Chinese dinosaur age bird discovery

This video is called The Fabulous Chinese Fossils— Chaoyang, Liaoning Province.

Sulcavis geeorum skull, photo credit: Stephanie Abramowicz

By Alan McStravick for – Your Universe Online:

First Fossil Bird Discovered With Teeth For A Tough Diet

January 7, 2013

A trip to the Galapagos islands will bring you face to face with 14 closely related species of finch that Charles Darwin discovered on his adventure abroad in the 1830s. The finches he noted, still referenced in essentially every biology textbook, had beak sizes of varying lengths and sizes. This was true of both the ground- and tree-dwelling birds, and Darwin postulated that differing diets might have required the birds’ unique beaks for their specialized feeding tasks.

It was these birds, catalogued in 1835, that first helped Darwin to arrive at his theory of evolution. He was able to realize that each of the finch species had originally arisen from one ancestral form and that each of the successive forms – with their individual ecological niches and diets – were what he considered the most perfect examples of adaptive radiation, the process where one species undergoes several distinct changes to survive and thrive in a wider variety of habitats.

If Darwin had lived some 121-125 million years ago, he might have experienced the same sense of wonder at the site

rather: sight

of a Sulcavis geeorum, a species of early bird that existed in the Liaoning Province of what is now modern-day China. It was here that a new fossil discovery was made showing that these early ancestors of the dinosaurs

This should be “descendants of the dinosaurs”. Dinosaurs were ancestral to birds; not the other way round.

had evolved teeth adapted to their specialized diets.

In a report of the finding published in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, researchers say they believe that S. geeorum existed on a so-called ‘durophagous diet’, one that included lots of prey with hard exoskeletons such as insects or crabs.

S. geeorum was an enantiornithine bird, a primitive group of early birds that were abundant in the Mesozoic era and carried over into the Cretacious.


With the discovery of S. geeorum, researchers are enjoying their own Darwin-like moment as they see this discovery as representing a huge leap forward in the known diversity of tooth shape in early birds. This diversity of shape also leads them to believe that they may have stumbled upon an as yet unrecognized degree of ecological diversity.

According to the research team, S. geeorum is the first fossilized bird discovery that has ornamented tooth enamel. Looking back to the specific dinosaurs from which birds are believed to have evolved, researchers find that their tooth structure was specialized mainly for a carnivorous diet. The enanitiornithine family of birds have undergone the most minimal tooth reductions from their dinosaur cousins compared to any other extinct or extant groups of birds, and they also displayed a wide diversity of individual dental patterns.

In this newest enantiornithine discovery, researchers say that they have discovered a robust set of teeth that are marked with grooves on the inside surface. It is from these grooves, they hypothesize, that the teeth received their strength that allowed them to ingest harder food items.

“While other birds were losing their teeth, enantiornithines were evolving new morphologies and dental specializations. We still don’t understand why enantiornithines were so successful in the Cretaceous but then died out – maybe differences in diet played a part,” according to Jingmai O’Connor, lead author of the new study. One thing that is known is that until this discovery, no previous known bird species had preserved ridges, striations, serrated edges, or any other form of dental ornamentation.

“This study highlights again how uneven the diversity of birds was during the Cretaceous. There are many more enantiornithines than any other group of early birds, each one with its own anatomical specialization,” said the study’s co-author Luis Chiappe, from Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Naturalist Alfred Wallace on the Internet

This video is called Operation Wallacea – Indonesia schools expedition.

From Wildlife Extra:

Historic collection of naturalist Alfred Wallace goes online for the first time

Treasure-trove of writings and images by the co-discoverer of natural selection

October 2012. The complete works of the great naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace have been made freely available online on the Wallace Online website.

First announcement of the theory of evolution by natural selection

Amongst the thousands of pages of writings, it includes the first announcement of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Wallace and Darwin

Since the scientist’s death 99 years ago, Wallace’s complete publications have never been gathered together. The new website is unveiled in time for the centenary celebrations in 2013 that mark the anniversary of Wallace’s death in 1913.

Back in the 1850s, Wallace independently formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection during a fit of tropical fever. He later sent an outline of the theory – in one of the greatest ironies in history – to Charles Darwin. To avoid a priority dispute, papers by both men were read together at a London scientific meeting in July 1858. The event unleashed the Darwinian revolution whose shockwaves continue to this day.

Wallace has long been in the shadow of his more famous contemporary Charles Darwin. The compilation of this new website is timely and long overdue. It provides 28,000 pages of searchable historical documents and 22,000 images. They can now be seen free of charge by anyone around the globe at Wallace Online.

