New dinosaur species with ‘hummingbird’ colours


This 15 January 2018 video is called New ‘rainbow’ dinosaurs might have sparkled like a hummingbird.

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Newly discovered ‘rainbow’ dinosaur had shiny, colourful feathers like a hummingbird

Microscopic analysis of 160 million-year-old fossil suggests prehistoric reptile had iridescent plumage similar to that found in some modern bird species

Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent

A duck-sized dinosaur found in China had a head and chest covered in shiny feathers similar to those seen on hummingbirds.

The creature has been named Caihong juji, meaning “rainbow with the big crest” in Mandarin.

When palaeontologists analysed a fossil of the dinosaur, first discovered by a farmer in north-eastern China, they found evidence of brightly-coloured plumage.

Iridescent feathers, which are found on some modern bird species, have a metallic sheen and change colour when viewed from different angles, giving them a “rainbow-like” appearance.

“When you look at the fossil record, you normally only see hard parts like bone, but every once in a while soft parts like feathers are preserved and you get a glimpse into the past,” said Dr Chad Eliason, a bird researcher at The Field Museum in Chicago and one of the authors of the paper describing the dinosaur.

“The preservation of this dinosaur is incredible; we were really excited when we realised the level of detail we were able to see on the feathers.”

Their findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

When Dr Eliason and his colleagues examined the preserved feathers under a microscope, they could see tiny imprints of cells called melanosomes.

Melanosomes are the cells that contain pigment and give animals their colour.

At around 160 million-years-old, the pigment in the cells had long since degraded, but the scientists were able to determine the dinosaur’s appearance based on the structure of the cells.

Comparison of the ancient melanosomes of the Caihong with modern bird species revealed close similarities with the cells responsible for the iridescent plumage seen in hummingbirds.

Iridescent feathers were found covering the dinosaur’s head and chest, as well as around the base of its tail.

The skull of the Caihong is similar to that of the Velociraptor, but it also has a bony crest in the middle of its head.

The discovery opens up questions about how iridescence first evolved.

It could be that the Caihong’s “rainbow” feathers were used to attract mates, just like modern peacocks use their colourful tails.

“I came out of the project with a whole different set of questions that I wanted answers to”, said Dr Eliason.

“When I open up a drawer full of birds in the Field Museum’s collections, now I want to know when those iridescent feathers first developed, and how.”

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Making a dinosaur ‘fossil’ in your own home


This 2017 video is called Massospondylus | Learn Dinosaur Facts | Dinosaur Cartoons for Children | I’m A Dinosaur.

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

Print a 200-million-year-old dinosaur ‘fossil’ in your own home

CT-scan study makes it possible to 3-D print and study the skull of the dinosaur species Massospondylus that roamed South Africa 200 million years ago in your own home

January 12, 2018

The digital reconstruction of the skull of a 200-million-year-old South African dinosaur, Massospondylus, has made it possible for researchers to make 3D prints and in this way facilitate research on other dinosaurs all over the world.

Kimi Chapelle, a PhD student at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa (Wits), has used the Wits MicroFocus CT facility to peer inside the skull of the dinosaur Massospondylus.

Chapelle was able to use the CT facility to rebuild every bone of Massospondylus’s cranium, and to even look at tiny features like nerves exiting the brain and the balance organs of the inner ear. Her research is published today in the open-access journal, PeerJ.

Along with the paper, which is open for anybody to download and read, a 3D surface file of the skull is available to be downloaded.

“This means any researcher or member of the public can print their own Massospondylus skull at home,” says Chapelle.

Massospondylus is one of the most famous dinosaurs from South Africa and was named in 1854 by the celebrated anatomist Sir Richard Owen. Fossils of Massospondylus have been found in many places in South Africa, including Golden Gate National Park, where James Kitching discovered fossil eggs and embryos in 1976. Surprisingly, the skull of Massospondylus has never been the focus of an in-depth anatomical investigation.

“I was amazed when I started digitally reconstructing Massospondylus’ skull, and found all these features that had never been described”, said Chapelle, “it just goes to show that researchers still have a lot to learn about South Africa’s dinosaurs.”

Some of the most interesting discoveries from the skull, which is described in Chapelle’s paper include:

  • details on how the inner ear and the middle ear contacted each other and what these looked like
  • Where the nerves connecting different parts of the skull to the brain were and which bones they went through
  • that replacement teeth don’t erupt in a specific pattern and are present on all teeth, and
  • that the bones that surround the brain in this specific fossil were not fully fused

“By comparing the inner ear to that of other dinosaurs, we can try and interpret things like how they held their heads and how they moved. You can actually see tiny replacement teeth in the bones of the jaws, showing us that Massospondylus continuously replaced its teeth, like crocodiles do, but unlike humans that can only do it once”, says Chapelle.

