Baby bird from dinosaur age discovered

Overview photographs of the slab and counterslab of the newly discovered baby bird fossil MPCM-LH-26189. Slab a is on the left, slab b, on the right. The two red boxes indicate the localisation of the areas analysed histologically. Abbreviations: An: angular, Ar: articular, CaV: caudal vertebrae, CeV: cervical vertebrae, Co: coracoid, De: dentary, DoV: dorsal vertebrae, Fe: femur, Fr: frontal, Ga: gastralium, Hu: humerus, Hy: hyoid, Is: ischium, Ju: jugal, MiMC: minor metacarpal, Pu: pubis, Qu: quadrate, Ra: radius, Ri: rib, Sa: surangular, Sp: splenial, SaV: sacral vertebrae, SR: sclerotic ring, St: sternum, Ti: tibia, Ul: ulna

From the University of Manchester in England:

127-million-year-old baby bird fossil sheds light on avian evolution

March 5, 2018

The tiny fossil of a prehistoric baby bird is helping scientists understand how early avians came into the world in the Age of Dinosaurs.

The fossil, which dates back to the Mesozoic Era (250-65 million years ago), is a chick from a group of prehistoric birds called, Enantiornithes. Made up of a nearly complete skeleton, the specimen is amongst the smallest known Mesozoic avian fossils ever discovered.

It measures less than five centimetres — smaller than the little finger on an average human hand — and would have weighed just three ounces when it was alive. What makes this fossil so important and unique is the fact it died not long after its birth. This is a critical stage in a bird’s skeletal formation. That means this bird’s extremely short life has given researchers a rare chance to analyse the species’ bone structure and development.

Studying and analysing ossification — the process of bone development — can explain a lot about a young bird’s life the researchers say. It can help them understand everything from whether it could fly or if it needed to stay with its parents after hatching or could survive on its own.

The lead author of the study, Fabien Knoll, from The University of Manchester’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Ancient Life (ICAL), School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the ARAID — Dinopolis in Spain explains: ‘The evolutionary diversification of birds has resulted in a wide range of hatchling developmental strategies and important differences in their growth rates. By analysing bone development we can look at a whole host of evolutionary traits.’

With the fossil being so small the team used synchrotron radiation to picture the tiny specimen at a ‘submicron’ level, observing the bones’ microstructures in extreme detail.

Knoll said: ‘New technologies are offering palaeontologists unprecedented capacities to investigate provocative fossils. Here we made the most of state-of-the-art facilities worldwide including three different synchrotrons in France, the UK and the United States.’

The researchers found the baby bird’s sternum (breastplate bone) was still largely made of cartilage and had not yet developed into hard, solid bone when it died, meaning it wouldn’t have been able to fly.

The patterns of ossification observed in this and the other few very young enantiornithine birds known to date also suggest that the developmental strategies of this particular group of ancient avians may have been more diverse than previously thought.

However, the team say that its lack of bone development doesn’t necessarily mean the hatchling was over reliant on its parents for care and feeding, a trait known as being ‘altricial’. Modern day species like love birds are highly dependent on their parents when born. Others, like chickens, are highly independent, which is known as ‘precocial’. Although, this is not a black-and-white issue, but rather a spectrum, hence the difficulty in clarifying the developmental strategies of long gone bird species.

Luis Chiappe, from the LA Museum of Natural History and study’s co-author added: ‘This new discovery, together with others from around the world, allows us to peek into the world of ancient birds that lived during the age of dinosaurs. It is amazing to realise how many of the features we see among living birds had already been developed more than 100 million years ago.’


Ankylosaur dinosaur fossils, new theory

This 2016 video is called Interesting Facts About Ankylosaurus.

From the Canadian Museum of Nature:

Flipside of a dinosaur mystery: ‘Bloat-and-float’ explains belly-up ankylosaur fossils

February 28, 2018

Summary: Why are fossil remains of ankylosaurs — armored ‘tanks of the Cretaceaous’ — usually found belly-up? A paleontologist proposes the explanation is ‘bloat-and-float’, where the dead dinos would float downstream, bloat, flip upside down, and be fossilized that way.

