Big dinosaur discovery in South Africa


This 27 September 2018 video says about itself:

Ledumahadi mafube – New Jurassic Giant of South Africa

A new species of a giant dinosaur has been found in South Africa’s Free State Province.

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

Ledumahadi mafube: South Africa’s new Jurassic giant

September 27, 2018

A new species of a giant dinosaur has been found in South Africa’s Free State Province. The plant-eating dinosaur, named Ledumahadi mafube, weighed 12 tonnes and stood about four metres high at the hips. Ledumahadi mafube was the largest land animal alive on Earth when it lived, nearly 200 million years ago. It was roughly double the size of a large African elephant.

A team of international scientists, led by University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) palaeontologist Professor Jonah Choiniere, described the new species in the journal Current Biology today.

The dinosaur’s name is Sesotho for “a giant thunderclap at dawn” (Sesotho is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages and an indigenous language in the area where the dinosaur was found).

“The name reflects the great size of the animal as well as the fact that its lineage appeared at the origins of sauropod dinosaurs”, said Choiniere. “It honours both the recent and ancient heritage of southern Africa.”

Ledumahadi mafube is one of the closest relatives of sauropod dinosaurs. Sauropods, weighing up to 60 tonnes, include well-known species like Brontosaurus. All sauropods ate plants and stood on four legs, with a posture like modern elephants. Ledumahadi evolved its giant size independently from sauropods, and although it stood on four legs, its forelimbs would have been more crouched. This caused the scientific team to consider Ledumahadi an evolutionary “experiment” with giant body size.

Ledumahadi’s fossil tells a fascinating story not only of its individual life history, but also the geographic history of where it lived, and of the evolutionary history of sauropod dinosaurs.

“The first thing that struck me about this animal is the incredible robustness of the limb bones”, says lead author, Dr Blair McPhee. “It was of similar size to the gigantic sauropod dinosaurs, but whereas the arms and legs of those animals are typically quite slender, Ledumahadi’s are incredibly thick. To me this indicated that the path towards gigantism in sauropodomorphs was far from straightforward, and that the way that these animals solved the usual problems of life, such as eating and moving, was much more dynamic within the group than previously thought.”

The research team developed a new method, using measurements from the “arms” and “legs” to show that Ledumahadi walked on all fours, like the later sauropod dinosaurs, but unlike many other members of its own group alive at its time such as Massospondylus. The team also showed that many earlier relatives of sauropods stood on all fours, that this body posture evolved more than once, and that it appeared earlier than scientists previously thought.

Ledumahadi mafube is the first of the giant sauropodomorphs of the Jurassic. Credit: Wits University

“Many giant dinosaurs walked on four legs but had ancestors that walked on two legs. Scientists want to know about this evolutionary change, but amazingly, no-one came up with a simple method to tell how each dinosaur walked, until now”, says Dr Roger Benson.

By analysing the fossil’s bone tissue through osteohistological analysis, Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink from the South African National Museum in Bloemfontein established the animal’s age.

“We can tell by looking at the fossilised bone microstructure that the animal grew rapidly to adulthood. Closely-spaced, annually deposited growth rings at the periphery show that the growth rate had decreased substantially by the time it died”, says Botha-Brink. This indicates that the animal had reached adulthood.

“It was also interesting to see that the bone tissues display aspects of both basal sauropodomorphs and the more derived sauropods, showing that Ledumahadi represents a transitional stage between these two major groups of dinosaurs.”

Ledumahadi lived in the area around Clarens in South Africa’s Free State Province. This is currently a scenic mountainous area, but looked much different at that time, with a flat, semi-arid landscape and shallow, intermittently dry streambeds.

“We can tell from the properties of the sedimentary rock layers in which the bone fossils are preserved that 200 million years ago most of South Africa looked a lot more like the current region around Musina in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, or South Africa’s central Karoo”, says Dr Emese Bordy.

Ledumahadi is closely related to other gigantic dinosaurs from Argentina that lived at a similar time, which reinforces that the supercontinent of Pangaea was still assembled in the Early Jurassic. “It shows how easily dinosaurs could have walked from Johannesburg to Buenos Aires at that time”, says Choiniere.

South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says the discovery of this dinosaur underscores just how important South African palaeontology is to the world.

