Extinct horse with fossil uterus discovery

A skeleton of a Eurohippus messelensis mare is shown with its fetus (white ellipse). (photo: Sven Traenkner)

From the Los Angeles Times in the USA:

Oldest preserved uterus found in ancient horse-like fossil

Deborah Netburn

October 7, 2015

Talk about a mother of a discovery: Researchers in Germany have found the fossil of a 48-million-year-old pregnant horse relative, her fetus and bits of her preserved uterus as well.

It is the oldest and only the second fossil uterus ever described, according to Jens Franzen of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany.

Franzen and his colleagues described the find in a paper published Wednesday in PLOS One.

Less than 2% of fossil mammal finds have yielded anything more than fragments of jaw material and other bones, which makes this discovery particularly unexpected.

The primitive horse relative is known as Eurohippus messelensis. It was much smaller than modern-day horses. Even fully grown, the ancient equine was about the size of a fox terrier — about 12 inches high at the shoulders. It was discovered in Grube Messel, near Darmstadt, Germany.

In the picture above, you are looking mostly at the fossilized remains of the mare. The fetus is located in the white oval.

Franzen and his colleagues report that the 48-million-year-old uterus looks nearly identical to those found in modern horses. This suggests that the uteral system was already well developed by the Eocene period (56 to 34 million years ago), and may date back to the Paleocene era (66 million to 56 million years ago) or even earlier.

Grube Messel is a former shale quarry that is famous for its complete vertebrate skeletons. Back in the time when Eurohippus messelensis roamed, it was a freshwater lake, surrounded by a tropical rainforest.

Animals that fell in the lake were preserved thanks to an interaction between bacteria in the lake and iron in the water.

After a dead animal was submerged in the lake, bacteria gathered on its soft tissue and started producing CO2. The CO2 reacted with the iron in the lake to form iron carbonate minerals. This material hardened on the bacteria, creating a fixed bacterial mat that exactly followed the lines of the decomposing soft tissue.

“The bacteria petrified themselves,” Franzen said.

The preserved bit of uterus was not immediately obvious, however. The researchers said they first noticed a “conspicuous gray shadow” between the fetus and the lumbar vertebrae of the mother, after taking a micro X-ray of the fossil.

They eliminated the possibility that the shadow was an artifact of preparation or an abdominal muscle. Eventually, they concluded that they were looking at the oldest bit of fossilized uterus ever seen.

The authors are still not sure what killed the mother Eurohippus messelensis, but it is unlikely that childbirth was to blame. Although the fetus was near term when its mother died, it was not yet positioned to enter the birth canal.

See also here. And here.

Fossil bats’ colours revealed

This video says about itself:

12 August 2015

“”Palaeochiropteryx””­; is an extinct genus of bat from the Middle Eocene of Europe. It contains two very similar species – “”Palaeochiropteryx tupaiodon”” and “”Palaeochiropteryx spiegeli“”, both from the famous Messel Pit of Germany. They are usually found complete and exceptionally preserved, even retaining the outlines of their fur, ears, and wing membranes.

They are one of the oldest bats known, existing around 48 million years ago. Despite this, they were already quite advanced, showing evidence of the ability to hunt by echolocation like modern insect-eating bats.

“Palaeochiropteryx” were small bats … Their wings were short but broad, indicating an adaptation for slow but highly maneuverable flight beneath forest canopies and among dense vegetation. They preyed mostly on moths and caddisflies and were probably nocturnal.

Fossils of both species of “Palaeochiropteryx” were first recovered from the Messel Pit, near the village of Messel, Germany in 1917. They were described and named by the Swiss naturalist Pierre Revilliod. He placed them under their own family – Palaeochiropterygidae. The name “Palaeochiropteryx” means “Ancient hand-wing”, from Greek παλαιός, χείρ, and πτέρυξ.

The two species have only been found at Messel. They are quite common and account for three quarters of all bat fossils found there, with “Archaeonycteris”, “Hassianycteris”, and “Tachypteron” making up the rest. Like other fossils from the locality, they are often found in remarkable states of preservation.

From Reuters news agency:

Mon Sep 28, 2015 3:50pm EDT

Fossilized fur reveals color of 49-million-year-old bats

By Will Dunham

Fossils can do a good job of revealing key aspects of an extinct creature: its bones, teeth, claws, even soft tissue like fur, skin, feathers, organs and sometimes remains of its last meal in the gut. Knowing its color has been a trickier question.

But scientists have figured out how to answer it based on microscopic structures in fossils that divulge pigment, and on Monday disclosed for the first time the fur color of extinct mammals: two of the earliest-known bats.

