Lyme disease ticks discovery, 15 million years old


This video is called The amber fossils secret – Dominican Republic.

From LiveScience:

Ancient Lyme Disease Bacteria Found in 15-Million-Year-Old Tick Fossils

By Megan Gannon, News Editor | May 30, 2014 05:18pm ET

The oldest known evidence of Lyme disease may lie in ticks that were entombed in amber at least 15 million years ago, scientists announced.

The researchers investigated four fossilized ticks that had been trapped in chunks of amber found in the Dominican Republic. Inside the ticks’ bodies, the scientists saw a large population of cells that looked like the squiggly shaped spirochete cells of the Borrelia genus — a type of bacteria that causes Lyme disease today.

Bacteria, which arose on the planet 3.6 billion years ago, rarely survive in the fossil record. But amber, the hardened resin from oozing trees, can preserve soft tissues and microscopic cells that would otherwise degrade over time. In recent years, scientists have discovered the 100-million-year-old gut microbes of a termite and 40-million-year-old sperm from an insect-like springtail, both trapped in amber. [Photos: Ancient Life Trapped in Amber]

The newfound bacteria species was dubbed Palaeoborrelia dominicana. The findings suggest illnesses like Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases may have been plaguing animals long before humans ever walked Earth.

Today, ticks are more significant disease-carrying insects

They are arachnids, not insects

than mosquitos in the United States, Europe and Asia, said entomologist George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus at Oregon State University, lead author of the study detailed in the journal Historical Biology last month.

“They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors,” Poinar said in a statement. “It’s likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease.”

Lyme disease, for example, wasn’t formally recognized until the 1970s even though it affects thousands of people each year. In 2009, there were 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Humans acquire the disease when bitten by ticks that carry Borrelia bacteria. But because it has symptoms that overlap with many other disorders — including rash, aches, fatigue and fever — Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed.

The oldest documented case of Lyme disease in humans comes from the famous 5,300-year-old ice mummy dubbed Ötzi, discovered in the Eastern Alps about 20 years ago. In a 2012 study detailed in the journal Nature Communications, scientists said they found genetic material for the Borrelia bacteriain the iceman.

“Before he was frozen in the glacier, the iceman was probably already in misery from Lyme disease,” Poinar said. “He had a lot of health problems and was really a mess.”

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Some prehistoric sloths were ocean swimmers


This video is called Giant Ground Sloth – Museum of Life – BBC Two.

From National Geographic:

Some Ancient Sloths Ventured Into the Ocean, Study Says

Posted by Jane J. Lee in Weird & Wild on March 11, 2014

Modern-day sloths are tree dwellers, only occasionally venturing down to the ground. But about five to eight million years ago, five sloth species ventured into the sea.

Now, new research suggests that these ancient animals went much further into the water than we ever knew. Instead of just living near the ocean and making brief forays in, as scientists had previously thought, it appears that ancient aquatic sloths swam out and dove toward the bottom for food. The study confirms habits scientists had speculated about for years.

In studying the aquatic sloth fossils, a team of scientists found that cavities present in the bones of terrestrial animals were absent in the sloth specimens. They were instead filled with solid bone, which aided in diving.

“Think about a scuba diver who has a weight belt,” says Eli Amson, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and lead study author. “It allows them to sink.”

The bones of terrestrial mammals, by contrast—including our own—are filled with small cavities.

Dense bone is one of the key adaptations seen in mammals such as manatees and dugongs that returned to the sea, where life began. Dense bones would have been especially important in helping aquatic sloths dive because they had big bellies, like modern sloths do, which would have acted like flotation devices, says Greg McDonald, a senior curator of natural history for the U.S. National Park Service.

The earliest aquatic sloths probably came down to the beaches to munch on sea grasses exposed to the air during low tides, McDonald says. The animals may have waded into shallow water to graze on vegetation.

“Over time, [the sloths] become better adapted to an aquatic habitat where they go out and swim,” McDonald says, “and dive down in order to feed more often and not just with the tides.”

Beach Bums?

Other adaptations to a watery lifestyle can be seen in the ancient sloths’ limbs and tails. On average, these animals were 6.5 to 8 feet (2 to 2.5 meters) long, with about 3 feet (a meter) of that length being all tail, says Amson.

