Oldest reptile live birth fossil discovery


This video is called The history of paleoillustrations: Ichthyosauria.

From LiveScience:

Oldest Fossil of Reptile Live Birth Found

By Becky Oskin, Staff Writer | February 12, 2014 05:04pm ET

A new fossil that captures both birth and death reveals the earliest ancestors of the giant prehistoric sea predators called ichthyosaurs birthed their babies headfirst, according to a new study.

The fossil of an ancient Chaohusaurus mother that likely died while in labor also suggests that reptilian live birth only evolved on land, researchers report today (Feb. 12) in the journal PLOS ONE.

Ichthyosaurs were top ocean predators during the age of the dinosaurs. Sleek, streamlined swimmers that grew as long as a bus, they had teeth-filled snouts and enormous eyes for snatching prey. These air-breathing carnivores arose from land reptiles that moved into the water from land during the early Triassic period, between 251 million and 247 million years ago. (The Triassic period follows one of the biggest mass extinctions on Earth, which killed 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species.) [Image Gallery: Ancient Monsters of the Sea]

Previously found fossils of pregnant ichthyosaurs had already revealed the reptiles carried live embryos, not eggs. And one spectacular fossil of a Stenopterygius ichthyosaur in “childbirth,” from the Jurassic period, between 201 million and 145 million years ago, showed at least one species had newborns come out tail-first.

However, researchers didn’t know whether the earliest ichthyosaurs also gave birth headfirst or tail-first. Most air-breathing marine creatures that bear live young, such as whales and dolphins, birth their babies tail-first, so the newborns don’t suffocate during labor. But on land, babies tend to come out headfirst. And the earliest whales, which also evolved from land mammals, birthed their newborns headfirst.

The new fossil confirms that the first ichthyosaur babies came out headfirst, the study reports. The ichthyosaur mother died with three young: one outside the mother, one half-emerged headfirst from her pelvis and one still inside, waiting to be born. Because of the burial positions, it’s unlikely the babies were expelled from the mother after death, the researchers said.

“The reason for this animal dying is likely difficulty in labor,” said Ryosuke Motani, lead study author and a paleobiologist at the University of California, Davis. Motani believes the first baby was born dead, and the mother may have died of a labor complication from the second, which is stuck half-in, half-out of her body. “Obviously, the mother had some complications,” he said.

The skeleton was a lucky find. It was hidden in a rock slab with a Saurichthys fish fossil, and was only discovered when the fish fossil was prepared in the team’s lab in China. (The two fossils aren’t from the same time period, the researchers said.)

The Chaohusaurus fossil, from one of the oldest ichthyosaur species, is about 10 million years older than other fossil embryos from reptiles found so far.

The specimen is now at the Anhui Geological Museum in Hefei, China. The team recovered more than 80 new ichthyosaur skeletons during a recent field expedition to a fossil quarry in south Majiashan, China.

Earliest newborns

Live birth evolved independently in more than 140 different species, including about 100 reptiles. Other extinct aquatic reptiles that gave birth to live young include the plesiosaur and the mosasaur; in 2011, scientists discovered a pregnant plesiosaur, a marine reptile, which lived some 78 million years ago.

The new ichthyosaur fossil pushes back the known records of live birth to the earliest appearance of marine reptiles 248 million years ago, during the beginning of the Mesozoic era.

Until now, researchers thought live birth first appeared in marine reptiles after they took to the seas, Motani said. The ichthyosaur fossil counters this assumption, by providing an evolutionary link to the headfirst, terrestrial style of childbirth.

“This land-style of giving birth is only possible if they inherited it from their land ancestors,” Motani told Live Science. “They wouldn’t do it if live birth evolved in water.”

And because ichthyosaurs evolved from land reptiles, the discovery suggests that land reptiles also bore live young in the earliest Mesozoic, Motani said. The oldest fossil evidence for live birth in land reptiles is no more than 125 million years old, more than 100 million years younger than the new fossil discovery.

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New dinosaur discovery in China


This video says about itself:

New Dinosaur Discovered in China

17 Jan 2012

Archaeologists are trading high-fives this week. A new species of dinosaur has been named, 13 years after its fossilized remains were dug up in Eastern China. Named for the county where the bones were found during construction of a new highway, the skeleton puzzled researchers, who concluded it was a previously unknown species after three years of intensive study. It’s believed to be an ornithischian, or “bird-hipped” dinosaur, and would have roamed ancient China during the Cretaceous period some 100 million years ago.

The dinosaur, which was 1.5 meters long and stood less than 1 meter high, had a beak, ran on two legs, and was believed to be a herbivore. Expect thousands of little dinosaur aficionados to be playing with new toys in the next few years…as long as someone can figure out how to pronounce this dino’s name.