Wallace’s contributions to biodiversity

Wallace spent four years as a collector in Brazil (1848-1853) and eight years in Southeast Asia (1854-1862). In addition to collecting an astonishing 125,000 specimens of insects and birds, Wallace proposed a sharp dividing line between the Asian and Australian animals in the archipelago. This line still bears his name today and is called The Wallace Line.

One of the most influential scientists in history

Dr van Wyhe, project director, said: “Wallace was one of the most influential scientists in history. But until now, it has been impossible to see all of his writings. For the first time, this collection allows anyone to search through his writings about Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and see many of the birds and insects that he collected.”

Dr van Wyhe holds a joint appointment as Senior Lecturer at NUS’ Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of History, under Faculty of Science and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, respectively. He is also the founder and director of the award-winning Darwin Online at the University of Cambridge, UK.

This project was directed by historian Dr John van Wyhe from the National University of Singapore (NUS). The Wallace Online project was made possible by an anonymous grant from an American donor.

Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George dies

This video is about the Galapagos islands and the tortoise Lonesome George.

From the BBC:

24 June 2012 Last updated at 22:25 GMT

Last Pinta giant tortoise Lonesome George dies

Staff at the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador say Lonesome George, a giant tortoise believed to be the last of its subspecies, has died.

Scientists estimate he was about 100 years old.

Park officials said they would carry out a post-mortem to determine the cause of his death.

With no offspring and no known individuals from his subspecies left, Lonesome George became known as the rarest creature in the world.

For decades, environmentalists unsuccessfully tried to get the Pinta Island tortoise to reproduce with females from a similar subspecies on the Galapagos Islands.

Park officials said the tortoise was found dead in his corral by his keeper of 40 years, Fausto Llerena.

While his exact age was not known, Lonesome George was estimated to be about 100, which made him a young adult as the subspecies can live up to an age of 200.

Galapagos icon

Lonesome George was first seen by a Hungarian scientist on the Galapagos island of Pinta in 1972.

Environmentalists had believed his subspecies (Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) had become extinct.

Lonesome George became part of the Galapagos National Park breeding programme.

After 15 years of living with a female tortoise from the nearby Wolf volcano, Lonesome George did mate, but the eggs were infertile.

He also shared his corral with female tortoises from Espanola island, which are genetically closer to him than those from Wolf volcano, but Lonesome George failed to mate with them.

He became a symbol of the Galapagos Islands, which attract some 180,000 visitors a year.

Hunted to extinction

Galapagos National Park officials said that with George’s death, the Pinta tortoise subspecies has become extinct.

They said his body would probably be embalmed to conserve him for future generations.

Tortoises were plentiful on the Galapagos islands until the late 19th century, but were later hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction.

Their habitat furthermore suffered when goats were introduced from the mainland.

The differences in appearance between tortoises from different Galapagos islands were among the features which helped the British naturalist Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution.

Some 20,000 giant tortoises of other subspecies still live on the Galapagos.

See also here. And here. And here.

The rarest animal in the world is no more. Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises, was found dead on Sunday. But a small hope remains for his subspecies, as its genes have survived: here.

Giant tortoise death casts shadow over Galapagos Islands: here.

Last-of-Its-Kind Tortoise Gets Royal Treatment from Taxidermists [Slide Show]. Preserving an iconic animal like Lonesome George is all about the details: here.

Darwin’s lost fossil plants rediscovered

From the BBC:

16 January 2012 Last updated at 20:16 GMT

Lost Charles Darwin fossils rediscovered in cabinet

A “treasure trove” of fossils – including some collected by Charles Darwin – has been re-discovered in an old cabinet.

The fossils, lost for some 165 years, were found by chance in the vaults of the British Geological Survey HQ near Keyworth, UK.

They have now been photographed and are available to the public through a new online museum exhibit released today.

The find was made by the palaeontologist Dr Howard Falcon-Lang.

Dr Falcon-Lang, who is based in the department of earth sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, spotted some drawers in a cabinet marked “unregistered fossil plants”.

“Inside the drawer were hundreds of beautiful glass slides made by polishing fossil plants into thin translucent sheets,” Dr Falcon-Lang explained.

“This process allows them to be studied under the microscope. Almost the first slide I picked up was labelled ‘C. Darwin Esq’.”

The item turned out to be a piece of fossil wood collected by Darwin during his famous Voyage of the Beagle in 1834. This was the expedition on which he first started to develop his theory of evolution.

In the course of his visit to Chiloe Island, Chile, Darwin encountered “many fragments of black lignite and silicified and pyritous wood, often embedded close together”.