“Also, the fact that the bones of the braincase aren’t fully fused means that this particular fossil is that of an individual that is not fully grown yet. This allows us to understand how Massospondylus grew, how fast it grew and how big it could grow.”

Hundreds of Massospondylus fossils have been found in South Africa, ranging in size from hatchlings to adult. Chapelle is using CT technology to study these additional fossils for her PhD. “I’ll be using scans of other specimens to answer new questions,” said Chapelle, “for example, how did Massospondylus babies weighing less than 100g grow up to be half-tonne adults?”

“Students like Kimi have been able to use our CT facility to produce cutting-edge research like this” said Prof. Jonah Choiniere, the supervisor and co-author of the study, “and it’s changing the way we do dinosaur research.”

Oldest butterflies discovered, when there were dinosaurs, no flowers yet


This video from Chicago in the USA says about itself:

Moths vs Butterflies

9 October 2013

Wherein we explore the order Lepidoptera!

Huge thanks to Jim Boone, collection manager of insects for making this episode possible.

You can learn more about The Field Museum’s historical butterfly collection from J. Boone: here.

From Science Advances:

A Triassic-Jurassic window into the evolution of Lepidoptera

10 Jan 2018

Abstract

On the basis of an assemblage of fossilized wing scales recovered from latest Triassic and earliest Jurassic sediments from northern Germany, we provide the earliest evidence for Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies).

The diverse scales confirm a (Late) Triassic radiation of lepidopteran lineages, including the divergence of the Glossata, the clade that comprises the vast multitude of extant moths and butterflies that have a sucking proboscis. The microfossils extend the minimum calibrated age of glossatan moths by ca. 70 million years, refuting ancestral association of the group with flowering plants.

Development of the proboscis may be regarded as an adaptive innovation to sucking free liquids for maintaining the insect’s water balance under arid conditions. Pollination drops secreted by a variety of Mesozoic gymnosperms may have been non-mutualistically exploited as a high-energy liquid source. The early evolution of the Lepidoptera was probably not severely interrupted by the end-Triassic biotic crisis.

Plesiosaur fossil discovery in Antarctica


This video says about itself:

Scientists discover a 150 million years old plesiosaur in Antarctica

21 December 2017

It is the first record of a plesiosaur from the Jurassic period in Antarctica. It is a carnivorous reptile of the sea that exceeded six meters in length. It was discovered in the Antarctic Peninsula, in a new paleontological site located 113 kilometers southwest of the Marambio Base in Seymour Island.

From AFP news agency:

Giant marine reptile lived in Antarctic 150 million years ago

December 22, 2017

Scientists in Argentina have found the remains of a giant carnivorous marine reptile, or plesiosaur, that lived 150 million years ago in Antarctica.

The four-finned reptile, which measured up to 12 meters (13 yards) long, dates from the late Jurassic period …

Soledad Cavalli, a paleontologist at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, said: “At this site, you can find a great diversity of fish, ammonites, some bivalves, but we did not expect to find such an ancient plesiosaur.”

The “surprising” discovery has never been documented, according to a statement from the National University of La Matanza, near Buenos Aires.

“The discovery is pretty extraordinary, because the rock types at the site weren’t thought conducive to the preservation of bones, like the vertebrae of this marine reptile”, Cavalli said.

The discovery site was a two-hour helicopter journey from Argentina’s Marambio Base on the tip of Antarctica, with the researchers set to continue their work in January, during the southern hemisphere’s summer.

Marcelo Reguero of the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA) added that Antarctica was at the time part of the Gondwana continent, which also included Australia, New Zealand, India, Madagascar, Africa and South America, before continental drift pushed them apart.

Jurassic semi-marine reptile discovery


Vadasaurus herzogi, image credits Gabriel Bever, Mark Norell, 2017, Nature

From Johns Hopkins Medicine in the USA:

Recently discovered fossil shows transition of a reptile from life on land to life in the sea

Modern New Zealand reptile may be a close relative

December 6, 2017

Using modern research tools on a 155-million-year-old reptile fossil, scientists at Johns Hopkins and the American Museum of Natural History report they have filled in some important clues to the evolution of animals that once roamed land and transitioned to life in the water.

A report on the new discoveries about the reptile, Vadasaurus herzogi, appears online in the Nov. 8 issue of Royal Society Open Science, and suggests that some of the foot-long animal’s features, including its elongated, whip-like tail, and triangular-shaped head, are well suited to aquatic life, while its relatively large limbs link it to land-loving species.

