Dinosaur age bird discovery in China


This 2015 video is called Dinosaur Discoveries: Confuciusornis.

From Oxford University Press in the USA:

Scientists make new discovery about bird evolution

March 24, 2017

Summary: A team of scientists has described the most exceptionally preserved fossil bird discovered to date, in a newly published article. The new specimen from the rich Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota (approximately 131 to 120 million years old) is referred to as Eoconfuciusornis, the oldest and most primitive member of the Confuciusornithiformes, a group of early birds characterized by the first occurrence of an avian beak.

In a new paper published in National Science Review, a team of scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, and the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology (all in China) described the most exceptionally preserved fossil bird discovered to date.

The new specimen from the rich Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota (approximately 131 to 120 million years old) is referred to as Eoconfuciusornis, the oldest and most primitive member of the Confuciusornithiformes, a group of early birds characterized by the first occurrence of an avian beak. Its younger relative Confuciusornis is known from thousands of specimens but this is only the second specimen of Eoconfuciusornis found. This species comes only from the 130.7 Ma Huajiying Formation deposits in Hebei, which preserves the second oldest known fossil birds. Birds from this layer are very rare.

This new specimen of Eoconfuciusornis, housed in the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, in Eastern China, is a female. The ovary reveals developing yolks that vary in size, similar to living birds. This suggests that confuciusornithiforms evolved a period of rapid yolk deposition prior to egg-laying (crocodilians, which are archosaurs like birds, deposit yolks slowly in all eggs for months with no period of rapid yolk formation), which is indicative of complex energetic profiles similar to those observed in birds.

This means Eoconfuciusornis and its kin, like living birds, was able to cope with extremely high metabolic demands during early growth and reproduction (whereas energetic demands in crocodiles are even, lacking complexity). In contrast, other Cretaceous birds including the more advanced group the Enantiornithes appear to have lower metabolic rates and have required less energy similar to crocodilians and non-avian dinosaurs (their developing yolks show little size disparity indicating no strong peak in energy associated with reproduction, and much simpler energetic profiles, limited by simpler physiologies).

Traces of skin indicate that the wing was supplemented by flaps of skin called patagia. Living birds have numerous wing patagia that help the bird to fly. This fossil helps show how bird wings evolved. The propatagium (the flap of skin that connects the shoulder and wrist) and postpatagium (the flap of skin that extends off the back of the hand and ulna) evolved before the alular patagium (the flap of skin connecting the first digit to the rest of the hand), which is absent in Eoconfuciusornis. Even more unique is the preservation of the internal structure of the propatagium which reveal a collagenous network identical to that in living birds. This internal network gives the skin flap its shape, allowing it to generate aerodynamic lift and aid the bird in flight.

The nearly complete plumage preserves remnants of the original plumage pattern, revealing the presence of spots on the wings and the earliest documentation of sexual differences in plumage within birds. This new specimen suggests that female Eoconfuciusornis were smaller than males and lacked tail feathers, similar to many sexually dimorphic living birds and the younger Confuciusornis in which the plumage of the males and females are different from each other. Samples of the feathers viewed under a microscope reveal differences in color characteristics, allowing scientists to reconstruct the plumage. Female Eoconfuciusornis had black spotted wings and gray body with a red throat patch.

Researchers have not found fossils from any other bird from the Jehol period that reveal so many types of soft tissue (feathers, skin, collagen, ovarian follicles). These remains allow researchers to create the most accurate reconstruction of a primitive early bird (or dinosaur) to date. This information provides better understanding of flight function in the primitive confuciusornithiforms and of the evolution of advanced flight features within birds.

“This new fossil is incredible,” said co-author Dr. Jingmai O’Connor. “With the amount of information we can glean from this specimen we can really bring this ancient species to life. We can understand how it grew, flew, reproduced, and what it looked like. Fossils like this one from the Jehol Biota continue to revolutionize our understanding of early birds.”