From the University of Pennsylvania in the USA today:

Dinosaur fossils from China help researchers describe new ‘Titan’

16 hours ago

A team led by University of Pennsylvania paleontologists has characterized a new dinosaur based on fossil remains found in northwestern China. The species, a plant-eating sauropod named Yongjinglong datangi, roamed during the Early Cretaceous period, more than 100 million years ago. This sauropod belonged to a group known as Titanosauria, members of which were among the largest living creatures to ever walk the earth.

At roughly 50-60 feet long, the Yongjinglong individual discovered was a medium-sized Titanosaur. Anatomical evidence, however, points to it being a juvenile; adults may have been larger.

The find, reported in the journal PLOS ONE, helps clarify relationships among several sauropod species that have been found in the last few decades in China and elsewhere. Its features suggest that Yongjinglong is among the most derived, or evolutionarily advanced, of the Titanosaurs yet discovered from Asia.

Doctoral student Liguo Li and professor Peter Dodson, who have affiliations in both the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Animal Biology and the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Earth and Environmental Science, led the work. They partnered with Hailu You, a former student of Dodson’s, who now works at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, and Daqing Li of the Gansu Geological Museum in Lanzhou, China.

Until very recently, the United States was the epicenter for dinosaur diversity, but China surpassed the U.S. in 2007 in terms of species found. This latest discovery was made in the southeastern Lanzhou-Minhe Basin of China’s Gansu Province, about an hour’s drive from the province’s capital, Lanzhou. Two other Titanosaurs from the same period, Huanghetitan liujiaxiaensis and Daxiatitan binglingi, were discovered within the last decade in a valley one kilometer from the Yongjinglong fossils.

“As recently as 1997 only a handful of dinosaurs were known from Gansu,” Dodson said. “Now it’s one of the leading areas of China. This dinosaur is one more of the treasures of Gansu.”

During a trip to Gansu, Liguo Li was invited to study the remains, which had been in storage since being unearthed in 2008. They consisted of three teeth, eight vertebrae, the left shoulder blade, and the right radius and ulna.

The anatomical features of the bones bear some resemblance to another Titanosaur that had been discovered by paleontologists in China in 1929, named Euhelopus zdanskyi. But the team was able to identify a number of unique characteristics.

“The shoulder blade was very long, nearly 2 meters, with sides that were nearly parallel, unlike many other Titanosaurs whose scapulae bow outward,” Li said.

The scapula was so long, indeed, that it did not appear to fit in the animal’s body cavity if placed in a horizontal or vertical orientation, as is the case with other dinosaurs. Instead, Li and colleagues suggest the bone must have been oriented at an angle of 50 degrees from the horizontal.

In addition, an unfused portion of the shoulder blade indicated to the researchers that the animal under investigation was a juvenile or subadult.

“The scapula and coracoid aren’t fused here,” Li said. “It is open, leaving potential for growth.”

Thus, a full-grown adult might be larger than this 50-60 foot long individual. Future finds may help elucidate just how much larger, the researchers noted.

The ulna and radius were well preserved, enough so that the researchers could identify grooves and ridges they believe correspond with the locations of muscle attachments in the dinosaur’s leg.

The researchers were also able to draw evidence about the dinosaur’s relationship to other species from the vertebrae, one of which was from the neck and the other seven from the trunk. Notably, the vertebrae had large cavities in the interior that the team believes provided space for air sacs in the dinosaur’s body.

“These spaces are unusually large in this species,” Dodson said. “It’s believed that dinosaurs, like birds, had air sacs in their trunk, abdominal cavity and neck as a way of lightening the body.”

In addition, the longest tooth they found was nearly 15 centimeters long. Another shorter tooth contained unique characteristics, including two “buttresses,” or bony ridges, on the internal side, while Euhelopus had only one buttress on its teeth.

To gain a sense of where Yongjinglong sits on the family tree of sauropods, the researchers were able to compare its characteristics with specimens from elsewhere in China, as well as from Africa, South America and the U.S.

“We used standard paleontological techniques to compare it with phylogenies based on other specimens,” Dodson said. “It is definitely much more derived than Euhelopus and shows close similarities to derived species from South America.”

Not only does the discovery point to the fact that Titanosaurs encompass a diverse group of dinosaurs, but it also supports the growing consensus that sauropods were a dominant group in the Early Cretaceous—a view that U.S. specimens alone could not confirm.

“Based on U.S. fossils, it was once thought that sauropods dominated herbivorous dinosaur fauna during the Jurassic but became almost extinct during the Cretaceous,” Dodson said. “We now realize that, in other parts of the world, particularly in South America and Asia, sauropod dinosaurs continued to flourish in the Cretaceous, so the thought that they were minor components is no longer a tenable view.”

See also here.