Vadasaurus, which is the Latin term for “wading lizard,” was discovered in limestone quarries near Solnhofen, Germany, part of a once-shallow sea long explored for its rich trove of fossil finds.

The well-preserved fossil is housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where the job of unlocking its evolutionary secrets fell to museum research associate Gabriel Bever, Ph.D., who is also assistant professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Mark Norell, Ph.D., the museum’s paleontology division chair.

“Anatomic and behavioral characteristics of modern groups of living things accumulated over long spans of time,” says Bever. “Fossils can teach us a lot about that evolutionary history, including the order in which those features evolved and their adaptive role in a changing environment.”

“Anytime we can get a fossil like this that is so well preserved, and so significant in understanding a major environmental transition, it is very important,” says Norell. “It’s so important,” he adds, “that we can consider Vadasaurus to be the Archaeopteryx of rynchocephalians.”

According to Bever, their work adds to the list of sea creatures whose ancestors were land-dwelling vertebrates. They include modern-day whales, seals, and sea snakes, and ancient (and now-extinct) species of ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and plesiosaurs.

Bever says their study offers evidence that Vadasaurus, likely an adult when it died, can be linked by its anatomy to a small group of marine species called pleurosaurs, which have long been thought to have terrestrial roots. Pleurosaurs lived during the Jurassic period, 185 to 150 million years ago. The eel-like creatures had reduced limbs that were probably used for steering rather than propulsion in the water. Until now, fossils of only three ancient species of pleurosaurs have been discovered.

Using two types of statistical algorithms and reconstructions of evolutionary “trees,” Bever and Norell say that Vadasaurus and the pleurosaurs are part of a larger lineage of reptiles called Rhynchocephalia. Like the sea-loving pleurosaurs, Vadasaurus’ skull was a triangular shape, an adaptation found among many streamlined, water-dwelling animals, such as most fish, eels and whales. An elongated snout, common among sea animals, featured teeth farther away from the body for ensnaring fish.

By examining the shape and structure of the Vadasaurus’ skull, Bever and Norell also concluded that Vadasaurus’ bite was likely a quick, side-to-side motion, compared with the slower, stronger bite typical of many land-dwelling animals.

Some 155 million years ago, Vadasaurus’ tail had begun to lengthen like most modern sea animals, says Bever, but not to the size of the 5-foot pleurosaur. Vadasaurus, they found, had 24 pre-sacral vertebrae, which span from the head to the beginning of the tail, whereas pleurosaurus had more than 50 such back bones.

Despite its aquatic features, Vadasaurus retained some features more often found among land vertebrates. For example, Vadasaurus still had the large limbs, relative to the size of its body, expected of a land-dwelling reptile. Bever speculates that Vadasaurus did not use its limbs for propulsion in the water, but to steer. He says Vadasaurus may have swum like a modern sea snake, moving its spinal column with an undulating kind of motion.

“Our data indicate that Vadasaurus is an early cousin of the pleurosaur,” says Bever. “And these two reptiles are closely related to modern tuatara.” The modern tuatara is a lizard-like, land-dwelling reptile that lives on New Zealand’s coastal islands and is the single remaining species of rhynchocephalian still left on Earth.

Bever notes that a complete evolutionary history of Vadasaurus will require more data and fossil finds.

“We don’t know exactly how much time Vadasaurus was spending on land versus in the water. It may be that the animal developed its aquatic adaptations for some other reason, and that these changes just happened to be advantageous for life in the water,” says Bever.

See also here.

‘Haarlem museum archaeopteryx not archaeopteryx’


This video says about itself:

Haarlem, Netherlands museums and big church

17 November 2016

Bringing you into a couple of the really great Haarlem museums, Frans Hals Museum and Teylers Museum, and showing you a few other smaller museums, and into the big church, the Grote Kerk.

Frans Hals Museum is one of the top attractions of Haarlem.

The museum is located in the old part of town in a building that dates back to 1609 and was originally a retirement home for single old men.

Inside are works by many other Haarlem artists of the 17th century. Several stately rooms saved from torn down houses have been partially reconstructed from other Haarlem locations with period furniture and decor.

Of course the main attraction are the paintings – 16 of them by Frans Hals, who lived most of his life in Haarlem, between 1616 and 1664, keeping very busy creating many individual portraits, and especially famous for the large group ensembles.

In this principal room it seems like you have entered a great banquet hall divided up in different tables. And as you walk in it seems all the guests have turned around to look at you. There are groups of officers and administrators of the hospital, life-sized, some of them seated with faces turned to the spectator as if posing for a photograph, some standing, all splendidly decorated.