“Not only does our country hold the Cradle of Humankind, but we also have fossils that help us understand the rise of the gigantic dinosaurs. This is another example of South Africa taking the high road and making scientific breakthroughs of international significance on the basis of its geographic advantage, as it does in astronomy, marine and polar research, indigenous knowledge, and biodiversity”, says Kubayi-Ngubane.

The research team behind Ledumahadi includes South African-based palaeoscientists, Dr Emese Bordy and Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink, from the University of Cape Town and the South African National Museum in Bloemfontein, respectively.

The project also had a strong international component with the collaboration of Professor Roger BJ Benson of Oxford University and Dr Blair McPhee, currently residing in Brazil.

“South Africa employs some of the world’s top palaeontologists and it was a privilege to be able to build a working group with them and leading researchers in the UK”, says Choiniere, who recently emigrated from the USA to South Africa. “Dinosaurs didn’t observe international boundaries and it’s important that our research groups don’t either.”

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Jurassic marine reptiles, new research


This 2013 BBC video says about itself:

In 2006, a fossil was dug out of a frozen [Svalbard] island high in the Arctic. It was a colossal marine reptile, twice as big as most ocean predators, at 15 metres long and weighing about 45 tonnes. This was Predator X, the most powerful marine reptile ever discovered. Its skull alone was nearly twice the size of a Tyrannosaurus rex‘s, and its bite force unmatched by anything in the Jurassic seas.

From the University of Edinburgh in Scotland:

Fossil teeth show how Jurassic reptiles adapted to changing seas

September 4, 2018

Marine predators that lived in deep waters during the Jurassic Period thrived as sea levels rose, while species that dwelled in the shallows died out, research suggests.

A study of fossilised teeth has shed light on how reptiles adapted to major environmental changes more than 150 million years ago, and how sea life might respond today.

It also reveals for the first time that the broad structure of food chains beneath the sea has remained largely unchanged since the Jurassic era.

For more than 18 million years, diverse reptile species lived together in tropical waters that stretched from present-day northern France to Yorkshire in the north of England.

Until now, however, little was known about the structure of the food chain in this region — called the Jurassic Sub-Boreal Seaway — or how it changed as sea levels rose.

By analysing the shape and size of teeth spanning this 18-million-year period when water levels fluctuated, palaeontologists at the University of Edinburgh found that species belonged to one of five groups based on their teeth, diet and which part of the ocean they inhabited.

The pattern is very similar to the food chain structure of modern oceans, where many different species are able to co-exist in the same area because they do not compete for the same resources, the team says.

As global sea levels rose, reptiles that lived in shallow waters and caught fish using thin, piercing teeth declined drastically, researchers found.

At the same time, larger species that inhabited deeper, open waters began to thrive. These reptiles had broader teeth for crunching and cutting prey.

Deep-water species may have flourished as a result of major changes in ocean temperature and chemical make-up that also took place during the period, the team says. This could have increased levels of nutrients and prey in deep waters, benefitting species that lived there.

The study offers insights into how species at the top of marine food chains today might respond to rapid environmental changes — including climate change, pollution and rising temperatures.

The study, which also involved the University of Bristol, is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. It was supported by the Leverhulme Trust, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, Systematics Research Fund, Palaeontographical Society and Palaeontological Association.

Davide Foffa, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said: “Studying the evolution of these animals was a real — and rare — treat, and has offered a simple yet powerful explanation for why some species declined as others prospered. This work reminds us of the relevance of palaeontology by revealing the parallels between past and present-day ocean ecosystems.”

Dr Steve Brusatte, also of the University’s School of GeoSciences, said: “Teeth are humble fossils, but they reveal a grand story of how sea reptiles evolved over millions of years as their environments changed. Changes in these Jurassic reptiles parallel changes in dolphins and other marine species that are occurring today as sea-levels rise, which speaks to how important fossils are for understanding our modern world.”

Reptile to mammal evolution, new discovery


This 29 August 2018 video says about itself:

Pictured are CT scans of the skulls of, left to right, a tuatara hatchling (modern reptile), one of the Kayentatherium offspring, and a 27-day-old opossum (modern mammal), shown at the same magnification. This shows that the brains—and therefore the skulls—of young mammals, such as the opossum, are rounded and relatively large.