He had these shipped back to England where they were cut and ground into thin sections.

Joseph Hooker, a botanist and a close friend of Darwin, was responsible for assembling the “lost” collection while he briefly worked for the British Geological Survey in 1846.

The fossils became “lost” because Hooker failed to number them in the formal specimen register before setting out on an expedition to the Himalayas.

The collection was moved several times and gradually became forgotten.

Dr John Ludden, executive director of the Geological Survey said: “This is quite a remarkable discovery. It really makes one wonder what else might be hiding in our collections.”

See also here. And here. And here.

Talking about geology: A rare mineral thought to exist only on the Moon’s surface has been discovered in West Australia’s Pilbara: here.

Inspired by a 2009 colloquium on microbial evolution convened at the Galapagos Islands, a new book from ASM Press, Microbes and Evolution: The World That Darwin Never Saw celebrates Charles Darwin and his landmark publication On the Origin of Species. The editors compiled 40 first-person essays, written by microbiologists with a passion for evolutionary biology, to illuminate how each scientist’s thinking and career paths in science were influenced by Darwin’s seminal work: here.

Charles Darwin and visual arts

Laura Russell, portrait of Charles Robert Darwin, 1869, private collection

By Paul Mitchell:

Darwin’s “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful”

22 July 2009

Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts, Cambridge, England until October 4, 2009

The current Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition is a fascinating exploration of the impact of Charles Darwin’s revolutionary theories on art in the late 19th century. Endless Forms considers how Darwin’s ideas inspired visual imagery of the struggle for existence, of natural and sexual selection, the beauty of nature and the origin and descent of man.

The show’s 200 exhibits include paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture and fossils, many of which are on public display for the first time, including a small portrait of Darwin.

In 1828, Darwin started to train for the priesthood at Christ’s College in Cambridge, a centre of “natural theology,” which regarded the beauty and complexity of nature as evidence of God’s genius. Most people, including Darwin, subscribed to the biblical depiction of the origins of life on earth.

However, geological investigations and fossil discoveries were increasingly undermining biblical accounts of history. Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1833) showed that the earth was much older than previously thought and that its surface, eroded by the elements, had been populated by long-extinct animals and plants. A new artistic vision emerged, which attempted to deal with the religious and philosophical consequences of the geological discoveries: for example, Robert Farren’s “An Earlier Dorset” (about 1850), the location of the famous Jurassic dinosaur-bearing cliffs.

Robert Farren, An Earlier Dorset, ca 1850, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

“Pegwell Bay, a Recollection of October 5th 1858,” by William Dyce, a devout Anglican, shows the artist’s family gathering fossils washed from the chalk cliffs at the supposed site of the arrival of Christianity to Britain. Donati’s comet, which would not return to Earth for another 2,000 years, can just be made out in the centre of the picture. It is a truly melancholic questioning of man’s place in the universe at a time of great scientific change.

William Dyce, Pegwell Bay, Kent—A Recollection of October 5th 1858, Tate, London

By the time Darwin had completed his five-year-long sea voyage on the Beagle in 1836, he had already begun to doubt the Bible. In 1850, he stopped going to church. In 1859, he published On the Origin of Species, in which he described the continual “struggle for existence” in nature. Any organism that happened to have advantageous characteristics would be more likely to triumph over its competitors and produce offspring. Such a discovery removed the need for design by an omnipotent deity.

Battles between animals had featured in art for thousands of years, but Darwin’s ideas gradually transformed the way artists pictured animals in their natural environment. Bruno Liljefors, known as the father of modern wildlife painting, tried to express the complex interactions between animals and plants in works such as the atmospheric “Mating of the Capercaillies” (1888).

Hubert von Herkomer, 1891, On strike

The Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition also has a section devoted to the concept of “the survival of the fittest” and Victorian depictions of the homeless and hungry. Many sought to justify the capitalist status quo, but a few, however, like Hubert von Herkomer’s “On Strike” (1891), questioned this viewpoint. Darwin himself did not discuss the relevance of his ideas to areas outside of science, but he thought the “noble quality” of sympathy, the role of education and the pursuit of happiness were important factors in human society.

Hugo Rheinhold, An Ape Contemplating a Skull, 1892-93, The Royal College of Surgeons

Darwin was convinced that humans had evolved from an ape-like ancestor, which he explored in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). Its publication dealt another blow to biblical accounts of the Garden of Eden and the story of Adam and Eve. The widely reproduced sculpture, “An Ape Contemplating a Skull,” (1892-93) by Hugo Rheinhold, showing a monkey seated on the Bible and a Darwin book, is a vivid depiction of the controversy that Darwin’s theory aroused. It counterposes ideas of evolution, intellect and enlightenment with loss of faith and religion (the sculpture has a phrase from the Genesis story where God forbids Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, which would encourage humans to believe they were gods).