“The tail is actually reminiscent of a platypus tail or a beaver tail,” he says. But the sloths probably weren’t using their paddle-like tail for locomotion underwater. It was probably working to keep the animals stable as they dove, Amson explains.

Modifications to bones in their upper and lower legs also point to a shift to a more aquatic lifestyle, McDonald says.

Sloths didn’t get to a point where they were as aquatic as modern seals or sea lions, he adds. Aquatic sloths probably did come back to land to bask in the sun and warm up between meals.

And what a sight that would have been, to see six-foot (two-meter) sloths lazing about a beach. “Even by sloth standards, it’s a weird animal,” McDonald says. (Learn more about aquatic sloths.)

The new study was published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Did Chilean prehistoric whales die from algae?


This video says about itself:

Smithsonian 3D Digi Landscape – Chilean Fossil Whales – Time Lapse

26 November 2011

9 exposure HDR time lapse shot overnight. Newly discovered fossil whales in foreground with the Pan-american Highway leading towards the port of Caldera, Chile.

From Wildlife Extra:

Ancient marine graveyard mystery solved

February 2014: The 40 marine mammals that washed up on the Chilean coast millions of years ago died at sea probably from being poisoned by toxic algal blooms say scientists.

The marine graveyard was discovered in 2011 when builders working to extend the Pan-American Highway discovered a 250 metre wide quarry site filled with the skeletons of more than 40 marine mammals including 31 large baleen whales, seals, a walrus-like toothed whale, an aquatic sloth and an extinct species of sperm whale, suggesting that they died from the same cause.

The wide array of animals buried at the site over four levels indicated that the cause of death didn’t differentiate between the young and old or between species, and occurred repeatedly over thousands of years. This suggests that harmful algae blooms, which cause organ failure, could be the most common cause of mass strandings.

Other causes, like tsunamis, were ruled out by the team of Chilean and Smithsonian paleontologists because they would have produced a range of skeletons including much smaller species, rather than the primarily large mammals found at Cerro Ballena. A mass stranding while alive was ruled out as a cause of death due to the way all the marine mammals were were found at right angles to the direction that the current would have flowed.

Humans have been using echolocation in the form of sonar since the early part of the 20th century, but whales have made use of the ability to use sound to pinpoint locations for tens of millions of years. As evidenced in the fossils – which belong to a new species of ancient whale named Cotylocara macei – cetaceans have been using echolocation for at least 30 million years: here.

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Prehistoric apes discovery in Kenya


This video says about itself:

1 Oct 2012

On Rusinga Island in Kenya‘s Lake Victoria, paleontologist Will Harcourt-Smith is leading an effort to recreate the environments inhabited by primitive primates—apes of the genus Proconsul. Studying the adaptive changes of our ancient ancestors helps scientists trace the origins of adaptability in modern humans.

Science Bulletins is a production of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology (NCSLET), part of the Department of Education at the American Museum of Natural History.

From Science, Space & Robots:

Fossil Forest Discovery Sheds Light on Environment Inhabited by Early Apes

A fossil forest discovery by researchers from Baylor University and an international team of scientists has shed light on the environment inhabited by early apes on Rusinga Island, Kenya. Researchers found fossils of tree stumps, calcified roots and fossil leaves. Researchers say the fossil find indicates that Proconsul and its primate relative, Dendropithecus, lived in a dense, closed canopy tropical seasonal forest about 18 to 20 million years ago. The research was published here in Nature Communications.

Daniel Peppe, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study, says in a Baylor release, “Our research findings provide direct evidence and confirm where the early ape lived about 18 to 20 million years ago. We now know that Proconsul lived in a closed-canopy, tropical seasonal forest set in a warm and relatively wet local climate.”

Fossils of a single Proconsul were also found among the geological fossil forest deposits.

Lauren Michel, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in the geology department at Baylor, says, “The varying diameters of the tree stumps coupled with their density within the fossil soil, implies that the forest would have been comprised of trees with interlocking or overlapping branches, thus creating a canopy.”

Posted on February 27, 2014

Fossil whale discovery in California


This video says about itself:

The jaws of the Leviathan: by Nature Video

28 June 2010

The fossilized skull and jaw of a giant, 12–13 million-year-old sperm whale have been discovered off the coast of Peru. The creature, whose discovery is reported in this week’s Nature, belongs to a previously unknown genus of sperm whale and has been named in honour of Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick.