A scientist with the Canadian Museum of Nature has answered a long-standing mystery about why fossils of ankylosaurs — the “armoured tanks” of the dinosaur world — are mainly found belly-side up. In doing so, he has ruled out three other competing theories involving clumsiness, predation, and the effects of bloating as seen in armadillo roadkills.

Palaeontologist Dr. Jordan Mallon says the evidence points to a phenomenon called “bloat-and-float,” whereby the bloating carcasses of ankylosaurs would end up in a river, flip belly-side up due to the weight of their heavy armour, and then float downstream. The remains would wash ashore, where decomposition and then fossilization would seal the dinosaur remains in their upside-down death pose.

“Textbooks have touted that ankylosaur fossils are usually found upside down, but no one has gone back and checked the records to make sure that’s the case,” explains Mallon. The observations date from the 1930s. Indeed, the fossils of two star ankylosaurs described in 2017, Borealopelta from Alberta and Zuul from Montana, were found upside down.

Mallon examined 32 ankylosaur fossils from Alberta (of which 26 were found belly up), photos of specimens, field notes, and other signs such as erosion of the exposed surface, sun bleaching, and the presence of lichens.

The results are published in the online journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. Collaborators included armadillo experts Drs. Colleen McDonough and Jim Loughry of Valdosta State University in Georgia, and Dr. Don Henderson, with Drumheller Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

Mallon ruled out three other theories before settling on “bloat-and-float” to explain the preponderance of the belly-up remains.

“One idea was that ankylosaurs were simply clumsy, tripping over themselves or rolling down hills and ending up dying that way,” he says. But since ankylosaurs existed for about 100 million years, clumsy habits would not fit with their apparent evolutionary success.

Another theory was that ankylosaurs were prey for carnivores, such as hungry tyrannosaurids, which would flip the armoured dinosaurs onto their backs to get at the soft underbelly. “If this was true, we would expect to see signs of bite marks, especially on upside-down ones, but we saw marks on only one specimen”, explains Mallon. “Since they were armoured, it makes sense that ankylosaurs were not regularly preyed upon, and the fossil evidence in museum collections supports this.”

The third idea, proposed in the 1980s, is an analogy to what happens with some armadillo roadkills — as the carcass rots and bloats, gas accumulates, and the limbs would splay out, eventually rolling the animal onto its back.

The challenge was to test this hypothesis. Enter McDonough and Loughry who are experts on modern armadillos, which also have an armoured shell. Over the summer of 2016, they studied 174 examples of dead armadillo. “Sure enough, the data show that they do not occur more often on their backs,” says Mallon. The pair even examined dead armadillos placed in plexiglass cases in their backyard to keep away scavengers. Regardless of the positioning of the carcasses, bloating did not cause them to roll over onto their backs.

That left the “bloat-and-float” hypothesis as the most likely explanation for the presence of upside-down fossils. To study this, Mallon turned to computer simulations developed by Dr. Don Henderson, who specializes in the floating behaviour of animals in water.

Ankylosaur fossils in North America are found in river channel deposits, and in the Late Cretaceous Period these animals would have been living along a coastline of what is known as the Western Interior Seaway.

“We designed these models of ankylosaurs, both clubless and clubbed, and looked at their floating behavior,” explains Mallon. The computer modelling showed that the animals would tend to flip upside down quite easily in water. Nodosaurids, which are ankylosaurs with no tail clubs, would flip most easily at the slightest tilt; the ankyosaurids (with clubbed tails), were more stable but could still be flipped.

“So ‘bloat-and-float'” fits with their known environment, and this research helps inform about the transport behavior of dead dinosaurs, which is important to know when studying fossil ecosystems. Ultimately, this is a classic case study of the scientific method: examining alternative hypotheses, finding ways to test them, and ruling them out one-by-one. What you are left with at the end is the most likely explanation.”