As the mammal class developed, it grew to favour high investment in relatively few offspring with bigger brains.

Pictured is a CT scan of part of the specimen showing a maternal vertebra (gray) with bones of the babies (colours) in their original positions. Finding well-preserved young from the age of the dinosaurs is particularly unusual since they are often destroyed – or eaten – after their death.

Pictured here are the skulls of the 38 Kayentatherium wellesi babies found alongside the adult specimen, which researchers believe is their mother (pictured left for scale).

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

Mammal forerunner that reproduced like a reptile sheds light on brain evolution

August 29, 2018

Compared with the rest of the animal kingdom, mammals have the biggest brains and produce some of the smallest litters of offspring. A newly described fossil of an extinct mammal relative — and her 38 babies — is among the best evidence that a key development in the evolution of mammals was trading brood power for brain power.

The find is among the rarest of the rare because it contains the only known fossils of babies from any mammal precursor, said researchers from The University of Texas at Austin who discovered and studied the fossilized family. But the presence of so many babies — more than twice the average litter size of any living mammal — revealed that it reproduced in a manner akin to reptiles. Researchers think the babies were probably developing inside eggs or had just recently hatched when they died.

The study, published in the journal Nature on Aug. 29, describes specimens that researchers say may help reveal how mammals evolved a different approach to reproduction than their ancestors, which produced large numbers of offspring.

“These babies are from a really important point in the evolutionary tree”, said Eva Hoffman, who led research on the fossil as a graduate student at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “They had a lot of features similar to modern mammals, features that are relevant in understanding mammalian evolution.”

Hoffman co-authored the study with her graduate adviser, Jackson School Professor Timothy Rowe.

The mammal relative belonged to an extinct species of beagle-size plant-eaters called Kayentatherium wellesi that lived alongside dinosaurs about 185 million years ago. Like mammals, Kayentatherium probably had hair.

When Rowe collected the fossil more than 18 years ago from a rock formation in Arizona, he thought that he was bringing a single specimen back with him. He had no idea about the dozens of babies it contained.

Sebastian Egberts, a former graduate student and fossil preparator at the Jackson School, spotted the first sign of the babies years later when a grain-sized speck of tooth enamel caught his eye in 2009 as he was unpacking the fossil.

“It didn’t look like a pointy fish tooth or a small tooth from a primitive reptile”, said Egberts, who is now an instructor of anatomy at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It looked more like a molariform tooth (molar-like tooth) — and that got me very excited.”

A CT scan of the fossil revealed a handful of bones inside the rock. However, it took advances in CT-imaging technology during the next 18 years, the expertise of technicians at UT Austin’s High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility, and extensive digital processing by Hoffman to reveal the rest of the babies — not only jaws and teeth, but complete skulls and partial skeletons.

The 3D visualizations Hoffman produced allowed her to conduct an in-depth analysis of the fossil that verified that the tiny bones belonged to babies and were the same species as the adult. Her analysis also revealed that the skulls of the babies were like scaled-down replicas of the adult, with skulls a tenth the size but otherwise proportional. This finding is in contrast to mammals, which have babies that are born with shortened faces and bulbous heads to account for big brains.

The brain is an energy-intensive organ, and pregnancy — not to mention childrearing — is an energy-intensive process. The discovery that Kayentatherium had a tiny brain and many babies, despite otherwise having much in common with mammals, suggests that a critical step in the evolution of mammals was trading big litters for big brains, and that this step happened later in mammalian evolution.

“Just a few million years later, in mammals, they unquestionably had big brains, and they unquestionably had a small litter size”, Rowe said.

The mammalian approach to reproduction directly relates to human development — including the development of our own brains. By looking back at our early mammalian ancestors, humans can learn more about the evolutionary process that helped shape who we are as a species, Rowe said.

“There are additional deep stories on the evolution of development, and the evolution of mammalian intelligence and behavior and physiology that can be squeezed out of a remarkable fossil like this now that we have the technology to study it”, he said.

Funding for the research was provided by the National Science Foundation, The University of Texas Geology Foundation and the Jackson School of Geosciences.