The bats, called Palaeochiropteryx and Hassianycteris, were a reddish brown.

“Well, the bats are brown. It might not be a big surprise, but that’s what these 49-million-year-old bats are. So they looked perfectly like modern bats,” said molecular paleobiologist Jakob Vinther of Britain’s University of Bristol.

Vinther also has used the method to study colors in dinosaurs, fish, amphibians and fossil squid ink. The method was first described in 2008 regarding a 105-million-year-old black-and-white striped feather from Brazil and also showed that a winged dinosaur from China, Microraptor, boasted iridescent feathers.

“Biologists know a lot about living animals because of color: what sort of environment they live in, how they protect themselves or how they attract mates,” Virginia Tech paleobiologist Caitlin Colleary said.

“But since so little is preserved in the fossil record, the color of extinct animals has always been left up to artists’ interpretations, and important information regarding behavior has been considered inaccessible.”

The bats lived along a lake in the middle of a tropical forest in Germany. The scientists examined the beautifully preserved bat fossils that retained structures called melanosomes.

Melanosomes contain melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair, feathers and eyes. They possess distinctive shapes that indicate pigment color.

“Reddish brown melanosomes are little tiny meatballs around 500 nanometers in diameter, while black melanosomes are elongated sausages about a micron in length,” Vinther said.

Skeptics had questioned whether the structures were bacterial remnants, not melanosomes. But Vinther’s team for the first time got chemical data on the fossils, determining the structures were not bacterial and that they contained melanin remnants.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface in our ability to extract information like this from the fossil record,” Colleary said. “As technology continues to advance, we’ll keep finding information in fossils that we don’t even know is there today.”

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Amber discovery on Texel island beach

Amber, found on Texel beach by photographer Sytske Dijksen

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Ecomare on Thursday, April 30th, 2015

It is the dream of every beach walker: to find amber. Photographer Sytske Dijksen recently found dozens of pieces of amber on the southernmost point of the Hors peninsula on Texel. Amber is a precious gemstone. It is fossilized and petrified resin. There are a few other “stones” very similar to amber; both originated from resin. But those are not fossil and petrified. Most of the bits of ‘amber’ found in the Netherlands turn out to be not real. In this case, they are!

Real fossil

Amber is old. The pieces of amber that you find in the Netherlands come from the Baltic region and date back to the Eocene epoch, 35 million years ago. Then there were vast coniferous forests. The pine species delivering amber of the highest quality which people prefer to find, Pinus succinifera, is extinct now. The most spectacular amber finds also include insects, spiders or plant residues.

Prehistoric turtles and climate change

This March 2014 video is called Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago: What it Means for Us .

From the University of Florida in the USA:

Tropical turtle discovery in Wyoming provides climate-change clues

Published: February 23 2015

Tropical turtle fossils discovered in Wyoming by University of Florida scientists reveal that when the earth got warmer, prehistoric turtles headed north. But if today’s turtles try the same technique to cope with warming habitats, they might run into trouble.

While the fossil turtle and its kin could move northward with higher temperatures, human pressures and habitat loss could prevent a modern-day migration, leading to the extinction of some modern species.

The newly discovered genus and species, Gomphochelys (pronounced gom-fo-keel-eez) nanus, provides a clue to how animals might respond to future climate change, said Jason Bourque, a paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF and the lead author of the study, which appears online this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology</em>.

The wayfaring turtle was among the species that researchers believe migrated 500-600 miles north 56 million years ago, during a temperature peak known as the PaleoceneEocene Thermal Maximum. Lasting about 200,000 years, the temperature peak resulted in significant movement and diversification of plants and animals.

“We knew that some plants and lizards migrated north when the climate warmed, but this is the first evidence that turtles did the same,” Bourque said. “If global warming continues on its current track, some turtles could once again migrate northward, while others would need to adapt to warmer temperatures or go extinct.”

The new turtle is an ancestor of the endangered Central American river turtle and other warm-adapted turtles in Belize, Guatemala and southern Mexico. These modern turtles, however, could face significant roadblocks on a journey north, since much of the natural habitat of these species is in jeopardy, said co-author Jonathan Bloch, a Florida Museum curator of vertebrate paleontology.

“If you look at the waterways that turtles would have to use to get from one place to another, it might not be as easy as it once was,” Bloch said. “Even if the natural response of turtles is to disperse northward, they have fewer places to go and fewer routes available.”