Dinosaur age lizard footprints discovery

Scientists think that these fossilized footprints may represent the earliest evidence of a lizard running on two legs. Here, a front print (left) and a back print (right) are shown

By Helen Thompson, 1:19pm, February 15, 2018:

Fossil footprints may put lizards on two feet 110 million years ago

But the prints aren’t clear-cut, others say

Fossilized footprints from an iguana-like reptile provide what could be the earliest evidence of a lizard running on two legs.

The 29 exceptionally well-preserved lizard tracks, found in a slab of rock from an abandoned quarry in Hadong County, South Korea, include back feet with curved digits and front feet with a slightly longer third digit. The back footprints outnumber the front ones, and digit impressions are more pronounced than those of the balls of the feet. The lizard’s stride length also increases across the slab.

That’s what you’d expect to see in a transition from moseying along on four legs to scampering on two, says Yuong-Nam Lee, a paleontologist at Seoul National University who first came across the slab back in 2004. A closer examination two years ago revealed the telltale tracks.

Lee and his colleagues attribute the tracks to a previously unknown lizard ichnospecies, that is a species defined solely by trace evidence of its existence, rather than bones or tissue. Lee and his colleagues have dubbed the possible perpetrator Sauripes hadongensis and linked it to an order that includes today’s iguanas and chameleons in the Feb. 15 Scientific Reports.

Bipedal running certainly would have come in handy when escaping predatory pterosaurs some 110 million to 128 million years ago, the age of the rock slab. Lizard tracks are pretty rare in the fossil record, due to the reptiles’ lightweight bodies and penchant for habitats that don’t make great fossils. Though tracks appear in older fossils from the Triassic Epoch, 200 million to 250 million years ago, those prints belong to more primitive lizardlike reptiles. The new find edges out another set from the same region as the oldest true lizard tracks in the world by a few million years, the researchers say.

Plenty of modern lizards use two legs to scurry around. Some studies have linked similarities in ancient lizard bone structure to bipedal locomotion, but it is unclear exactly when lizards developed bipedalism. Lee’s team argues that these tracks represent the earliest and only direct evidence of bipedal running in an ancient lizard.

Martin Lockley, a paleontologist at the University of Colorado Denver who studies ancient animal tracks, points to alternative explanations. S. hadongensis might have trampled over front prints with its back feet, obscuring them and giving the appearance of two-legged running. Preservation can vary between back and front footprints. And the stride lengths aren’t quite as long as what Lockley says he’d expect to see in running. “Running or ‘leaping’ lizards make for a good story, but I am skeptical based on the evidence,” he adds.

So it may take the discovery of more fossilized lizard prints to determine whether S. hadongensis’ tracks truly represent running on two legs rather than simply scurrying on four.

Beewolf wasps’ health, from dinosaur age till now

This video says about itself:

Lifecycle of the European Beewolf wasp – short story with narration

22 August 2017

A short story on the European Beewolf Wasp (Philanthus triangulum) showing how it preys on others and what it does to improve the success of its offspring.

From the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany:

Beewolves have been successfully using the same antibiotics for 68 million years

The antibiotic cocktail produced by symbiotic bacteria changed very little in the course of evolution and its antipathogenic effect remained unaltered

February 14, 2018

Summary: Scientists have now found that beewolves, unlike humans, do not face the problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens. These insects team up with symbiotic bacteria which produce up to 45 different antibiotic substances to protect their offspring against mold fungi. This antibiotic cocktail has remained surprisingly stable since the symbiosis emerged, about 68 million years ago.

The discovery of penicillin about 90 years ago and the widespread introduction of antibiotics to combat infectious diseases have revolutionized human medicine. However, in recent decades, the increase in multidrug-resistant pathogens has confronted modern medicine with massive problems. Insects have their own antibiotics, which provide natural protection against germs. A team of scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena have now found that beewolves, unlike humans, do not face the problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens. These insects team up with symbiotic bacteria which produce an antibiotic cocktail of up to 45 different substances within a single species to protect their offspring against mold fungi. The researchers not only discovered that the number of antibiotic substances is much higher than previously thought, they also proved that the cocktail has remained surprisingly stable since the symbiosis emerged, about 68 million years ago.

