Ancient Indian primates discovered

This video is called 54 Million Year Old Fossils Point To India As Key In Primate Evolution.

From Science News:

Fossils hint at India’s crucial role in primate evolution

Limb bones may reveal what common ancestor looked like

By Bruce Bower

9:00am, September 8, 2016

Remarkably preserved bones of rat-sized creatures excavated in an Indian coal mine may come from close relatives of the first primatelike animals, researchers say.

A set of 25 arm, leg, ankle and foot fossils, dating to roughly 54.5 million years ago, raises India’s profile as a possible hotbed of early primate evolution, say evolutionary biologist Rachel Dunn of Des Moines University in Iowa and her colleagues. Bones from Vastan coal mine in Gujarat, India’s westernmost state, indicate that these tiny tree-dwellers resembled the first primates from as early as 65 million years ago, the scientists report in the October Journal of Human Evolution.

These discoveries add to previously reported jaws, teeth and limb bones of four ancient primate species found in the same mine. “The Vastan primates probably approximate a common primate ancestor better than any fossils found previously,” says paleontologist and study coauthor Kenneth Rose of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The Vastan animals were about the size of living gray mouse lemurs and dwarf lemurs, weighing roughly 150 to 300 grams (roughly half a pound), the investigators estimate. Dunn’s group has posted 3-D scans of the fossils to (SN: 3/19/16, p. 28) so other researchers can download and study the material.

Most Vastan individuals possessed a basic climbing ability unlike the more specialized builds of members of the two ancient primate groups that gave rise to present-day primates, the researchers say. One of those groups, omomyids, consisted of relatives of tarsiers, monkeys and apes. The other group, adapoids, included relatives of lemurs, lorises and bushbabies. The Indian primates were tree-dwellers but could not leap from branch to branch like lemurs or ascend trees with the slow-but-sure grips of lorises, the new report concludes.

Vastan primates probably descended from a common ancestor of omomyids and adapoids, the researchers propose. India was a drifting landmass headed north toward a collision with mainland Asia when the Vastan primates were alive. Isolated on a huge chunk of land, the Indian primates evolved relatively slowly, retaining a great number of ancestral skeletal traits, Rose suspects.

“It’s possible that India played an important role in primate evolution,” says evolutionary anthropologist Doug Boyer of Duke University. A team led by Boyer reported in 2010 that a roughly 65-million-year-old fossil found in southern India might be a close relative of the common ancestor of primates, tree shrews and flying lemurs (which glide rather than fly and are not true lemurs).

One possibility is that primates and their close relatives evolved in isolation on the island continent of India between around 65 million and 55 million years ago, Boyer suggests. Primates then spread around the world once India joined Asia by about 50 million years ago.

That’s a controversial idea. An increasing number of scientists suspect primates originated in Asia. Chinese primate fossils dating to 56 million to 55 million years ago are slightly older than the Vastan primates (SN: 6/29/13, p. 14; SN: 1/3/04, p. 4). The Chinese finds show signs of having been omomyids.

And in at least one respect, Boyer says, some of the new Vastan fossils may be more specialized than their discoverers claim. Vastan ankle bones, for instance, look enough like those of modern lemurs to raise doubts that the Indian primates were direct descendants of primate precursors, he holds.

Dunn, however, regards the overall anatomy of the Vastan fossils as “the most direct evidence we have” that ancestors of early primates lacked lemurs’ leaping abilities, contrary to what some researchers have argued.

Giant bird Gastornis in Arctic, 53 million years ago

This video says about itself:

This is a World were Birds Eat Horses- (C) Walking with Beasts

The first episode depicts the warm tropical world of the early Eocene which was 16 million years after the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. Birds, including the giant carnivorous Gastornis, rule this world, while mammals are still very small. The setting is near the Messel pit in Germany. Due to volcanic activity, sudden bulk escapes of carbon dioxide trapped underneath lakes are a hazard. The episode centers around a Leptictidium family foraging for food. The Leptictidium is a small leaping shrew-like mammal. While the family is foraging, a female Gastornis who has been taking care of the single egg in her nest successfully hunts down a Propalaeotherium who has been slowed down by eating fermenting grapes.

Walking with Beasts thought Gastornis was carnivorous; contrary to later theories.

From Wildlife Extra:

Flightless giant bird roamed the Arctic 53m years ago

A giant, flightless bird with a head the size of a horse’s roamed the Arctic 53m years ago when the icy wilderness was more like a swamp, scientists have confirmed.

A joint study by American and Chinese institutions found that the massive beast, known as Gastornis, existed on what is now known as Ellesmere island, found above the Arctic circle. It’s estimated the bird was 6ft tall and weighed several hundred pounds.

The evidence for Gastornis’s presence in the Arctic comes from a single fossil toe bone, found by researchers in the 1970s. Scientists have now finally confirmed that the bone matches that of a fossilized Gastornis of similar age found in Wyoming.