The fossil was found in ocean layers where the giant shark has also been recorded and the authors suggest that these two giant, raptorial predators could have lived in the same area, feeding on large, marine vertebrates, such as baleen whales.

From the Daily Breeze in California, USA:

‘Priceless’ fossil find on Palos Verdes Peninsula could be 12-million-year-old sperm whale

By Donna Littlejohn, The Daily Breeze

Posted: 01/30/14, 7:03 PM PST

For decades it sat in a garden on the Chadwick School campus — a 700-pound Altamira shale boulder with a fossil partially exposed.

What that fossil turned out to be surprised most everyone.

Paleontologists from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum suspect the find could be nothing short of a new, prehistoric sperm whale species from the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which once was underwater.

The fossil is thought to be about 12 million years old, said Howell Thomas, senior paleontologist for the museum.

“I expect it to be something new,” said Thomas, who visited the private school campus about a year ago to inspect the find.

“It’s pretty remarkable and scientifically significant,” said Chadwick science teacher Martin Byhower, who contacted the museum last year with a request for help in identifying that fossil and several other embedded marine fossils used in landscaping on the campus. The other shale rocks contained fossil remnants of ribs and vertebrae from whales but did not qualify as any kind of significant discovery, Thomas said.

“I looked at them and said ‘That’s this, this is that — and this (the skull) needs to come to the museum,’” Thomas said.

“I looked at it and said, ‘Ah! That’s a sperm whale skull and it’s really small,’ which makes it even more important. Juveniles are rare.”

Animals in the wild grow up quickly, he said, making it unlikely that the small size points to a juvenile. More likely, he said, the fossil appears to be from a small adult species of sperm whale that hasn’t previously been identified by scientists.

The museum will collect the piece on Wednesday and take it back to its laboratories for what will be a year’s work of further excavation and study, Thomas said.

Using state-of-the-art tools, the ancient and delicate fossil material will be painstakingly separated from the shale rock that covers perhaps 75 percent of the skull.

As part of the research, the museum will attempt to locate another small sperm whale fossil also reportedly found on the Palos Verdes Peninsula but not on Chadwick property, to compare the two, Thomas said.

The embedded skull appears to have been on the private school campus for nearly 80 years, most likely uncovered during earlier construction projects.

Byhower said it’s been moved a few times during his 30 years of teaching at the school.

Fellow science teacher and Chadwick alumni Nick Herzik said the find is “priceless.”

“I probably sat on this a million times” as a student,” he said.

For Byhower, learning more about the fossils was a way to encourage his students’ natural curiosity about the world around them.

“I just want kids to observe and wonder about the world. I want them to persist until they get the answers” to the mysteries that surround them, Byhower said.

The museum and school have been in negotiations for the past year, Thomas said, to finalize an agreement to have the rock and fossil transported and donated. In exchange, the school will receive a cast model of the fossil when it is finished.

The museum will document its work and likely write a paper for publication when the examinations are complete.

There is “no guarantee” that the find will result in identifying a new species, Thomas said.

“But I expect it will be,” he said.

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Dolphin fossil discovery in New Zealand


This video is called Friday Fossil Mystery – Ep.2 – Dolphin Petrosal.

From the University of Otago in New Zealand:

New dolphin fossil found in NZ

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A newly recognised fossil dolphin from New Zealand, dubbed Papahu taitapu, is the first of its kind ever found and may be a close relation to the ancestors of modern dolphins and toothed whales, according to University of Otago researchers.

Papahu lived 19–22 million years ago, and is one of the few dolphins to be reported globally dating to the start of the Miocene epoch. Judging from the size of its skull, Papahu was about two metres long, roughly the size of a common dolphin.

Dr Gabriel Aguirre and Professor Ewan Fordyce, from the University’s Department of Geology describe and interpret Papahu in the latest issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. This work was part of Dr Aguirre’s PhD research.

Dr Aguirre says that like most living dolphins, Papahu had many simple conical teeth, but its head was probably a bit wider, and not as high-domed. It lived at a time of global warmth, in shallow seas around Zealandia – or proto-New Zealand – along with ancient penguins and baleen whales.

The skull, one jaw, and a few other parts of Papahu taitapu were found in marine sedimentary rocks in the Cape Farewell region of northern South Island. The researchers used the Māori name ‘taitapu’ to honour this region, and ‘Papahu’ is a Māori name for dolphin. Only a single specimen has been found so far and the fossil is housed in the University’s Geology Museum.