Beewolves are solitary digger wasps that carry paralyzed bees into their underground brood cells; these serve as a food supply for their offspring. After the larvae hatch from the eggs, they feed on the bees and then hibernate in a cocoon in the ground. While hibernating, they are constantly endangered by fast-growing mold fungi whose spores are omnipresent in the soil. To protect their young, beewolves have not only developed their own defense mechanisms, they also rely on the chemical arsenal of microorganisms. Adult females breed bacteria of the genus Streptomyces in their antennae and deposit these bacteria to the walls of the brood cells in which their larvae develop. When a larva spins its cocoon, it weaves the Streptomyces into the cocoon silk. Because the bacteria produce a cocktail of different antibiotic substances, a protective layer is formed which prevents mold fungi from entering the cocoon and infecting the larva.

In the present study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists from Mainz and Jena showed that the protective symbiosis between beewolves and their bacterial partners has not only existed since the Cretaceous (see also our press release, moreover, the antibiotic protection offered by the bacteria against pathogens has changed very little since it evolved about 68 million years ago. All of the studied beewolf species use very similar mixtures of antibiotics — basically, modifications of only two structures: streptochlorine and piericidin. “We had expected that some beewolf symbionts evolved new antibiotics to complement their arsenal over the course of evolution in order to help their hosts combat new or resistant mold fungi”, Tobias Engl from Mainz University, the first author of the study, said. However, the original antibiotic cocktail must have been so effective that it did not need to change. An especially important property from the start was possibly that the mixture was effective against a wide variety of fungi, as no specialized pathogens in beewolves are known to have evolved resistance to these antibiotics.

The broad protection offered by the antibiotic cocktail against a variety of mold fungi is probably related to the large number of substances produced by the bacterial symbionts. Because most of these substances can be traced back to a single gene cluster, the scientists also studied the molecular reasons for the diversity of products. They identified several key biosynthetic steps and discovered that the enzymes of the symbiotic Streptomyces worked less selectively than those of free-living bacteria. This lack of specificity allows the enzymes to bind to different chemical precursors, which is the reason for a larger number of products. In addition, the direct end-product of the piericidin biosynthesis is modified in multiple ways. The result is a multitude of antibiotic substances which are found in varying amounts in the different beewolf species. The geographical pattern of the relative amounts of single substances suggests that the antibiotics allow beewolves to adapt to a certain degree to local mold communities.

Beewolves and their symbiont-produced antibiotics are likely exposed to different selective pressures than humans. Human pathogens gain enormous advantage by becoming resistant to common antibiotics. They can use this advantage effectively, because they are transmitted from person to person and, in our globalized world, even from country to country. They spread easily in hospitals, where many people, often with compromised immune systems, live together in close proximity. “Beewolves, in contrast, are usually found in small populations and frequently relocate, because they rely on open sandy grounds to build their burrows”, Martin Kaltenpoth, who headed a Max Planck Research Group in Jena until he became Professor of Evolutionary Ecology in Mainz in 2015, explained. “Hence resistant pathogens have little opportunity to spread within or between populations.” Perhaps this is the reason why no resistant microorganisms are known to have specialized on beewolves. It seems most important for beewolves to have a defense which is efficient against a broad and constantly changing spectrum of mold fungi. The selective process that favored broad-spectrum activity over adaptation to specialized pathogens likely influenced the development of the antibiotic cocktail and led to it remaining mostly unchanged for millions of years.

Boy discovers dinosaur age fish

This video says about itself:

6 February 2018

90 million-year-old ‘lizard fish’ found by 10-year-old boy – News Techcology

A young tourist visiting a 17th century monastery in Colombia has stumbled across a pristine 90-million-year-old fossil. Rio Santiago Dolmetsch, 10, was on a tour of the Monastery of La Candelaria when he noticed the shape of a fish in the friary’s stone floor.

After showing the find to experts at a local museum, scientists were shocked to discover the remains were a first for the continent. The fossil belongs to a rare species of ‘lizard fish‘, an ancient group that had never before been seen in South America.