Hals was the master of showing emotional expression in faces. You really feel as if you know these people, as if you’d met them before. This truth of expression and the jovial character, and the ample rich costumes of the 16th century make it seem like you’re really looking at the Holland of 300 years ago – as if you’re a watching historical play, not just an art gallery. The solo portraits are equally powerful as the groups.

Teylers Museum is the oldest historical museum in the Netherlands and the interior retains that very old-fashioned feeling, like stepping back into 1778 when it was established.

Right away upon entering the first room you’ll notice these display cases with that original feeling.

The room is mostly fossils and bones of old creatures, including some remnants of early human and prehuman, and the first example ever found of the Archaeopteryx, a flying dinosaur.

Next we enter a room filled with the variety of scientific instruments including what had been the world’s largest electrostatic generator from the 18th century, old telescopes, microscopes, recording devices, telephones, whatnot.

A small darkened room showcases luminescent minerals. Then we get to the most famous gallery in the museum. It’s the Oval Room that dates back to its founding in the late 1700s with mineral displays in the center and all around it, scientific instruments from the 18th century. The room was designed for research and study with scientific experiments conducted here, and public demonstrations held – in the upper level archives and a library.

More museums, then the big church, Grote Kerk. This impressive church has been the heart of the city and its most important landmark for centuries. Located right in the middle of the market square, it was built in the Gothic style of architecture, originally as a Catholic Church between 1370 and 1520 when it was finished.

From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen in Germany:

Early avian evolution: The Archaeopteryx that wasn‘t

December 4, 2017

Paleontologists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich correct a case of misinterpretation: The first fossil “Archaeopteryx” to be discovered is actually a predatory dinosaur belonging to the anchiornithid family, which was previously known only from finds made in China.

Even 150 million years after its first appearance on our planet, Archaeopteryx is still good for surprises. The so-called Urvogel has attained an iconic status well beyond the world of paleontology, and it is one of the most famous fossils ever recovered. In all, a dozen fossil specimens have been assigned to the genus. Archaeopteryx remains the oldest known bird fossil, not only documenting the evolutionary transition from reptiles to birds, but also confirming that modern birds are the direct descendants of carnivorous dinosaurs. LMU paleontologist Oliver Rauhut and Christian Foth from the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde in Stuttgart have re-examined the so-called Haarlem specimen of Archaeopteryx, which is kept in Teylers Museum in that Dutch city and has gone down in history as the first member of this genus to be discovered.

In the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, Foth and Rauhut now report that this fossil differs in several important respects from the other known representatives of the genus Archaeopteryx. In fact, their taxonomic analysis displaces it from its alleged perch on the phylogenetic tree: “The Haarlem specimen is not a member of the Archaeopteryx clade,” says Rauhut, a paleontologist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at LMU who is also affiliated with the Bavarian State Collections for Paleontology and Geology in Munich.

Instead, the two scientists assign the fossil to a group of bird-like maniraptoran dinosaurs known as anchiornithids, which were first identified only a few years ago based on material found in China. These rather small dinosaurs possessed feathers on all four limbs, and they predate the appearance of Archaeopteryx. “The Haarlem fossil is the first member of this group found outside China. And together with Archaeopteryx, it is only the second species of bird-like dinosaur from the Jurassic discovered outside eastern Asia. This makes it even more of a rarity than the true specimens of Archaeopteryx,” Rauhut says.

Made in China

The Haarlem specimen was found about 10 km to the northeast of the closest Archaeopteryx locality known (Schamhaupten) a full four years before the discovery of the skeleton that would introduce the Urvogel to the scientific world in 1861. Schamhaupten was once part of the so-called Solnhofen archipelago in the Altmühl Valley in southern Bavaria, the area from which all known specimens of the genus Archaeopteryx originated. Its taxonomic reassignment therefore provides new insights into the evolution of the bird-like dinosaurs in the Middle to Late Jurassic. “Our biogeographical analysis demonstrates that the group of dinosaurs that gave rise to birds originated in East Asia — all of the oldest finds have been made in China. As they expanded westward, they also reached the Solnhofen archipelago,” says Christian Foth. Thus, the fossil hitherto incorrectly assigned to the genus Archaeopteryx must have been one of the first members of the group to arrive in Europe.