“Our study of structures of the skull and earbone suggest that Papahu could make and use high frequency sound to navigate and detect prey in murky water. They probably also used sound to communicate with each other,” says Dr Aguirre.

Features of the Papahu skull can be used to analyse relationships with other dolphins and toothed whales. That work shows that the skull is distinct from all previously-reported fossils, which is why the dolphin can be formally named as a new form, he says.

“When we compared Papahu with both modern and fossil dolphins we found that it belongs in a diverse and structurally variable group of ancient dolphins that evolved and spread world-wide 19–35 million years ago. All of those ancient dolphins including Papahu and others, such as shark-toothed dolphins, are now extinct,” says Professor Fordyce.

“They have been replaced by the ‘modern’ dolphins and toothed whales, which diversified within the last 19 million years,” he says.

It is not clear, however, exactly why Papahu and other ancient dolphins went extinct, he added.

See also here.

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Fossil alligator discovery in Japan


This video from England is called Dinosaur, crocodile and plant fossil hunting in Fairlight Cove, East Sussex, England.

From Kyodo news agency in Japan:

Paleontologist finds fossil of gator dating back 20 million years on Oki

by Haruka Nishimoto

Dec 30, 2013

MATSUE, SHIMANE PREF. – Shigenori Kawano, 32, found last summer what was later identified as East Asia’s oldest fossil of a giant alligator, dating from around 20 million years ago, on Oki Island in the Sea of Japan.

In mid-July, the researcher at Shimane Nature Museum of Mount Sanbe found a 30-cm rock on the Shimane Prefecture island’s shore while studying local animal and plant life.

Kawano said that when he saw part of a bone exposed on the surface of the rock, he instantly knew it must be that of a reptile.

“The size was nothing compared with that of a turtle or a soft-shelled turtle,” he said.

After carefully examining the rock, he learned that the bone, which measured 21 by 18 cm, was a fossilized portion of the backbone of an alligator estimated to be up to 7 meters long.

Kawano said, “I spontaneously shouted, ‘I did it!’ “

The previous oldest fossil of a giant alligator was found on the Penghu Islands in Taiwan and is believed to date from about 10 million years ago.

A native of Takeo, Saga Prefecture, Kawano was a second-grader when he started collecting fossils.

Taken by his father, who was a civil engineer, he collected fossils of snails and shark teeth not only in coastal areas and construction sites in Saga Prefecture but also in other parts of northern Kyushu and Shikoku.

Since his mother and younger brother were also fans of archaeology, it has become a sort of “leisure activity for our family,” Kawano said.

When his family went on an excavation trip to a remote island, all of the members got so absorbed in digging that they forgot that the tide was rising and were almost unable to return to the mainland.

Kawano has made remarkable discoveries since he was a junior high school student.

He found a bird bill from about 34 million years ago when he was a sophomore at junior high school and the bill is still a treasure for him.

At Shimane University, which he chose to enter simply because he can go fishing and fossil hunting by bicycle, he studied paleontology for 10 years.

Here’s How To Tell The Difference Between A Crocodile And An Alligator: here.

Penguin evolution, new research


This video from Antarctica is called PENGUIN BLOOPERS.

From Phys.org today:

Cooler climate helped evolution of penguins

3 hours ago

Penguins waddled into the book of life around 20 million years ago and diversified thanks to global cooling which opened up Antarctica for habitation, a study said on Wednesday.

Scientists led by Sankar Subramanian of Griffith University in Australia sequenced telltale signatures of DNA from the genome of 11 penguin species that are alive today.

They compared these stretches to make a “molecular clock“—a way of calculating how species evolve on the basis of regular mutations in DNA.

By this yardstick, the forerunner of all penguins lived 20.4 million years ago, according to the paper, published in the British journal Biology Letters.

If so, penguins showed up more recently than thought. Previous estimates put their emergence at 41-51 million years ago.

Penguins then diversified around 11 to 16 million years ago to form most of the species that are around today, according to the study.

“This overlaps with the sharp decline in Antarctic temperatures that began approximately 12 million years ago, suggesting a possible relationship between climate change and penguin evolution.”