The marine animal is extinct and has no living relatives, resembling a barracuda with a long jaw and slender body. The fossil, named Candelarhynchus padillai after the monastery it was found in, was analysed by experts at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

From the University of Alberta in Canada:

Child aids paleontologists in discovery of new ancient fish species

Paleontologists find new fossil species in Colombia with the help of young tourist

February 6, 2018

Paleontologists from the University of Alberta have discovered a never-before-seen species of fish in South America, with the help of a curious tourist.

The fossil, called Candelarhynchus padillai, is approximately 90 million years old, and has no modern relatives, explained Oksana Vernygora, PhD student in the Department of Biological Sciences and lead author on the study.

The discovery was made with the unlikely assistance of a young tourist, visiting the Monastery of La Candelaria, near the town of Ráquira Boyacá, Colombia. “A kid was walking into the monastery during a tour when he noticed the shape of a fish in flagstones on the ground”, explained Javier Luque, PhD candidate and co-author on the study. “He took a photo and, a few days later, showed it to staff at the Centro de Investigaciones Paleontologicas, a local museum with whom we collaborate to protect and study fossil findings from the region.”

Staff at the centre recognized the image as a fossil fish right away and shared the finding with their colleagues at the University of Alberta. Alison Murray, professor of biological sciences and Vernygora’s supervisor joined their colleagues in Colombia to retrace the steps of the young tourist. The team found a nearly perfect, intact fossil of an ancient fish. In fact, it was the very first fossil ‘lizard fish’ from the Cretaceous period ever found in Colombia and tropical South America.

Rare discovery

“It is rare to find such a complete fossil of a fish from this moment in the Cretaceous period. Deepwater fish are difficult to recover, as well as those from environments with fast flowing waters”, said Vernygora. “But what surprises me the most is that, after two years of being on a walkway, it was still intact. It’s amazing.”

Aside from an incredible origin story, this discovery contributes to the growing and important body of literature on the fossil record in the tropics.

“The tropics worldwide are hotspots of diversity”, explains Luque. “Interestingly, we know a great deal about modern biodiversity in these areas, but the fossil record is poorly understood in comparison. This adds another piece to that puzzle.”

And the importance of understanding fossil fish, Vernygora explains, is often underestimated.

“Often we think, we have fish now, we had fish then, and we’ll likely have fish in the future. But the importance of fish is just that”, she said. “We can see how fish have changed as their environments have changed throughout history. Studying fish diversity gives us amazing predicting power for the future — especially as we start to see the effects of climate change.”

The scientific description of this new species is here.

Dinosaur age snakes, video

This video says about itself:

5 February 2018

90 million years ago, an ancient snake known as Najash had…legs. It is by no means the only snake to have limbs either. But what’s even stranger: we’re not at all sure where it came from.

Cretaceous dinosaur, mammal discovery in Maryland, USA

This video from ther USA says about itself:

Dinosaur Age Meets the Space Age at NASA Goddard

31 January 2018

In 2012, local dinosaur track expert Ray Stanford discovered a nodosaur track from the Cretaceous era on the campus of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. After the slab on which Stanford found the track was excavated, Stanford, paleontologist Martin Lockley, of University of Colorado at Denver, and others documented more than 70 dinosaur and mammal tracks imprinted in the sandstone. Their paper documenting the discovery was published Jan. 31, 2018, in the journal Scientific Reports. The 8-foot by 3-foot slab contains at least 26 mammal tracks.

From NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in the USA:

Dinosaur age meets the space age

January 31, 2018

Summary: A slab of sandstone found on the campus of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland may help scientists rewrite the history of mammal and dinosaur co-existence during the Cretaceous era.

A slab of sandstone discovered at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center contains at least 70 mammal and dinosaur tracks from more than 100 million years ago, according to a new paper published Jan. 31 in the journal Scientific Reports. The find provides a rare glimpse of mammals and dinosaurs interacting.