Jurassic dinosaur discovery in China


This video says about itself:

Dinosaur species named the ‘amazing dragon of Lingwu’ proves Diplodocoid reptiles were in Pangaea

24 July 2018

Giant long-necked dinosaurs were roaming the supercontinent of Pangaea up to 29 million years earlier than previously thought, a new study suggests. Fossils of a newly discovered species, dubbed the ‘amazing dragon of Lingwu’, prove advanced diplodocoids were alive during the early Middle Jurassic of China – 174 million years ago. Researchers previously believed that advanced diplodocoids, known as neosauropods, did not appear until after the break up of Pangaea, the giant land mass from which modern continents formed.

From University College London in England:

New dinosaur found in the wrong place, at the wrong time

August 1, 2018

A new dinosaur called Lingwulong shenqi or ‘amazing dragon from Lingwu’ has been discovered by an Anglo-Chinese team involving UCL.

The announcement, published in Nature Communications, reports the surprising discovery of the new dinosaur which roamed the Ningxia Autonomous Region, northwest China, approximately 174 million years ago. This is in a place they were never thought to roam and 15 million years earlier than this type of dinosaur was thought to exist.

Lingwulong is the earliest known example of a type of advanced sauropod dinosaur called a ‘neosauropod’ — one of the long-necked, gigantic herbivores that are the largest land animals known, including famous forms such as Brontosaurus and Diplodocus.

Sauropods originated around 200 million years ago, but they only started to truly dominate terrestrial ecosystems by developing gigantic body size (up to 70 metric tonnes) and numerous new adaptations for obtaining and processing plant food.

These giant neosauropod descendants were thought to originate around 160 million years ago, rapidly diversifying and spreading across the world during a time window perhaps as short as just 5 million years.

“We were surprised to find a close relative of Diplodocus in East Asia 174 million years ago. It’s commonly thought that sauropods did not disperse there until 200 million years ago and many of their giant descendants reached this region much later, if at all”, explained study co-author Professor Paul Upchurch (UCL Earth Sciences).

“Our discovery of Lingwulong demonstrates that several different types of advanced sauropod must have existed at least 15 million years earlier and spread across the world while the supercontinent Pangaea was still a coherent landmass. This forces a complete re-evaluation of the origins and evolution of these animals.”

The new evidence also reinforces the growing realisation that the Early Jurassic (200-175 million years ago), was a key time in dinosaur evolution, witnessing the origins and diversification of many groups that went on to dominate the later Jurassic and Cretaceous.

“Diplodocus-like neosauropods were thought to have never made it to East Asia because this region was cut-off from the rest of the world by Jurassic seaways, so that China evolved its own distinctive and separate dinosaur fauna. However, Lingwulong shows that these Diplodocus-like sauropods were present after all, and implies that the isolation of East Asia was less profound and short-lived than we realised,” said lead author, Dr Xing Xu (Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology & Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China).

For the study, palaeontologists analysed the fossilised skeletons of 7-10 individual dinosaurs that were found together in rocks in 2005 and have been dated at approximately 174 million years old. Funding secured in 2016 by National Geographic Research enabled the formation of this Anglo-Chinese project to study the specimens in detail.

The team conclude that finding such a dinosaur ‘in the wrong place, at the wrong time’, emphasises the gaps in our knowledge of the fossil record and suggests that there are many surprises still to come.

Biggest dinosaur foot ever discovered


This 24 July 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

The world’s largest dinosaur footprint was left behind by a gigantic ‘Bigfoot’ brachiosaur, scientists have found. A new study based on fossils excavated in Wyoming in the United States has identified that the metre-wide imprint shows the outline of a foot belonging to one of the largest land animals to ever roam Earth.

The findings confirmed that 150 million years ago brachiosaurs – featured in the movie Jurassic Park – lived across a huge swathe of North America. Study co-author Dr Emanuel Tschopp, a postdoctoral fellow in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Paleontology, said: ‘There are tracks and other incomplete skeletons from Australia and Argentina that seem to be from even bigger animals, but those gigantic skeletons were found without the feet.’

From ScienceDaily:

Paleontologists discover largest dinosaur foot ever

July 24, 2018

Summary: The dinosaur foot known as ‘Bigfoot’, described in a new scientific paper recently published in the open-access journal PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences, was excavated in 1998 by an expedition from the University of Kansas, with Anthony Maltese, lead author of the study, as member of the crew. After detailed preparation and study, Maltese and his international team of researchers identified it as belonging to an animal very closely related to Brachiosaurus.