Dinosaur age fungi discovery


This video says about itself:

23 February 2016

Here are 10 extraordinary fossils that have been found preserved in amber. Amber certainly makes beautiful jewelry, but its clarity and longevity have also proven it to be a great preservation medium. Here are 10 extraordinary fossils that have been found in the solidified resin.

Number 10. Ancient hierarchical civilizations. Thanks to some well-preserved remains, researchers now believe arthropod social structures have been around longer than anyone ever imagined. The encased specimens of ants and termites recently studied date back roughly 100 million years.

Number 9. A possible early version of the bubonic plague. The disease is well known as a Middle Ages mass killer, and its power may have been building since before the dawn of man. Traces of very similar bacteria were found on a 20-million-year-old flea trapped in amber.

Number 8. First carnivorous plant. Dating back some 40 million years, the specimen, which has gooey, insect-trapping tentacles shooting off of its leaves, still contains traces of its last meal. The fossil was found in what is now Russia.

Number 7. 52-million-year-old parasitic beetle. The creature’s prey of choice was ants, and it was somehow able to dupe the hard workers into letting it live in their nest. While there, the beetle would likely eat the ants’ young and exploit their resources.

Number 6. Elusive male stinging scorpion. There are many holes in the history and development of the Miocene scorpion, as very few remains of the ancient ones have been found. Except for this one, a very rare, fully-grown male discovered in Mexico.

Number 5. A daddy long legs with an erect penis. With a 400-million-year history of existence, that the arachnids mate isn’t surprising. However this particular one, estimated to be about 99 million, is the oldest known to have been preserved in such a state.

Number 4. A flower on the verge of being fertilized. Had it not been for the flow of resin that engulfed this bud 100 million or so years ago, the bloom likely would have spread viable seed far and wide. Instead, it was fossilized right as pollen tubes were about to make contact with flower’s stigma.

Number 3. A spider on the brink of an attack. This roughly 110-million-year-old, 8-legged predator missed out on getting a last meal by a sliver of time. The would-be nibble was a wasp that had become ensnared in the web.

Number 2. Dinosaur feathers. Many experts have suggested the prehistoric beasts were covered in them, and this particular piece of amber certainly lends support to the idea. It was discovered in Canada and created some 78 million years ago.

Number 1. Ancient Caribbean lizards. Even though they are 20 million years old, the reptiles inside the golden stones were not found to differ from their contemporary counterparts in any significant way. Scientists attribute the rarity to stable ecological surroundings.

Which amber-encased fossil do you find most fascinating?

From Xinhua news agency in China:

Scientists find earliest intact mushroom fossils

NANJING, March 17 — Paleontologists from China, New Zealand and the United States have found four intact mushroom fossils, sources with the Chinese Academy of Sciences said Friday.

The four, well preserved in Burmese amber for at least 99 million years, are the earliest complete mushroom fossils ever found.

The findings represent four species of mushroom. A stalk and a complete cap containing distinct gills are visible in most of the mushrooms, which are two to three millimeters long.

The research team led by Prof. Huang Diying from Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported the finding after researching more than 20,000 pieces of Burmese amber collected over 10 years.

The team also found three kinds of rove beetle, which feed on mushrooms, in pieces of amber 125 million years old. The discovery highlights the palaeo-diversity of mushrooms, pushing back the presence of agaric mushrooms by at least 25 million years.

Mushrooms are common and morphologically diverse fungi. Their bodies are soft and ephemeral and therefore extremely rare in fossils. Until the recent discovery, only five species of mushrooms were known exclusively from amber. Among the previous five species, one was found in a 99-million-year-old piece of damaged Burmese amber, another in a 90-million-year-old piece of New Jersey amber and the three remaining species in 20-million-year-old Dominican amber.

Changing a single letter, or base, in an organism’s genetic code impact its traits. Subtler changes can and do happen: in eukaryotes, one such modification involves adding a methyl group to base 6 of adenine (6mA). Researchers report the prevalence of 6mA modifications in the earliest branches of the fungal kingdom. This little-explored realm provides a repertoire of important and valuable gene products for DOE missions in bioenergy and environment: here.

