: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hFScX1dE4xggTIll2rBnmfGCIN9g?docId=CNG.9d687b9275d9daa205bf2652fe9df048.3b1
Artist's depiction of Cronopio dentiacutus. (Credit: Illustration by Jorge Gonzalez)
Nov 3, 2011
Humans were living in England as long as 44,000 years ago - far earlier than previously thought.
Press release: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15568536
Oct 20, 2011
The 11th Archaeopteryx has been discovered! The specimen is beautifull preserved, missing only the skull.
Press release: http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/10/stunning-new-archaeopteryx-fos.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news
Image courtesy of Helmut Tischlinger
Oct 14, 2011
Worlds largest toothed pterosaur described on the basis of an incomplete rostrum. The rostrum belongs to the pterosaur Coloborhynchus capito from the Cambridge Greensand (Late Cretaceous).
Image reconstruction of Coloborhynchus by Mark Witton of www.markwitton.com
Oct 14, 2011
A re-evaluation of the large predatory dinosaur Carnotaurus has helped to determine the dinosaur was a lot deadlier than originally thought. University of Alberta palaeontology graduate student Scott Persons has suggested it was one of the fastest predators of its time.Press release: http://www.news.ualberta.ca/article.aspx?id=001ED6E9DEA445FCACE696A9DDA3E5BB
Oct 13, 2011
A new unamed 98% complete juvenile theropod has been discovered in the central Bavarian community of Kelheim, southern Germany and dates to the early Cretaceous around 135 million years old. The new theropod has been touted as the best ever found in Europe.
Oct 13, 2011
Oldest fossil rodents discovered in South America. The remains of teeth pertaining to rodents were found in sediments dating to around 41 million years old dating to the middle Eocene, they were found along the Ucayali River near Contamana, Peru.
Teeth of one of the new fossil rodents. (Credit: Laurent Marivaux)
Oct 12, 2011
New species of fossil lacewing called Undulopsychopsis alexi described from China.