The Black Hills region of the United States is famous today for tourist attractions like Deadwood and Mount Rushmore, but around 150 million years ago it was home to one of the largest dinosaurs known. This dinosaur was a member of the sauropod family with long necks and tails. These giant plant-eating dinosaurs like Brontosaurus and Diplodocus were the largest land animals that ever lived on this planet.

The foot described in a new scientific paper recently published in the open-access journal PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences was excavated in 1998 by an expedition from the University of Kansas, with Anthony Maltese, lead author of the study, as member of the crew. As he writes, it was immediately apparent that the foot, nearly a meter wide, was from an extremely large animal — so the specimen was nicknamed “Bigfoot.”

Now, after detailed preparation and study, Maltese and his international team of researchers from the USA, Switzerland, and Germany identified it as belonging to an animal very closely related to Brachiosaurus, famous for its appearance in the 1993 film Jurassic Park.

Anthony Maltese, Emanuel Tschopp, Femke Holwerda, and David Burnham used 3D scanning and detailed measurements to compare Bigfoot to sauropod feet from numerous species. Their research confirmed that this foot was unusually large. According to Holwerda, a Dutch PhD student at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, Germany, comparisons with other sauropod feet showed that Bigfoot was clearly the largest dinosaur foot discovered to date.

It also confirmed that brachiosaurs inhabited a huge area from eastern Utah to northwestern Wyoming, 150 million years ago. “This is surprising,” says Tschopp, a Swiss paleontologist working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, “many other sauropod dinosaurs seem to have inhabited smaller areas during that time.”

According to Maltese, who was part of the original University of Kansas team in 1998 but is now at the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado, the rock outcrops [in Wyoming] that produced this fossil hold many more “fantastic dinosaur skeletons”, and the research team hopes to continue their studies on fossils from there.

See also here.

Dinosaur age crocodilians, new research


This video says about itself:

4 May 2018

Evolution of crocodiles: Of all the reptiles alive today, crocodiles and alligators may be the least changed from their prehistoric forebears of the late Cretaceous period, over 65 million years ago—although the even earlier crocodiles of the Triassic and Jurassic periods sported some distinctly un-crocodile-like features, such as bipedal postures and vegetarian diets.

Along with pterosaurs and dinosaurs, crocodiles were an offshoot of the archosaurs, the “ruling lizards” of the early to middle Triassic period; needless to say, the earliest dinosaurs and the earliest crocodiles resembled one another a lot more than either resembled the first pterosaurs, which also evolved from archosaurs.

1. Xilousuchus
250,000,000 bc – 200,000,000 bc
2. Phytosaur
228,000,000 bc – 199,000,000 bc
3. Erpetosuchus
200,000,000 bc
4. Sarcosuchus
110,000,000 bc
5. Stomatosuchus
100,000,000 bc – 95,000,000 bc
6. Deinosuchus
80,000,000 bc
7. Champsosaurus [not a crocodile, though looking like one]
70,000,000 bc – 50,000,000 bc
8. Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event
65,000,000 bc
9. Crocodylidae (Modern day crocodile)
55,000,000 bc – Present
10. Quinkana
23,000,000 bc – 40,000 bc
11. Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni
4,200,000 bc

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

In the gaping mouth of ancient crocodiles

As an apex predator, the crocodile’s mode of attack — its mouth — had humble beginnings

June 18, 2018

Summary: A new study has endeavoured to further explore the mouth of one of the earliest occurring and least understood groups of crocodilians, the shartegosuchids.

The mouth of today’s crocodilians inspires fear and awe, with their wide gape and the greatest known bite force in the vertebrate animal kingdom. However, this apex predator of today and its modus of attack (its mouth) had humble beginnings.

The very earliest crocodilians were very different to the beasts we know well today, they were much smaller bodied, slender and had longer legs. It is speculated that they led a much different lifestyle to the crocodiles we all know and fear today.

A new study by a team of international experts, led by University of Witwatersrand PhD candidate Kathleen Dollman and Professor Jonah Choiniere published today in the American Museum Novitates, endeavoured to further explore the mouth of one of the earliest occurring and least understand groups of crocodilians, the shartegosuchids.