The tracks were discovered by Ray Stanford — a local dinosaur track expert whose wife, Sheila, works at Goddard. After dropping off Sheila at work one day in 2012, Stanford spotted an intriguing rock outcropping behind Sheila’s building on a hillside. Stanford parked his car, investigated, and found a 12-inch-wide dinosaur track on the exposed rock. Excavation revealed that the slab was the size of a dining room table and examination in the ensuing years found that it was covered in preserved tracks.

The remarkable Goddard specimen, about 8 feet by 3 feet in size, is imprinted with nearly 70 tracks from eight species, including squirrel-sized mammals and tank-sized dinosaurs. Analysis suggests that all of the tracks were likely made within a few days of each other at a location that might have been the edge of a wetland, and could even capture the footprints of predator and prey.

“The concentration of mammal tracks on this site is orders of magnitude higher than any other site in the world,” said Martin Lockley, paleontologist with the University of Colorado, Denver, a co-author on the new paper. Lockley began studying footprints in the 1980s, and was one of the first to do so. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a slab this size, which is a couple of square meters, where you have over 70 footprints of so many different types. This is the mother lode of Cretaceous mammal tracks.”

After Stanford’s initial find, Stephen J. Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum, coordinated the excavation of the slab and produced the mold and cast that formed the basis of the scientific work.

The first track Stanford found was of a nodosaur — “think of them as a four-footed tank,” Stanford said. Subsequent examination revealed a baby nodosaur print beside and within the adult print, likely indicating that they were traveling together. The other dinosaur tracks include: a sauropod, or long-necked plant-eater; small theropods, crow-sized carnivorous dinosaurs closely related to the Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus rex; and pterosaurs, a group of flying reptiles that included pterodactyls.

“It’s a time machine,” Stanford said. “We can look across a few days of activity of these animals and we can picture it. We see the interaction of how they pass in relation to each other. This enables us to look deeply into ancient times on Earth. It’s just tremendously exciting.”

The dinosaur tracks are impressive, but it is the collection of mammal tracks that make the slab significant. At least 26 mammal tracks have been identified on the slab since the 2012 discovery — making it one of two known sites in the world with such a concentration of prints. Furthermore, the slab also contains the largest mammal track ever discovered from the Cretaceous. It is about four inches square, or the size of a raccoon‘s prints.

Lockley and Stanford said most of these ancient footprints belong to what we would consider small mammals — animals the size of squirrels or prairie dogs. Most Cretaceous mammals discovered to date have been the size of rodents, their size usually determined only from their teeth. “When you have only teeth, you have no idea what the animals looked like or how they behaved,” Lockley said.

Lockley and Stanford believe the wide diversity and number of tracks show many of the animals were in the area actively feeding at the same time. Perhaps the mammals were feeding on worms and grubs, the small carnivorous dinosaurs were after the mammals, and the pterosaurs could have been hunting both the mammals and the small dinosaurs.

The parallel trackway patterns made by four crow-sized carnivorous dinosaurs suggests they were hunting or foraging as a group. “It looks as if they were making a sweep across the area,” Lockley said.

Several of the mammal tracks occur in pairs, representing hind feet. “It looks as if these squirrel-sized animals paused to sit on their haunches,” Lockley said. The team gave the new formal scientific name of Sederipes goddardensis, meaning sitting traces from Goddard Space Flight Center, to this unusual configuration of tracks.

“We do not see overlapping tracks — overlapping tracks would occur if multiple tracks were made over a longer period while the sand was wet,” said Compton Tucker, a Goddard Earth scientist who helped with the excavation, coordinated bringing in multiple scientists to study the tracks, and has worked to create a display of the cast in Goddard’s Earth science building. “People ask me, ‘Why were all these tracks in Maryland?’ I reply that Maryland has always been a desirable place to live.”

What is now Maryland would have been a much hotter, swampier place in the Cretaceous, when sea levels would have been hundreds of feet higher than today. As scientists continue to study the slab and compare the tracks to others found in the area and around the world, they will continue to discover more about prehistoric life that existed here.

“This could be the key to understanding some of the smaller finds from the area, so it brings everything together,” Lockley said. “This is the Cretaceous equivalent of the Rosetta stone.”