Giant platypus fossil discovery in Australia


This is an artist’s reconstruction of Obdurodon tharalkooschild. The inset shows its first lower molar. Image credit: Peter Schouten

From Wildlife Extra:

Giant extinct toothed platypus discovered

A fossil of a prehistoric giant toothed platypus discovered in Australia

November 2013: A giant carnivorous platypus with razor sharp teeth once roamed the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland, Australia, researchers from the University of New South Wales have discovered. Named Obdurodon tharalkooschild it is believed to have lived around 15 million years ago and was about one metre in length, twice the size of its modern day relative the peculiar looking, egg-laying, otter footed, beaver tailed duck-billed platypus. And unlike today’s relation it had functional, sharp teeth, which were used to slice and chew crayfish, frogs and small turtles.

The discovery of the new species’ tooth in a limestone deposit was made by Rebecca Pian, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and former UNSW Honours student, and Professor Mike Archer and Associate Professor Suzanne Hand, of the UNSW School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“A new platypus species, even one that is highly incomplete, is a very important aid in developing understanding about these fascinating mammals,” says Rebecca Pian.

It is believed that, like other platypuses, it was probably a mostly aquatic mammal, and would have lived in and around the freshwater pools in the forests that covered the Riversleigh area millions of years ago.

“Discovery of this new species was a shock to us because prior to this, the fossil record suggested that the evolutionary tree of platypuses was a relatively linear one,” says Mike Archer. “Now we realize that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic.”

The name Obdurodon tharalkooschild derives from the Greek for “lasting tooth” and an Australian folk story about the genus’ origin that features a strong-willed female duck who ignored her parents’ warnings and was set upon by Bigoon, a water-rat, leading to unusual-looking offspring.

See also here. And here.

The scientific description of this new species is here.

Prehistoric Spanish bears’ sex life discovery


This diagram compares the size the shape of the penis bones of the following bear species: A) sun bear, B) Asian black bear, C) Andean bear, D) American black bear, E) sloth bear, F) brown bear, G) polar bear and H) the extinct Indarctos arctoides. Credit: PLOS ONE, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073711.g001

From LiveScience:

Size Mattered to Ancient Bear, Penis Bones Suggest

By Megan Gannon, News Editor

September 24, 2013 11:56am ET

Scientists don’t have any footage to shed light on the sex lives of ancient bears, but fossil penis bones can tell all.

Researchers recently studied a collection of penis bones from an extinct species of bear in Spain. Compared with today’s bears, this ancient creature, named Indarctos arctoides, had a surprisingly large penis bone that suggests it had infrequent but long-lasting sex sessions, the study found. And the females may have used penis size to assess their mates.

Human males today don’t have a penis bone, formally called a bacula, but it is found in many other mammals, including chimpanzees and gorillas. Whereas humans depend on blood pressure to stiffen up their sexual member, a penis bone helps animals keep their penis reliably erect for intercourse. [7 Wild Facts About the Penis]

Penis bones are rare in the fossil record, but researchers found five of them in the Madrid Basin in Spain that belonged to this large primitive bear, Indarctos arctoides. The bear roamed Europe during the Late Miocene (around 12 million to 5 million years ago), and the male of the species would have grown to around 584 pounds (265 kilograms), similar in size to the European brown bear.

Its bacula was, on average, 9.1 inches (23.3 centimeters) long — significantly larger than the penis bones of much bigger bears. Male polar bears, the biggest bears on Earth today, typically weigh 1,100 lbs. (500 kg), but their penis bone averages about 7.3 inches (18.6 cm) long, the researchers say.

The length of the penis bone could reveal details not only about the sexual behavior of Indarctos arctoides, but also the species’ ecological habits and mating system.

Based on the size of baculum, the researchers think the bear likely had fewer but longer periods of intercourse than other mammals. A long baculum, the study researchers say, could have served as a physical support during mating, helping to keep the female’s reproductive tract open and in an optimal position for fertilization during these sporadic dalliances.

Indarctos arctoides may have also had relatively large individual ranges and possibly a lower population density, giving rise to fewer sexual encounters, the researchers say.

The fossil record shows that the male Indarctos arctoides would have been much larger than the female. Previous research has suggested bear species with strong sex differences tend to have shorter penis bones and mating systems where males take multiple mates and fiercely compete for females. The fact that Indarctos arctoides had a relatively long bacula suggests it was a sexually selected trait that females used to assess mate quality.

The study was led by paleobiologist Juan Abella, of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. It was detailed Sept. 18 in the journal PLOS ONE.