In 2010, Choiniere was a part of a field team working in the Late Jurassic (±160 mya) exposures in the western Gobi in Mongolia, when he found the fossil of a small snout of a shartegosuchid. This work was co-authored by researchers based at the American Museum of Natural History, the George Washington University and the Institute for Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology.

The snout was later CT scanned at the American Museum of Natural History, exposing an unusual, closed secondary palate. Crocodilians are one of only a few groups of animals that evolve a completely closed, bony secondary palate (along with turtles and mammals). A closed secondary palate has many biological implications for crocodilians, including breathing whilst under water and reinforcing the skull to allow for their incredible bite force.

This study showed that these early crocodilians, the shartegosuchids, are important because they evolved a completely closed secondary palate much earlier than previously thought. This is an interesting example of convergent evolution, whereby a similar feature evolves independently in two completely unrelated groups. The advent of a convergent evolutionary event allows scientists to test questions about why that feature evolved and even the function of that feature which in this case is the first step in understanding the purpose of a closed secondary palate in crocodilians.

“I was surprised to find that there were many features in the palate and snout that were completely different between shartegosuchids and extant crocodilians,” says Dollman. Shartegosuchids have a thickened and sculptured palate together with a tall and short rostrum, whereas extant crocodilians have a smooth palate with a long and broad rostrum.

“We would expect to see the same palatal structures and snout shapes in both shartegosuchids and extant crocodiles if they were using it for similar functions and had evolved a closed palate for similar reasons”, says Dollman. “The observed differences tell us that shartegosuchids likely had predation practices to which there is no modern analogue in crocodilians.”

“It’s been nearly 10 years since we collected this fossil after driving 5 days across the Gobi Desert,” said Choiniere, “and I am delighted that it’s formed a part of Kathleen’s PhD.”

Dinosaur age dinoflagellates discovery in Australia


This 2015 video from the USA says about itself:

Dino Pet is a clear plastic dinosaur figure [toy] that houses living organisms called dinoflagellates that come from the ocean. For full review and shopping info: here.

Product Info: The dinoflagellates photosynthesize during the day and glow blue at night when shaken. This is called bioluminescence and is a naturally occurring process seen in many sea creatures. The Dino Pet’s instruction booklet provides more information on the science behind bioluminescence.

From the University of Adelaide in Australia:

Red tide fossils point to Jurassic sea flood

June 5, 2018

Dinosaur-age fossilised remains of tiny organisms normally found in the sea have been discovered in inland, arid Australia — suggesting the area was, for a short time at least, inundated by sea water 40 million years before Australia’s large inland sea existed.

The fossils are the egg-like cysts of microorganisms known as dinoflagellates, best known for producing red tides or algal blooms that can turn the sea water blood red. The cysts rest on the sea floor before hatching new dinoflagellates.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide, in collaboration with geological consultancy MGPalaeo, discovered these microfossils in Jurassic rocks of south-western Queensland, near the town of Roma.

Described in the journal Palynology, the fossils have been dated to the late Jurassic period, 148 million years ago. This is a time when Australia was joined to Antarctica, and where dinosaurs roamed across ancient rivers, floodplains and swamps.

“We have plenty of evidence from the 110 million-year-old vast inland Eromanga Sea, which covered a large swathe of central, eastern Australia during the Cretaceous period (following on from the Jurassic)”, says Dr Carmine Wainman, Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Adelaide’s Australian School of Petroleum.

“We’ve seen the opalised fossils sold in Adelaide’s Rundle Mall, and the spectacular ancient marine reptiles on display in the South Australian Museum — all from the later Cretaceous period.

“However, this new microfossil evidence from the same region suggests there was a short-lived precursor to this sea 40 million years earlier.”

Dr Wainman believes these microfossils must have been brought inland by an incursion of sea water and then evolved quickly to adapt to the freshwater or brackish conditions as the sea waters slowly receded.

“There is no other feasible explanation for how they managed to reach the interior of the Australian continent when the ancient coastline was thousands of kilometres away,” Dr Wainman says.

“It was probably a result of rising sea levels during a time of greenhouse conditions before the establishment of the Eromanga Sea. With further investigations, we may find more of these microorganisms or even fossilised marine reptiles that uncover untold secrets about how this part of the world looked in the Jurassic.”