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Palaeontology

‘Dracula’ dinosaur had bristles and fangs

Via:Fox News

Image credit: Tyler Keillor

A bizarre dinosaur had vampire-like fangs, a parrot beak and porcupine bristles, researchers say.

The ancient creature, which was found 50 years ago in southern Africa but drew relatively little attention until now, may shed light on the evolution of the major group of dinosaurs that included famous giants such as Stegosaurus and Triceratops.

The 200-million-year-old dinosaur “was two-legged, probably fleet-footed, and had grasping hands,” said researcher Paul Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago.

Named Pegomastax africanus, or “thick jaw from Africa,” it was less than 2 feet (0.6 meters) long and weighed less than a house cat at 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) at most, “and was mostly tail and neck,” Sereno added.

Strangely, bristles somewhat like porcupine quills may have spread across most of the body of Pegomastax. Such bristles first appeared in a relative named Tianyulong recently discovered in China. Buried in lake sediments and covered by volcanic ash, Tianyulong was preserved with hundreds of bristles covering its body from its neck to the tip of its tail. [Paleo-Art: Stunning Illustrations of Dinosaurs]

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Prehistoric tiny bugs found trapped in amber

Via:The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON — Scientists have found three well preserved ancient insects frozen in amber — and time — in what is Earth’s oldest bug trap.

The discoveries of amber-encased insects in Italy may sound like something out of “Jurassic Park” but these bugs are even older than that. They are about 230 million years old, which puts them in the Triassic time period, and about 100 million years older than what had been the previously known oldest critters trapped in fossilized tree resin, or amber.

Gooey tree resin is like sap but without water and can’t be diluted.

Researchers painstakingly examined 70,000 droplets of amber found in northeastern Italy. Stuck in them were two microscopic mites and much of one fly. The mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye and the fly is a tad tinier than a fruit fly, researchers say.

The discovery was reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While older insects have been found in rock fossils, these are different because they are not compressed and better preserved, said study lead author David Grimaldi, curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. And you can see more detail, he said.

“”That’s the great thing about amber. You can make this incredible detailed comparison with living species.” Grimaldi said.

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Giant feathered dinosaur Yutyrannus discovered in China

by Telegraph

It is by far the biggest feathered dinosaur ever to have been unearthed and raises intriguing questions as to why some of these scaly reptiles developed plumage.

Three nearly complete skeletons of the dinosaur have been uncovered in beds of sediment in Liaoning province, northeastern China, scientists reported in Nature.

The soil has been dated to around 125 million years ago to the mid-Cretaceous period, at the peak of the dinosaurs’ long reign over the planet.

The new species has been named Yutyrannus huali, an amalgam of Latin and Mandarin which means “beautiful feathered tyrant.”

“The feathers of Yutyrannus were simple filaments,” said Xu Xing, a legendary fossil hunter from Beijing’s Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology.

 

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The last mammoths died out just 3600 years ago…but they should have survived

by io9

We usually think of woolly mammoths as purely Ice Age creatures. But while most did indeed die out 10,000 years ago, one tiny population endured on isolated Wrangel Island until 1650 BCE. So why did they finally go extinct?

Wrangel Island is an uninhabited scrap of land off the northern coast of far eastern Siberia. It’s 37 miles from the nearest island and 87 miles from the Russian mainland. It’s 2,900 square miles, making it roughly the size of Delaware. And until about 4,000 years ago, it supported the world’s last mammoth population. For 6,000 years, a steady population of 500 to 1,000 mammoths endured while their counterparts on the mainland disappeared.

It’s truly remarkable just how recent 1650 BCE really is. By then, the Egyptian pharaohs were about halfway through their 3000-year reign, and the Great Pyramids of Giza were already 1000 years old. Sumer, the first great civilization of Mesopotamia, had been conquered some 500 years before. The Indus Valley Civilization was similarly five centuries past its peak, and Stonehenge was anywhere from 400 to 1500 years old. And through all that, with all of humanity in total ignorance of their existence, the mammoths lived on off the coast of Siberia.