Dinosaur discoveries in China


This video says about itself:

Zhejiang Museum of Natural History – Hangzhou – Zhejiang – China

06.07.2014

From the Daily Star in Britain:

Real life Jurassic Park uncovered as scientists find DINOSAUR fossils hidden underground

A REAL life Jurassic Park once home to six species of dinosaur has been uncovered after researchers found almost 100 fossil sites.

By Jess Bell / Published 12th February 2017

A team of experts carrying out a six-year survey in east China’s Zhejiang Province have shared their incredible findings.

They found 82 fossil sites and 25 types of eggs during the excavation between 2006 and 2013.

Scientists from the Zhejiang Institute of Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology and the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History worked together on the research.

They used a range of techniques from geology and paleobiology to chronostratigraphy which identifies the deposition of rocks.

Experts also combined site inspections and excavations to scour the site in minute detail.

The survey covered a vast area of 11,000 square kilometres [around] the province’s capital Hangzhou.

Jin Xingsheng, deputy curator of the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, said: “It has been proved that a large quantity of dinosaurs lived in Zhejiang during the Cretaceous period, about 65 million to 145 million years ago.

“Compared with other southeastern provinces, Zhejiang has the largest amount of dinosaur fossils.”

The researchers’ new findings also provide evidence that a comet or asteroid was responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs.

Scientists discovered the sedimentary rocks, where most of the fossils were discovered, were encased by layers of volcanic rocks. Experts studying the volcanic Deccan Traps recently revealed new details of a double disaster which could have been responsible for the dinosaur extinction.

Their findings show two plumes of magma could have combined with a devastating asteroid hit to ravage the Earth 65 million years ago.

South African boy discovers dinosaur tooth


This video from South Africa says about itself:

Dinosaur find in Knysna

6 February 2017

Ben Ingel, a learner at Oakhill School, found the tooth of a 120 million year-old dinosaur.

Video Elaine King, Knysna-Plettt Herald.

Read more here.

From eNCA.com in South Africa:

Grade 8 pupil discovers tooth of dinosaur in Knysna

Wednesday 8 February 2017 – 5:33am

JOHANNESBURG – Knysna has landed itself prominently on the archaeological map.

Thirteen-year-old Grade 8 pupil, Benjamin Ingel discovered a tooth there — and it very likely comes from a dinosaur.

Ingel reportedly found the tooth while walking near Knysna lagoon. He brought it home to show his family.

Ingel’s grandfather, Vernon Rice, approached some experts to verify the authenticity of the find. Geologists Rob Muir and Roger Schoon agreed to come to his house to have a look.

Rice said: “They took one look and I could see from their faces we had something.”

Palaeontologist Robert Gess at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown invited Ben and his grandfather to the museum to allow palaeontologists to examine the specimen more closely.

Wits University palaeontologist Jonah Choiniere, who has seen photographs of the tooth, believes that it is about 140 million years old and belonged to a carnivorous theropod.

Choiniere believes the dinosaur weighed between 500kg and a ton.

“This was a meat-eater of considerable size; his head would bump on the ceiling of my house,” said palaeontologist Dr Billy de Klerk, who has also seen the tooth.

“These teeth are so rare that in a span of 30 years I have only seen 15 decent teeth,” De Klerk added.

Ingel is prepared to donate the tooth to a museum after he shows it to his friends at school.

Probably, the teeth belongerd to an individual of the Allosaurus family.

Dinosaurs extinct, birds survived


Dinosaurs, birds and extinction. Timeline adapted from S.L. Brusatte, J.K. O’Connor and E.D. Jarvis/current biol. 2015

From Science News:

Some lucky birds escaped dino doomsday

Feathers, wishbones and more were a dino thing before they were a bird thing

By Susan Milius

2:30pm, January 25, 2017

The flight stuff

Some traits made famous by modern birds first popped up in dinosaurs that met unfortunate ends. This diagram shows when traits like standing on two legs, feathers and wishbones emerged in the bird/dino part of the tree. Numbers one through four correspond to examples of trailblazing birdlike dinosaurs and early birds highlighted in the interactive slideshow below.

