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Here's a weird, great geological feature I spotted yesterday while out hiking in rural Oklahoma. We were out in a flat, flat plan that was dotted with a few tall, angular sandstone mounds and narrow sandstone canyons carved out by erosion. This rock was sticking out of the side of one of the mounds. It was the only place we saw anything like these vertical, tube-like structures, which stretched from the ground up to probably about my shoulder.
When I posted this image on Twitter yesterday, several people suggested that the tubes might be skolithos — tube-shaped fossils that were probably made by some kind of ancient worm creature and turn up sometimes in sandstones. While the pictures on Wikipedia don't look very similar to what I saw, there are apparently lots of different forms these things (and similar tube fossils) can take.
Zigong Dinosaurs World Science & Technology Co.,Ltd. makes, as you can probably guess from the name, animatronic dinosaurs. Which, for some reason, they attempt to sell via spam email marketing. We at BoingBoing have gotten spam like this before, from other manufacturers in the surprisingly robust Chinese animatronic dinosaur industry. What made this particular email stand out to me, though, was the above picture, of an animatronic Glyptodont covered in fur.
Now, I'd seen Glyptodonts before, but the reconstructions that I remember came across more as giant armadillos, as opposed to the huge beaver with a shell on its back that you see here. So I contacted Brian Switek, my favorite dinosaur blogger, to ask him which image of the Glyptodont is the correct one.
His response: They both are.
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The ocean has not always met the land at the same place it does today. In fact, during Ice Ages, when more of Earth's water was trapped in glaciers, large swaths of what is now the Atlantic Ocean were dry ground. Things died there. In some cases, they fossilized. And when a big storm like Sandy hits, those bits of fossils can get broken out of the stones they're embedded in and washed up on our modern shores.
In this video, paleontologist Carl Mehling wanders Long Island's Rockaway Beach looking for fossils unearthed by Superstorm Sandy. It's a great video — and a handy "how to" as Mehling explains the basics of beach-based fossil hunting and how to tell the really old dead things from the simply dead things.
Via Mindy Weisberger
With their big, bitey teeth and teeny, ineffectual arms, it can be difficult to picture how Tyrannosaurus Rex actually managed to eat anything. After all, all of our personal experience with eating involves an awful lot of gripping with the forearms. Some new research, takes a stab at understanding T. Rex table manners. The results are pretty neat — and they highlight the similarities between dinosaurs and birds — but I want to make a bit of a bigger deal out of the methodology.
Several times on this blog, we've talked about the importance of the vast archives of archaeological and paleontological specimens that are sitting around in storage at museums and universities. Some of these things have never even been removed from the matrix of burlap and plaster used to secure them for shipping. Some have sat there for decades, enjoying only a cursory glance from researchers. But when scientists finally start sifting through these unseen specimens, they often find fascinating things.
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At The Dinosaur Tracking blog, Brian Switek is starting a cool, new series meant to highlight the lesser-known dinosaurs that the public as long ignored. Sure, it's a bit easier to pronounce Tyrannosaurus, but Agujaceratops and Zalmoxes still deserve their 15 minutes of fame.
The alphabetical series kicks off today with the aforementioned Agujaceratops. Found in Texas, Agujaceratops is distinctly different, in several ways, from its cousins that have been found in the northern part of North America. In fact, writes Switek, Agujaceratops is so different, that it's making paleontologists reconsider ancient North American geography.
At the species and genus levels, the southern dinosaurs are different. The big question is, why? Paleontologists know that a shallow, vanished seaway separated dinosaurs on eastern and western subcontinents for millions of years, but on that western subcontinent called Laramidia, there was apparently some other kind of barrier that isolated northern and southern dinosaur populations.
The hypothesis relies on basic evolutionary theory. Isolate populations of an ancestor species in different regions, and through factors such as natural selection and genetic drift, those populations will evolve in different ways. The fact that Agujaceratops, Kosmoceratops and Utahceratops are so different from Chasmosaurus and other northern cousins are a sign that such a barrier was in place. No one has found it yet, though, and a great deal of work remains to be done on whether all these dinosaurs were really contemporaries or reveal a much more complex evolutionary pattern. As these investigations continue, though, Agujaceratops will continue to play an important role as a symbol of isolation and evolution.
Follow along with the Dinosaur Alphabet at the Dinosaur Tracking blog
On the Wednesday edition of NOVA scienceNOW, David Pogue walks the streets of San Francisco in Neanderthal drag. Above, a actual clip from the upcoming hour, "What Makes Us Human?," in which the tech writer turned PBS host explores our relationship with Neanderthals, after being made up like a Neanderthal based on instructions from Daniel Lieberman, a paleoanthropologist from Harvard. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during that shoot!
This is a spider, which was encased in tree sap while in the act of attacking a wasp. The sap turned to amber, leaving an incredible preserved scene, with even individual strands of silk from the spider's web remaining unbroken for 100 million years.
— The paper this is taken from (sits behind a paywall, unfortunately)
— Learn more about the preservation of bugs in amber at the website for NOVA's "Jewell of the Earth" documentary
Yesterday, I posted about Pegomastax africanus, a parrot-like dinosaur whose fossil was discovered not in a remote waste in some far corner of the world, but in a rock that had sat in storage at Harvard University for 50 years.