To put the new turtle in evolutionary context, the researchers examined hundreds of specimens from museum collections around the country, including turtles collected during the 1800s housed at the Smithsonian Institution. Co-author Patricia Holroyd, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said the fossil history of the modern relatives of the new species shows they could be much more wide-ranging, if it were not for their restricted habitats.

The Central American river turtle is one of the most endangered turtles in the world, threatened by habitat loss and its exploitation as a human food source, Holroyd said.

“This is an example of a turtle that could expand its range and probably would with additional warming, but — and that’s a big but — that’s only going to happen if there are still habitats for it,” she said.

Eocene fossil seashell discovery on Texel island

Venericor planicosta

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands, 19 February 2015:

Never before had a Venericor planicosta seashell been found across the whole Wadden Sea region. The shell lived in the Eocene epoch, 56 to 42 million years ago.


Last year, Ms. Kenselaar found it on the beach at Den Hoorn. The shell for a while remained in her cottage, but last week she took it to Ecomare. Curator Arthur Oosterbaan showed it to various experts, and they all said the same thing: Venericor planicosta. It lived in our region in the early and middle Eocene. That’s about 15 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs. Europe then was an archipelago with a subtropical climate.

In the Netherlands, until this discovery, this fossil species had really only been known from the south-west of the country.

Fossil haddock bones on Dutch beaches

This video from the USA says about itself:

27 April 2011

Kemmerer, Wyoming boasts the site of the largest concentration of [Eocene] fossil fish.

On Dutch beaches, like of Texel island and the Zandmotor, many small fossil fish bones, cleithrum bones, were found. Recent research found out these bones belonged to Melanogrammus aeglefinus, the haddock, a species still living today.

The bones are about 100,000 years old, from the Eemien, the time before the last ice age. Last month, the research was published in Cranium journal.

In Belgium, cleithrum bones have been found of an older haddock species, now extinct, from the Pliocene age. That species is called Melanogrammus conjunctus.

Giant fossil penguin discovery in Antarctic

This video says about itself:

5 October 2010

Scientists have unearthed fossilized remains of a five-foot-tall (150-centimeter-tall) penguin in present-day Peru. The 36-million-year-old fossil sheds light on bird evolution, according to National Geographic grantee Julia Clarke. Video produced by the University of Texas at Austin.

From New Scientist:

Extinct mega penguin was tallest and heaviest ever

01 August 2014 by Jeff Hecht

Forget emperor penguins, say hello to the colossus penguin. Newly unearthed fossils have revealed that Antarctica was once home to the biggest species of penguin ever discovered. It was 2 metres long and weighed a hefty 115 kilograms.

Palaeeudyptes klekowskii lived 37 to 40 million years ago. This was “a wonderful time for penguins, when 10 to 14 species lived together along the Antarctic coast”, says Carolina Acosta Hospitaleche of the La Plata Museum in Argentina.

She has been excavating fossil deposits on Seymour Island, off the Antarctic peninsula. This was a warmer region 40 million years ago, with a climate like that of present-day Tierra del Fuego, the islands at the southern tip of South America.

The site has yielded thousands of penguin bones. Earlier this year, Acosta Hospitaleche reported the most complete P. klekowskii skeleton yet, although it contained only about a dozen bones, mostly from the wings and feet (Geobios, DOI: 10.1016/j.geobios.2014.03.003).

Now she has uncovered two bigger bones. One is part of a wing, and the other is a tarsometatarsus, formed by the fusion of ankle and foot bones. The tarsometatarsus measures a record 9.1 centimetres. Based on the relative sizes of bones in penguin skeletons, Acosta Hospitaleche estimates P. klekowskii was 2.01 meters long from beak tip to toes.

Its height will have been somewhat less than its length owing to the way penguins stand. But it was nevertheless larger than any known penguin.

Fossil and present penguins

Emperor penguins can weigh 46 kilograms and reach lengths of 1.36 metres, 0.2 metres above their standing height. Another extinct penguin used to hold the height record, at around 1.5 metres tall.

P. klekowskii‘s tarsometatarsus “is the longest foot bone I’ve ever seen. This is definitely a big penguin,” says Dan Ksepka at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. However, he cautions that the estimate of its length is uncertain because giant penguins had skeletons “very differently proportioned than living penguins”.

Larger penguins can dive deeper and stay underwater longer than smaller ones. A giant like P. klekowski could have stayed down for 40 minutes, giving it more time to hunt fish, says Acosta Hospitaleche.

Journal reference: Comptes Rendus Palevol, DOI: 10.1016/j.crpv.2014.03.008