The asteroid strike (or was it the roiling volcanoes?) that triggered dino doomsday 66 million years ago also brought an avian apocalypse. Birds had evolved by then, but only some had what it took to survive.

Biologists now generally accept birds as a kind of dinosaur, just as people are a kind of mammal. Much of what we think of as birdlike traits — bipedal stance, feathers, wishbones and so on — are actually dinosaur traits that popped up here and there in the vast doomed branches of the dino family tree. In the diagram above, based on one from paleontologist Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh and colleagues, anatomical icons give a rough idea of when some of these innovations emerged.

One branch of the dinosaur tree gradually turned arguably avian (in the Avialae/Aves group) by about 165 million to 150 million years ago. That left plenty of time for bona fide birds to diversify before the great die-off.

The bird pioneers included the once widespread and abundant Enantiornithes, or “opposite birds.” Compared with modern birds, their ball-and-socket shoulder joints were “backwards,” with ball rather than socket on the scapula.

These ancient alt birds may have gone down in the big extinction that left only fish, amphibians, mammals and a few reptile lineages (including birds) among vertebrates. There’s not a lot of information to go on. “The fossil record of birds is pretty bad,” Brusatte says. “But I think those lineages that go up to the red horizontal line of doom in my figure are ones that died in the impact chaos.”

Dinosaur age lizard discovery


This video from the USA says about itself:

3 June 2013

A team of U.S. paleontologists, led by Jason Head of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, describes fossils of the giant lizard from Myanmar in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Their analysis shows that it is one of the biggest known lizards ever to have lived on land.

At almost six feet long and weighing upwards of 60 pounds, the lizard provides new and important clues on the evolution of plant-eating reptiles and their relationship to global climate and competition with mammals.

From the University of Washington in the USA:

24 January 2017

Prized fossil find illuminates the lives of lizards in the Age of Dinosaurs

Paleontologists picking through a bounty of fossils from Montana have discovered something unexpected — a new species of lizard from the late dinosaur era, whose closest relatives roamed in faraway Asia.

This ancient lizard, which lived 75 million years ago in a dinosaur nesting site, is described from stem to stern in a paper published Jan. 25 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Christened Magnuviator ovimonsensis, the new species fills in significant gaps in our understanding of how lizards evolved and spread during the dinosaur era, according to paleontologists at the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture who led the study.

“It is incredibly rare to find one complete fossil skeleton from a relatively small creature like this lizard,” said David DeMar, lead author and postdoctoral research associate in the UW biology department and the Burke Museum. “But, in fact, we had two specimens, both from the same site at Egg Mountain in Montana.”

Right out of the gate, Magnuviator is reshaping how scientists view lizards, their biodiversity and their role in complex ecosystems during this reptile’s carefree days in the Cretaceous Period 75 million years ago.

Based on analyses of the nearly complete fossil skeletons, Magnuviator was an ancient offshoot of iguanian lizards — and they’re actually the oldest, most complete iguanian fossils from the Americas. Today, iguanians include chameleons of the Old World, iguanas and anoles in the American tropics and even the infamous water-walking basilisk — or “Jesus Christ” — lizards. But based on its anatomy, Magnuviator was at best a distant relative of these modern lizard families, most of which did not arise until after the non-avian dinosaurs — and quite a few lizards and other creatures — went extinct 66 million years ago.

The team came to these conclusions after meticulous study of both Egg Mountain specimens over four years. This included a round of CT scans at Seattle Children’s Hospital to narrow down the fossil’s location within a larger section of rock and a second round at the American Museum of Natural History to digitally reconstruct the skull anatomy. The fact that both skeletons were nearly complete allowed them to determine not only that Magnuviator represented an entirely new species, but also that its closest kin weren’t other fossil lizards from the Americas. Instead, it showed striking similarities to other Cretaceous Period iguanians from Mongolia.