“I couldn’t tell the Wyoming specimens from the Ellesmere specimen, even though it was found roughly 4,000km (2,500 miles) to the north,” said Prof Thomas Stidham of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Stidham and his colleague Jaelyn Eberle, of the University of Colorado Boulder, matched the bones through techniques such as studying where muscle attachments lay. The research has been published in Scientific Reports.

The research raises some interesting questions over the behavior of Gastornis. The giant bird may have migrated south during winters in the Arctic, where darkness envelops the region for months at a time. The species was originally thought to be a formidable carnivore but recent research suggests that Gastornis was probably a vegan, using its huge beak to munch through leaves, nuts, seeds and fruit.

Eberle said bird fossils found in the Arctic are “extremely rare” and that the researchers aren’t sure whether Gastornis lived in the area year round.

“There are some sea ducks today that spend the winter in the cold, freezing Arctic, and we see many more species of waterfowl that are only in the Arctic during the relatively warmer spring and summer months,” she said.

Canada’s Ellesmere island is the 10th largest island in the world and lies adjacent to Greenland. Riven with fjords and attached to vast aprons of ice, Ellesmere is one of the coldest, driest and most remote places on Earth. Temperatures can reach -40C (-40F) in winter.

It was a very different place 53m years ago, however, during the Eocene epoch. During this time, Antarctica was still attached to Australia and global temperatures were unusually warm, which meant the world was mostly ice-free. Ellesmere island would have been covered in the sort of cypress swamps now found much farther south in the US, with evidence that the area hosted turtles, alligators, primates and even large hippo-like and rhino-like mammals.

While apes and alligators won’t be returning to Ellesmere any time soon, the researchers said that the discovery of Gastornis provided a better understanding of the consequences of a changed climate.

“Permanent Arctic ice, which has been around for millennia, is on track to disappear,” Eberle said.

“I’m not suggesting there will be a return of alligators and giant tortoises to Ellesmere island any time soon. But what we know about past warm intervals in the Arctic can give us a much better idea about what to expect in terms of changing plant and animal populations there in the future.”

Eocene fossil ant discovery in Montana, USA

Crematogaster aurora queen. This specimen is the oldest known species in its genus

From Smithsonian Science News in the USA:

New Montana ant species emerge from 46-million-year-old rock

By John Barrat

8 January 2016

She was a stunning brown queen; drowned some 46 million years ago in a shallow lake in Montana. Her remains, recently recovered along the Flathead River, consist of a shadowy silhouette pressed upon a piece of reddish brown shale. Named Crematogaster aurora, this winged female ant is the only known member of her species. Her discovery is raising eyebrows among scientists who study ants.

“Molecular data from living ants suggested that the genus Crematogaster had evolved more recently,” explains Dale Greenwalt, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “Now, this 46-million-year-old specimen is requiring scientists to completely rethink when this genus and its related forms appeared. It is obvious it has been around much longer than previously calculated.”

Crematogaster aurora is one of 12 new prehistoric ant species discovered in Kishenehn Formation shale in northwestern Montana by Greenwalt. They are newly described and named in a paper in the journal Sociobiology by Greenwalt and ant expert J.S. LaPolla of Towson University in Maryland. All 12 represent species new to science, known only from the locality in Montana. All are long extinct yet some represent genera that still exist.

These Kishenehn fossils are from the middle Eocene (46 million years ago), a period of great interest for understanding the “evolution of ants and in particular, their march to terrestrial dominance,” the researchers say. It was during the Eocene that many of today’s ecologically dominant and species rich ant families emerged.

Factors that led to this diversification included the evolution and appearance of many new species of flowering plants, as well as high temperatures—in the early Eocene it was as much as 15 degrees C. warmer worldwide than it is today. “A lot of people also think the meteorite that caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs and ended the Cretaceous kind of reset the table for a lot of new things to evolve and diversify,” Greenwalt adds. “This maybe what happened with the ants.”

While LaPolla and Greenwalt name 12 new fossil species in their paper, the specimens are from a much larger pool of 249 ant fossils examined for the study. The majority of the ants discovered are alates, “which are simply winged forms of the ants,” Greenwalt says. “Workers and soldiers don’t have wings and pretty much stayed on land.”

The alates were able to fly over the lake that formed the Kishenehn shale and many of them fell into the water and ended up on the bottom. Almost all of the fossil ants in the Kishenehn are winged, many of them queens.

By comparing Kishenehn ant species and genera with other North American Eocene fossil deposits such as the Green River Deposit along the Green River in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah (48 million years old) and the Florissant Formation in Colorado (34 million years old) scientists can gradually piece together the abundance and distribution of North American ants during this period.

What can the Eocene epoch teach us about today’s global warming? Here.

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.