This crazy dinosaur was Earth's largest land animal

This recently-discovered dinosaur weighed 26,000 pounds when it stomped around South Africa's Free State Province 200 million years ago. The University of the Witwatersrand researchers who found the animal's fossils dubbed it Ledumahadi mafube which in the South African language of Sesotho means "a giant thunderclap at dawn." Like the brontosaurus, it walked on four legs and ate plants. From CNN:

Apart from its massive size, there are other evolutionary details about the new species that make it entirely unique, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology. "It shows us that even as far back as 200 million years ago, these animals had already become the largest vertebrates to ever walk the Earth," Choiniere said.

The researchers believe that Ledumahadi was a transitional dinosaur, an evolutionary experiment itself during the Early Jurassic period. The forelimbs of this dinosaur are more "crouched," while being very thick to support its giant body.

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Man finds rare 25-million-year-old teeth from massive shark

Amateur fossil hunter Phil Mullaly was exploring Jan Juc in south Australia's Victoria's Surf Coast when he noticed a shark's tooth poking out of a boulder on the beach. According to paleontologists at Museums Victoria, that tooth and two others found are 25-million-years-old and came from a Great Jagged Narrow-Toothed Shark (Carcharocles angustidens), a species that could be as much as 30 feet long. From CNN:

"If you think about how long we've been looking for fossils around the world as a civilization -- which is maybe 200 years -- in (that time) we have found just three (sets of) fossils of this kind on the entire planet, and this most recent find from Australia is one of those three," (Museums Victoria researcher Erich) Fitzgerald told CNN...

"That doesn't happen. That just doesn't happen. That's only happened once before in Australia, and that was a totally different species of shark," he said.

When Mullaly told him the boulder he found was still on the beach, Fitzgerald said "my jaw sort of dropped."

"Man stumbles upon rare 25-million-year-old teeth of mega-toothed shark" (CNN) Read the rest

The mystery of the Tully Monster continues

In 1958 in an Illinois creek bed, an amateur fossil collector named Francis Tully discovered the fossilized remains of a bizarre creature that resembled a mollusk, insect, and worm yet was none of those things. Since then, thousands of 300 million-year-old fossilized "Tully Monsters" have turned up and the creature was officially named as the Illinois state fossil. Read the rest

Dinosaur's feathered tail found preserved in amber

At a market in northern Myanmar (Burma), China University scientist Lida Xing found a piece of amber containing a remarkably well-preserved dinosaur tail, complete with feathers. It likely belonged to a coelurosaur, a birdlike beast that lived about 99 million years ago. National Geographic video above. Plans for future research below.

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World's most accurate dinosaur model

This cartoony character is considered the most accurate model of a real dinosaur ever created. Paleoartist Bob Nicholls based his reconstruction of Psittacosaurus on an incredibly well-preserved fossil from China (image below) studied by University of Bristol paleontologist Jakob Vinther and colleagues. From The Guardian:

Psittacosaurus fossils are commonly found across most of Asia. The bipedal adults used their distinctive beaks to nibble through the vegetation of the Cretaceous, more than 100m years ago. The relatively large brain of Psittacosaurus leads scientists to suspect it may have been a relatively smart dinosaur, with complex behaviours. The large eyes hint that it had good vision....

The reconstruction is the culmination of around three months’ work, from detailed drawings to finished fibreglass model. Nicholls created a steel frame and bulked it out using polystyrene and wire mesh, before sculpting the surface in clay:.“This is where the subject finally comes to life,” he explains, “by adding all the skin details such as scales and wrinkles, and beaks and horns.” A master mould was made from this sculpture, allowing Nicholls to make fibreglass models ready to be painted.

I asked Nicholls what makes this Psittacosaurus so special? “The most surprising features include an unusually large and wide head, highly pigmented clusters of scales on the shoulders, robust limbs, patagiums (skin flaps) behind the hind limbs, and a highly pigmented cloaca.” These features make him confident this is the most accurate reconstruction ever produced: “When the anatomy surprises me – it confirms that I’ve followed the fossil evidence rather than any preconceived ideas of my own.”

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Ancient cockroach ate poop

By studying the preserved poop of ancient cockroaches, scientists have determined that those roaches were, themselves, eating poop. Probably that of herbivorous dinosaurs. Isn't science glamorous? Read the rest

Ancient bloodsuckers

Scientists have found ancient fleas from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Some are nearly an inch long — compare to modern fleas that top out around half that size — and the fleas seem to be adapted to biting through the hides of dinosaurs. Read the rest

Scientists study fossils without having to remove them from rock

Here you can see a lump of rock with embedded fossils of bird bones trapped in the matrix. Below the rock are 3D printed models of those same fossils, created by paleontologist Brett Nachman. Other scientists captured the fossils inside the rock using CT scans that can see through the stone with the help of x-rays.

Last year, journalist Charles Choi wrote about the massive backlog of fossils in storage at most museums and suggested the possibility of using this kind of technology to study fossils that might not otherwise ever be removed from the hard matrix. Now, Charles is writing about people like Nachman who are doing just that — using technology to get at fossils that are too labor intensive to study. Read the rest

How big was a T. Rex turd?

If paleoeschatologist Karen Chin is right, then the 2.4 liter fossilized fecal mass she found Saskatchewan could have been the work of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Read the rest

So, you want to be a fossil

Brian Switek (America's fossil sweetheart) has some excellent tips on how to give your bones the best chance of ending up in a museum. Fossilization isn't as simple as just dropping dead. It involves a fairly particular set of environmental circumstances + a lot of luck. Step 1: Start with foregoing the coffin and cemetary and find yourself a nice spot in a floodplain with rapid sediment deposition, instead. Read the rest

Native Americans were digging up bones long before Columbus

Paleontology has a long history in the Americas, dating back to (at least) the Aztec and Inca, who excavated the bones of mammoths and other mega-fauna and showed them off to Spanish invaders. Read the rest

Meet the best-preserved mammoth in history of paleontology

Yuka died 39,000 years ago, and is so well-preserved that we can tell she was a ginger. Read the rest

Resurrecting the dead — one piece at a time

Thanks to Jurassic Park, we tend to focus on one use for the DNA of extinct creatures — resurrecting them, in full, to live here in the modern age. But it's not necessary to go that far to learn a lot about those animals, and the evolution of life, in general. At the Experimental Podcast, Stephanie Vogt talks about the paleophysiologists who are reconstructing the proteins of extinct animals using fragments of DNA found in long-dead remains. Those proteins, simple as they may seem, hold some amazing stories. For instance, reconstructed haemoglobin from wooly mammoths could someday help doctors get oxygen to the brains of high-risk human surgery patients. Read the rest

Are these the remains of ancient worm holes?

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. Read the rest

Spam email reveals the existence of ancient, giant furry armadillo things

Furry, shelled mammals the size of VW Beetles once roamed the Americas.

Fossil hunting on Rockaway Beach

Superstorm Sandy brought fossils up from the ocean depths.

Duriavenator: Thunder lizard or cleaning appliance?

Duriavenator is a dinosaur — a kind of T.Rex-ish, pointy toothed dinosaur that lived in what is now England. But I think it sounds like the name of a 1950s vacuum cleaner company, don't you? Read the rest

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