“These ancient lineages are not the iguanian lizards which dominate parts of the Americas today, such as anoles and horned lizards,” said DeMar. “So discoveries like Magnuviator give us a rare glimpse into the types of ‘stem’ lizards that were present before the extinction of the dinosaurs.”

But Magnuviator’s surprises don’t end with the Mongolian connection. The site of its discovery is also eye-popping.

Egg Mountain is already famous among fossil hunters. Over 30 years ago, paleontologists discovered the first fossil remains of dinosaur babies there, and it is also one of the first sites in North America where dinosaur eggs were discovered.

“We now recognize Egg Mountain as a unique site for understanding Cretaceous Period ecosystems in North America,” said senior author Greg Wilson, UW associate professor of biology and curator of paleontology at the Burke Museum. “We believe both carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs came to this site repeatedly to nest, and in the process of excavating this site we are learning more and more about other creatures who lived and died there.”

The team even named their new find as homage to its famous home and its close lizard relatives in Asia. Magnuviator ovimonsensis means “mighty traveler from Egg Mountain.”

Through excavations at Egg Mountain led by co-author David Varricchio at Montana State University and meticulous analysis of fossils at partner institutions like the UW and the Burke Museum, scientists are piecing together the Egg Mountain ecosystem of 75 million years ago. In those days, Egg Mountain was a semi-arid environment, with little or no water at the surface. Dinosaurs like the duck-billed hadrosaurs and the birdlike, carnivorous Troodon nested there.

Researchers have also unearthed fossilized mammals at Egg Mountain, which are being studied by Wilson’s group, as well as wasp pupae cases and pollen grains from plants adapted for dry environments. Based on the structure of Magnuviator’s teeth, as well as the eating habits of some lizards today, the researchers believe that it could have feasted on wasps at the Egg Mountain site. Though based on its relatively large size for a lizard — about 14 inches in length — Magnuviator could have also eaten something entirely different.

“Due to the significant metabolic requirements to digest plant material, only lizards above a certain body size can eat plants, and Magnuviator definitely falls within that size range,” said DeMar.

Whatever its diet, Magnuviator and its relatives in Mongolia did not make it into the modern era. DeMar and co-authors hypothesize that these stem lineages of lizards may have gone extinct along with the non-avian dinosaurs. But given the spotty record for lizards in the fossil record, it will take more Magnuviator-level discoveries to resolve this debate. And, unfortunately, part of the excitement surrounding Magnuviator is that it is a rare find.

Other co-authors are the late Jack Conrad of the New York Institute of Technology and the American Museum of Natural History and Jason Head of the University of Cambridge. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the American Museum of Natural History.

Dinosaur age bird’s colour research


Eoconfuciusornis zhengi reconstruction

From Science News:

Cretaceous bird find holds new color clue

First evidence of pigment pods embedded in keratin found in fossil feathers

By Meghan Rosen

3:30pm, November 21, 2016

A 130-million-year-old bird holds a clue to ancient color that has never before been shown in a fossil.

Eoconfuciusornis’ feathers contain not only microscopic pigment pods called melanosomes, but also evidence of beta-keratin, a protein in the stringy matrix that surrounds melanosomes, Mary Schweitzer and colleagues report November 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Together, these clues could strengthen the case for inferring color from dinosaur fossils, a subject of debate for years (SN: 11/26/16, p. 24). Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has long pointed out that the microscopic orbs that some scientists claim are melanosomes may actually be microbes. The two look similar, but they have some key differences. Microbes aren’t enmeshed in keratin, for one.

In Eoconfuciusornis’ feathers, Schweitzer and colleagues found round, 3-D structures visible with the aid of an electron microscope. And a molecular analysis revealed bundles of skinny fibers, like the filaments of beta-keratin in modern feathers. The authors don’t speculate on the bird’s color, but they do offer a new way to support claims for ancient pigments.

“Identifying keratin is key to ruling out a microbial source for microbodies identified in fossils,” they write.