So then, what finally killed off the mammoths? That’s been the subject of a four-year research project by British and Swedish researchers, and they now believe that the final extinction of the mammoths was not inevitable, that they could have survived indefinitely if a couple circumstances had worked out differently. Co-author Love Dalen explain

Read more: io9

 


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Caught in the Act: Ancient Armored Fish Downs Flying Reptile

by Charles Choi, LiveScience

An ancient armored fish was fossilized in the act of attacking and drowning a pterosaur in a toxic Jurassic lake, revealing that the winged reptiles were victims of a wide variety of carnivores, scientists find.

Pterosaurs dominated the skies during the Age of Dinosaurs. Still, flight did not always ensure them safety — researchers have recently discovered that Velociraptor dined on the flying reptiles.

Now scientists have uncovered five examples of the long-tailed pterosaur Rhamphorhychus apparently within the jaws of the ancient armored predatory fish Aspidorhynchus. The fossils in question, unearthed in Bavaria in southern Germany, are about 120 million years old.

A fossilized hunting scene showing an ancient armored fish taking down a pterosaur, likely by snagging the low-flying reptile by the wing and pulling it under water. CREDIT: PLoS ONE

Read more: live science


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Human fossils hint at new species

By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

The remains of what may be a previously unknown human species have been identified in southern China.

The bones, which represent at least five individuals, have been dated to between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago.

But scientists are calling them simply the Red Deer Cave people, after one of the sites where they were unearthed.

The team has told the PLoS One journal that far more detailed analysis of the fossils is required before they can be ascribed to a new human lineage.

“We’re trying to be very careful at this stage about definitely classifying them,” said study co-leader Darren Curnoe from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

“One of the reasons for that is that in the science of human evolution or palaeoanthropology, we presently don’t have a generally agreed, biological definition for our own species (Homo sapiens), believe it or not. And so this is a highly contentious area,” he told BBC News.

Much of the material has been in Chinese collections for some time but has only recently been subjected to intense investigation.

The remains of some of the individuals come from Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province. A further skeleton was discovered at Longlin, in neighbouring Guangxi Province.

The skulls and teeth from the two locations are very similar to each other, suggesting they are from the same population.

Read more: bbc


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Was there really a vampire who fed on dinosaur blood?

io9.com

Prepare to be confronted with something scarier (and cuter) than Jurassic Park‘s raptors. In the mid to late Jurassic, the world was full of furry, flying vampire pterosaurs who fed on dino blood.

The Jeholopterus was a small pterosaur who was found in Northeastern China. Though originally identified as an insect-eater, an odd mystery about the animal eventually led one researcher to suggest the creature was actually feeding on the blood of nearby sauropods. Let’s take a look at the discovery of Jeholopterus, and what spurred great debate over whether it was a blood-sucker.

The top image is artist Eurypterid’s interpretation of Jeholopterus.

Soaring over China in the Jurassic

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences published the journal article A nearly complete articulated rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur with exceptionally well-preserved wing membranes and “hairs” from Inner Mongolia, Northeast China. The paper recorded the discovery of a new pterosaur, Jeholopterus ninchengensis.

The researchers named the pterosaur for the area of its discovery, Ningcheng County of Inner Mongolia. The wingspan of Jeholopterus is a little less than three feet and the pterosaur likely weighed in around five to ten pounds – a little smaller than the average Barn Owl. Several fibers of “hair” are seen among the wings and body in the specimen, along with imprints from a large amount of soft tissue. The skull of the fossil is crushed, limiting interpretation of the head.

The authors placed Jeholopterus within the Anurognathidae group – a group of small pterosaurs known for feeding on insects. But Jeholopterus, unlike most pterosaurs, does not have a long beak. This absence played into speculation about Jeholopterus’ interactions with dinosaurs.

The Vampire Theory

In the 2003 article The Chinese vampire and other overlooked pterosaur ptreasures published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, David Peters observed a couple of unusual features in Jeholopterus separating it from the average Jurassic pterosaur.