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Li Hongbo, Chinese paper sculptor


This video says about itself:

7 March 2013

Li Hongbo is a widely-acclaimed artist who plays with the appearances and connotations [of] paper. Many viewers who came across his works are intrigued by the amazing flexibility, resilience and strength of the paper material, and [are] startled by the artist’s craftmanship. In this video, Li Hongbo shows us how he did it. Step by step, he guides us in a magical journey in the making of paper art.

To learn more about the artist and his works, please visit here.

So, there is not only sculpture in well-known materials like stone, or bronze, or iron. Or in a bit less known materials like sand, or snow and ice. Paper is a possibility as well.

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Biggest fossil spider, new discoveries


The largest known fossil spiders (left: male, right: female) belong to a newly described species of extinct arachnids, Mongolarachne jurassica. Credit: Paul Selden

From LiveScience:

Biggest Spider Fossil Now Has a Mate — But It’s Complicated

By Megan Gannon, News Editor

December 16, 2013 02:44pm ET

A few years ago, scientists uncovered the largest-ever fossil of [a] spider: a female representative of a never-before-seen species that was buried in volcanic ash during the age of the dinosaurs.

Now the researchers say they have found an adult male spider to match, but the discovery complicates the original interpretation of the species. The scientists have proposed a new genus — Mongolarachne — to describe the extinct creature.

When researchers first found the female spider in northern China, they named it Nephila jurassica, putting it in the Nephila genus of golden silk orb-weavers, which still exist today and have been known to ensnare birds and bats in their huge wheel-shaped webs. [Ewww! See Photos of Bat-Eating Spiders in Action]

“It was so much like the modern golden orb weaver,” said Paul Selden, a paleontologist with the University of Kansas. “We couldn’t find any reason not to put it in the same genus of the modern ones.”

With soft, squishy bodies, spiders don’t typically turn up in the fossil record, but several hundred have been found in the volcanic deposits at the Daohugou fossil beds in Inner Mongolia, Selden said.

Volcanic ash is famous for preserving more ephemeral pieces of the past, from bodies buried in their death poses at Pompeii to 2.7-billion-year-old raindrop impressions found in South Africa. Researchers think these spiders were likely swept to the bottom of a sub-tropical lake and covered in fine ash after a volcano blew its lid.

Unlike insects, spiders are typically pretty good at staying away from water, Selden explained.

“It would take something like a volcanic eruption to blow them into the bottom of the lake and bury them,” Selden told LiveScience. “That’s the sort of scenario we imagine.”

And in that volcanic rock layer at Daohugou, the researchers found another spider that looked remarkably similar to Nephila jurassica, except it was male. There were several clues in the newfound fossil, however, that suggest this ancient arachnid just doesn’t fit the bill for Nephila.

First of all, the male was remarkably quite similar in size to the female, with a body that measures 0.65 inches (1.65 centimeters) long and a first leg stretching 2.29 inches (5.82 cm).

“This is rather strange,” Selden said. “In the modern orb weavers, there is quite a lot of sexual dimorphism,” with a huge female and a tiny male.

Compared with Nephila male spiders, this newfound fossilized male had more primitive-looking pedipalps — the sex appendages between a spider’s jaws and first legs that it uses to transfer sperm to the female. And it had a more feathery hairstyle: The fossil was preserved so well that Selden could look at imprints of the spider’s hair under an electron microscope. Instead of one or two scales along each bristle, Selsen said he saw evidence that this spider had “spirals of hairlets” along the strands covering its body.

The researchers think the fossilized spiders may actually be more closely related to spiders in the Deinopoidea genus, also called ogre-faced spiders. Arachnids in this group are considered orbicularians. They also make orb-shaped webs, but their silk is more “woolly,” Selden said, with a stickiness that’s more like Velcro than glue.

Revising their original labeling of the giant fossilized female spider, the researchers created a new genus and species name for the pair: Mongolarachne jurassica. Selden and colleagues also created a branch for Mongolarachne on a phylogenic tree, placing it quite close to the stem where orbicularians originate.

The study was published online Dec. 7 in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

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Chinese spacecraft lands on moon


This video from China is called China’s Chang’e 3 landing on the Moon [Exclusive Video].

From the NASA in the USA:

China’s Chang’e-3 and Jade Rabbit duo land on the Moon

December 14, 2013 by Rui C. Barbosa

China’s Chang’e-3 and the lunar rover Yutu (Jade Rabbit) have landed on the lunar surface at 1:11 pm UTC on Saturday. The duo were launched by a Long March 3B on December 1, which was followed by a nominal flight into lunar orbit and subsequently China’s first soft landing on the Moon.

China’s Mission to the Moon:

The Chinese duo have enjoyed a trouble-free flight towards the Moon, with the spacecraft entering a reported 210.3 x 389109.2 km x 28.5 deg orbit during the week. …

This was the first lunar landing since Luna-24 launched on August 9, 1976. That mission touched down on the surface of the moon on August 18 of that year, ahead of a soil retrieving mission that returned to Earth six days later.