In the post, I tried to explain why something like that could happen. The simple fact of the matter: A successful archaeological or paleontological dig will produce far more material than the original scientists have time (or money) to sort through, process, and examine. So lots of stuff ends up sitting in storage.
That led BoingBoing reader Matt Fedorko to some interesting speculation:
"...This seems like a perfect opportunity to exploit 3D scanning technology to put the shapes of fossils, at least, into some kind of digital storage area where other researchers could look at a dig's haul and start to work with them spatially, or beside any of the other data that is collected in the field or logged during the cataloging procedure."
Now, Charles Q. Choi, a journalist who wrote about the discovery of Pegomastax africanus, says that Matt's idea isn't all that far-fetched. In fact, scientists already do something like this with the fossils that do get closely examined.
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A friend pointed me today toward the awesome work of Surly Amy (aka Amy Davis Roth), who makes really neat ceramic jewelry with science/skeptic themes. Some of her pieces are really simple and not super artsy—a pendant that says "This is what an atheist looks like", for instance. That's fine, but it's not the stuff I'm super excited about.
Instead, I really dig Roth's work that focuses on archaeology and paleontology—like a necklace printed with the silhouette of an archaeopteryx fossil on a crackled background that makes me think of broken stone; earrings decorated with ammonites; and a kick-ass bracelet that manages to make trilobites look just a little punk rock.
I also enjoyed reading Roth's bio on her Etsy page. It's long, but the two key takeaways are great:
1. I'm not as surly as I used to be.
2. Life is hard and it often sucks but sometimes, if you keep trying, things will get better!
Chirality is an interesting concept. The best way to explain it quickly is an analogy to being left-handed or right-handed. Molecules don't have hands, but they do have an inherent orientation that can be compared to having a dominant hand that you do most of your work with. Sugars are mostly right-handed. Amino acids: Left-handed.
But here's where things get weird: It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, given the randomness and chance through which evolution works, it would make more sense for there to be a lot more diversity in orientation.
All of this backstory is important so that I can tell you about the most hilarious non sequitur I've encountered in 2012.
Chemist Ronald Breslow has a new paper out in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, where he talks about why chirality might be the way it is. For the most part, his ideas are not unreasonable ones. Breslow thinks that life on Earth—and we're talking about life in its simplest forms, like molecules, not actual creatures—could have been "seeded" by material that fell to the planet on an asteroid. The idea is that, if the building blocks of life came from one place—a meteor fall—rather than arising and adapting here, it could explain why there's not the diversity of molecular "handedness" that we might otherwise expect to see.
In fact, in related news, there's another paper out suggesting that Earth could have paid that gift of life forward, with potentially microbe-and-molecule-laden rocks from here traveling far into interstellar space.
What makes Breslow's paper unique is the odd, brief, speculative tangent he gets into at the very end, a tangent which lead to me receiving a press release titled, "Could Advanced Dinosaurs Rule Other Planets?"
An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D amino acids and L sugars, depending on the chirality of circular polarized light in that sector of the universe or whatever other process operated to favor the L α‐methyl amino acids in the meteorites that have landed on Earth. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.
I suppose it's rather hard to argue with the basic thesis that we'd be better off not meeting a hyper-intelligent T. Rex. But at Dinosaur Tracking, Brian Switek attempts to explain why it's maybe not a great idea for chemists to randomly start pontificating on paleontology. In particular, the "rule" of the dinosaurs was not inevitable and was not dependent on the outcome of a single asteroid collision.
Prior to 250 million years ago, the synapsids—our ancestors and relatives—were the dominant creatures on land. But the apocalyptic extinction at the end of the Permian Period eliminated most synapsid lineages, in addition to many other forms of life. This clearing of the ecological slate is what allowed a different group of creatures to proliferate. Early archosaurs, or “ruling reptiles,” included the archaic forerunners of crocodiles, pterosaurs and dinosaurs, in addition to various groups now extinct, and these creatures dominated the Triassic.
Despite what has been traditionally told, though, the dinosaurian branch of the greater archosaur family tree didn’t immediately out-compete its neighbors. Eoraptor and Herrerasaurus were not the Triassic terrors they were cast as during the mid-1990s. For the most part, Triassic dinosaurs were small, rare, marginal parts of the ecosystems they inhabited. It was only after another mass extinction at the end of the Triassic, around 200 million years ago, that the competitors of early dinosaurs were removed and the reign of the dinosaurs truly began.
Listen to this recording. It sounds a little like Sputnik, but it's actually a noise that's not been heard in 165 million years.
This is the song of an extinct species of bush cricket, the fossils of which have been found in China's Inner Mongolia region. Researchers recreated the sound by studying the fossil remains of the crickets' sound-producing organs. From the BBC:
A "plectrum" on one wing was dragged along a microscopic comb-like structure on the other. This produces a continuous "chirp" as the male insects rub, or "stridulate" their wings in a scissor-like motion. Dr Zapata described this stridulation as similar to playing a tiny violin.
Dr Zapata then set out to calculate the frequency of the tone, which denotes how high- or low-pitched it sounded. To to this, he simply compared the size and shape of its music-making or "stridulatory" instruments to those of living cricket species
There are modern bush crickets, but their songs are played at a higher pitch. The low tones produced by this extinct cricket imply that it might have been best adapted to do its singing on the ground, rather than elevated on branches or tall stalks of grass. Lower pitched sounds travel further from that elevation than a high-pitched one would.
Thanks for Submitterating, arkle!