Peters is not a practicing archaeologist, but an art director and natural history writer with several peer reviewed journal articles under his belt. Peters did his work using a scanned and enlarged image of the Jeholopterus fossil uncovered by the researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Using imaging techniques and Photoshop, Peters created tracings of the Jeholopterus specimen in order to elaborate on the soft tissue features of the pterosaur and the skull, as the one in the fossil is crushed. It is important to note Peters did not examine the fossil itself, only images of the fossil.

Learn more:io9


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Fossils show huge penguin once roamed New Zealand

By Offeiriad, Staff News Writer

Fossilised remains of one of the largest penguinsever, an “elegant” giant standing 1.3 metres (52 inches) tall, have been found in New Zealand, scientists said Tuesday.

The penguin lived 27-24 million years ago, when New Zealand was mostly underwater and consisted of isolated, rocky outcrops that offered protection from predators and plentiful food supplies, researchers said.

The first traces of the penguin, dubbed Kairuku — Maori for diver who returns with food — were found embedded in a cliff at Waimate in the South Island by University of Otago paleontologist professor Ewen Fordyce in 1977.

Over the years, Fordyce discovered more complete remains and invited University of North Carolina specialist Dan Ksepka to help reconstruct the lost giant in 2009.

They determined the bird was much larger than the biggest modern penguin, the Emperor, which grows up to 1.0-metres, and weighed in at 60 kilograms (132 pounds), twice as much as the Emperor.

“Kairuku was an elegant bird by penguin standards, with a slender body and long flippers, but short, thick legs and feet,” Ksepka said.

Fordyce said the bird’s large size was an adaption that allowed it to swim further and dive deeper than its modern-day counterparts.

He was unsure why it became extinct, suggesting climate change or increased predation from dolphins and seals as possible reasons for its demise.

The findings were published in the latest edition of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

In 2010 scientists reported finding a fossilised specimen from 36 million years ago estimated to have been 1.5 metres tall.

Source: Yahoo! News


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298-Million-Year-Old Forest Discovered Under Chinese Coal Mine

Gizmodo

American and Chinese scientists are flabbergasted after discovering a giant 298-million-year-old forest buried intact under a coal mine near Wuda, in Inner Mongolia, China.

They are calling it the Pompeii of the Permian period because, like the ancient Roman city, it was covered and preserved by volcanic ash.

Like Pompeii, this swamp forest is so perfectly maintained that scientists know where every plant originally was. This has allowed them to map it and to create the images above. This extraordinary finding “is like Pompeii”, according to University of Pennsylvania paleobotanist Hermann Pfefferkorn, who characterized it as “a time capsule.”

It’s marvelously preserved. We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That’s really exciting.

They are in fact finding entire trees and plants exactly as they were at the time of the volcanic eruption, just like archeologists in Pompeii found humans, animals and buildings at the base of Mount Vesuvius, near Naples, in the Italian region of Campania. Except Pompeei was buried in AD 79 and this forest was covered in ash 298 million years ago, during the Permian period.

The researchers discovered the 10,763-square-foot (1000-square-meter) area hidden under a coal mine using heavy industrial machinery. They believe that this frozen-in-time fossilized forest was covered under gigantic amounts of ash that fell from the sky for days.

So far, they have identified six groups of trees, some of them 80 feet tall. Some of them are Sigillaria and Cordaites, but they also found large groups of a type called Noeggerathiales, which are now completely extinct.

During the Permian, which extends from 299 to 251 million years ago, there weren’t conifers or flowers. Plants reproduced like ferns, using spores, and the modern continents were still joined in a single mass of land called Pangaea. This geologic period happened at the end of the Paleozoic era, after the Carboniferous.

During this time there were also animals. This is when the first groups of mammals, turtles, lepidosaurs and archosaurs started to roam the Earth. Scientist believe that the Permian—and with it the entire Paleozoic era—ended with the largest mass extinction ever, which obliterated 90 percent of the marine and 70 percent of the terrestrial species.

After this event, the Mesozoic era started with the Triassic period. That’s when the first true mammals evolved, the pterosaurs flew for the first time and the archosaurs’ rose to dominate Earth.

Pfefferkorn worked on the project with Jun Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yi Zhang of Shenyang Normal University and Zhuo Feng of Yunnan University. The results of their findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [University of Pennsylvania]

Source: Gizmodo