Around 150 million years ago, the area known today as the Altmühl Valley was dotted with the coral and sponge reefs and lagoons of the Solnhofen archipelago, and the open sea lay to the West and South. The Haarlem fossil was originally recovered from what was then the eastern end of the archipelago, quite close to the mainland. Unlike Archaeopteryx, anchiornithids were unable to fly, and might not have been able to reach areas further offshore. On the other hand, all true fossils of Archaeopteryx found so far were recovered from the lithographic limestone strata further to the west, closer to the open sea. Based on the new findings, Rauhut argues that other known Archaeopteryx fossils may need reassessment: “Not every bird-like fossil that turns up in the fine-grained limestones around Solnhofen need necessarily be a specimen of Archaeopteryx,” he points out.

The authors of the new study have proposed that the Haarlem specimen be assigned to a new genus, for which they suggest the name Ostromia — in honor of the American paleontologist John Ostrom, who first identified the fossil as a theropod dinosaur.

Feathered dinosaurs, new study


This video says about itself:

29 July 2016

Ali and Sean travel back 150 million years to the Jurassic period to get a look at a flying dinosaur called the Anchiornis. Tour guide Simon reveals that this dinosaur actually had feathers!

From the University of Bristol in England:

Feathered dinosaurs were even fluffier than we thought

November 28, 2017

A University of Bristol-led study has revealed new details about dinosaur feathers and enabled scientists to further refine what is potentially the most accurate depiction of any dinosaur species to date.

Birds are the direct descendants of a group of feathered, carnivorous dinosaurs that, along with true birds, are referred to as paravians — examples of which include the infamous Velociraptor.

Researchers examined, at high resolution, an exceptionally-preserved fossil of the crow-sized paravian dinosaur Anchiornis — comparing its fossilised feathers to those of other dinosaurs and extinct birds.

The feathers around the body of Anchiornis, known as contour feathers, revealed a newly-described, extinct, primitive feather form consisting of a short quill with long, independent, flexible barbs erupting from the quill at low angles to form two vanes and a forked feather shape.

The observations were made possible by decay processes that separated some of these feathers from the body prior to burial and fossilisation, making their structure easier to interpret.

Such feathers would have given Anchiornis a fluffy appearance relative to the streamlined bodies of modern flying birds, whose feathers have tightly-zipped vanes forming continuous surfaces. Anchiornis’s unzipped feathers might have affected the animal’s ability to control its temperature and repel water, possibly being less effective than the vanes of most modern feathers. This shaggy plumage would also have increased drag when Anchiornis glided.

Additionally, the feathers on the wing of Anchiornis lack the aerodynamic, asymmetrical vanes of modern flight feathers, and the new research shows that these vanes were also not tightly-zipped compared to modern flight feathers. This would have hindered the feather’s ability to form a lift surface. To compensate, paravians like Anchiornis packed multiple rows of long feathers into the wing, unlike modern birds, where most of the wing surface is formed by just one row of feathers.

Furthermore, Anchiornis and other paravians had four wings, with long feathers on the legs in addition to the arms, as well as elongated feathers forming a fringe around the tail. This increase in surface-area likely allowed for gliding before the evolution of powered flight.

To assist in reconstructing the updated look of Anchiornis, scientific illustrator Rebecca Gelernter worked with Evan Saitta and Dr Jakob Vinther, from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences and School of Biological Sciences, to draw the animal as it was in life.

The new piece represents a radical shift in dinosaur depictions and incorporates previous research.

The color patterns for Anchiornis are known from fossilised pigment studies, the outline of the flesh of the animal has been constructed by examining fossils under laser fluorescence, and previous work has described the multi-tiered layering of the wing feathers.

Evan Saitta said: “The novel aspects of the wing and contour feathers, as well as fully-feathered hands and feet, are added to the depiction.

“Most provocatively, Anchiornis is presented in this artwork climbing in the manner of hoatzin chicks, the only living bird whose juveniles retain a relic of their dinosaurian past, a functional claw.

“This contrasts much previous art that places paravians perched on top of branches like modern birds.

“However, such perching is unlikely given the lack of a reversed toe as in modern perching birds and climbing is consistent with the well-developed arms and claws in paravians.

“Overall, our study provides some new insight into the appearance of dinosaurs, their behavior and physiology, and the evolution of feathers, birds, and powered flight.”

Rebecca Gelernter added: “Paleoart is a weird blend of strict anatomical drawing, wildlife art, and speculative biology. The goal is to depict extinct animals and plants as accurately as possible given the available data and knowledge of the subject’s closest living relatives.

“As a result of this study and other recent work, this is now possible to an unprecedented degree for Anchiornis. It’s easy to see it as a living animal with complex behaviours, not just a flattened fossil.

“It’s really exciting to be able to work with the scientists at the forefront of these discoveries, and to show others what we believe these fluffy, toothy almost-birds looked like as they went about their Jurassic business.”