Notions about the ape-man and the “missing link” became extremely widespread in satirical and political publications. Darwin himself was famously caricatured as an ape, whilst Mr. G.O’Rilla featured as an Irish Fenian revolutionary.

The exhibition, to its credit, points out that Darwin was careful to distance himself from “social Darwinist” distortions of his ideas. And that amongst all the racial, nationalist and imperialist ideology there was a huge popular and genuine interest in many things foreign. This was expressed in the rapid growth of cheap carte-de-visite photographs that often depicted “native types” performing their “primitive” customs.

Darwin’s appreciation of the beauty of nature was evident from his youth and inspired his scientific studies, but it was only in The Descent of Man that he investigated the evolution of beauty, colour, music, scent and “antics.” In that book, he sought to answer the question, “Why so much beauty should be apparently created for such little purpose?”

William Hart, Grey-crested Bird of Paradise, undated, private collection

The reason, Darwin explained, was that males often developed “secondary sexual characteristics,” unique to each species, which would make them more attractive to females, even though such obvious ornamentation such as the bird of paradise’s magnificent tail depicted by William Hart compromised their safety and survival. Although Darwin pointed out the roles were reversed in human society, as perceptive as ever, he added that it was wealth and social position that really determined the choice of mate.

Darwin’s research into the orchid, which had exploded in popularity in the 1830s and become a metaphor for God’s design, also showed that the flower’s exceptionally complex structures were products of natural selection, perfectly adapted to ensure the plant’s survival. He explained that the “final end of the whole flower … is the production of seed.”

This was heresy, according to the foremost Victorian art critic John Ruskin, who declared that “the flower exists for its own sake … not for the fruit’s sake.”

An element of desperation can be detected in Ruskin’s advice to younger readers of his wonderfully illustrated study of wayside flowers, Proserpina (1868), to avoid such questions as “how far flowers invite or require flies to interfere in their family affairs.” By 1875, Ruskin’s faith too had deserted him.

Martin Johnson Heade, Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, 1871, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The painting “Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds” (1871), by Martin Johnson Heade, is a marvelous example of an artist’s attempt to deal with Darwin’s research into these questions.

The last section in the exhibition sets out to present “a radical interpretation” of the impact of Darwin’s theories on the group of Impressionist artists, many of whom were socialists, atheists and sympathetic to Darwinism.

One of Paul Cézanne’s closest friends was Antoine-Fortuné Marion, a painter who later became a paleontologist and one of France’s leading Darwinists. According to curator Jane Munro, Cézanne and Marion “would expound on the fossil finds and on Darwin at the foothills of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the place we all associate with Cézanne, so it seemed to me why not invite a rethinking about that picture in that context?”

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, Symphony in Grey and Rose, 1892-94, National Museums and Galleries of Wales, The Davies Sisters Collection

Similarly, Claude Monet sought to paint “primal” landscapes such as the famous fossil cliffs at Etretat that Lyell had explored, which inspired the artist with “marvellous impressions of the world’s dawn, of time abandoned, the freshness of solitude, the torment of planetary dreams.”

Monet’s series of “Rouen Cathedral” paintings are done in a completely non-religious manner “ordered, and completed in an achieved evolution.”

Edgar Degas, too, took an interest in Darwinian theory and the influence of Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) can be seen in his sketchbooks. His “Little Dancer of 14 Years” is enclosed in a glass case at the Fitzwilliam, as it was at the sixth Impressionist exhibition in 1881, where it was criticized for its “bestial” look and startlingly “real” appearance—a product of “exact science.” Expression of the Emotions, which revealed Darwin’s belief in the kinship of animals and humans, also influenced artists such as Sir Edwin Landseer to produce images of animals as man’s best friend imbued with human qualities and virtues.

Endless Forms should not be missed. Its only fault is a tendency to find too much of a direct link between Darwin’s ideas and their influence on art—such as the claims that they inspired the fleshy eroticism of pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti or the pornographic images of Félicien Rops.

Darwin and classical music: here.

One of the architects behind the unscientific intelligent design movement is finding success in referencing its greatest enemy: Charles Darwin: here.

Survival of the fittest theory: Darwinism’s limits: here.

Haeckel and art: here. More Haeckel here.

Protestant fundamentalists still reject evolution: here.

Darwinism and Marxism: here.