Dinosaur age butterflies’ colours, new research

This video says aout itself:

5 February 2016

If you traveled back to the Jurassic, you might encounter the familiar sight of butterflies sipping nectar – only the insects wouldn’t be butterflies.

From the University of Exeter in England:

Fossil study sheds light on ancient butterfly wing colors

April 11, 2018

Pioneering new research has given an illuminating new insight into the metallic, iridescent colours found on the earliest known ancestors of moths and butterflies, which habited the earth almost 200 million years ago.

An international team of researchers, including Dr Tim Starkey from the University of Exeter, have discovered new evidence for colour in Mesozoic fossils.

The structural colours of the fossils studied resulted from light scattering by intricate microstructures, extending the evidence for these light-scattering structures in the insect fossil record by more than 130 million years.

The research team examined fossilised remains dating back 180 million years, with some specimens originating from the Jurassic Coast, only a short distance from Exeter.

Using powerful electron microscopes and using optical models, the team found microscopic ridges and grooves in the insect’s wing scales, similar to those seen in today’s moths. Models revealed these tiny features are photonic structures that would have produced metallic bronze to golden colour appearances in the insect wings.

The research is published in leading journal Science Advances on Wednesday, April 11 2018.

Insects have evolved an amazing range of photonic structures that can produce iridescence, metallic colours, and other flashy effects that are important for behaviour and ecological functions.

Dr Starkey, part of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy department, said: “The structural colours exhibited by butterflies and moths have been a longstanding research interest in Exeter, and have helped us develop biologically-inspired optical technologies for the present day.

“However, in this study we’ve looked millions of years back in time to early origins of such colours in nature, to understand how and when the evolution of colours in these insects took place.”

The study was co-authored by palaeontologists Drs Maria McNamara and Luke McDonald from UCC, in Ireland. Dr McNamara added: “Remarkably, these fossils are among the oldest known representatives of butterflies and moths.

“We didn’t expect to find wing scales preserved, let alone microscopic structures that produce colour. This tells us that colour was an important driving force in shaping the evolution of wings even in the earliest ancestors of butterflies and moths.”

Dr McDonald, previously of the Natural Photonics group in Exeter, said; “Uniquely in this study, we show that impression fossils, i.e. wing prints, are equally as capable as compression fossils at preserving the structure of scales in sufficient detail to elucidate the moths’ 180 million year old colours.”

Colorful moth wings date back to the dinosaur era. New fossils reveal the structure of the ancient insects’ light-scattering scales. By Laurel Hamers, 2:14pm, April 11, 2018.


Archaeopteryx could fly indeed

This 2014 video says about itself:

Scanning the Teyler Archaeopteryx fossil at the ESRF Grenoble

2 November 2014

In order to study the Teyler Archaeopteryx fossil, it is being scanned in Grenoble using synchrotron X-ray microtomography. The end of the video shows the specimen fully wrapped and mounted on the object table in front of the beam that is coming out the square hole in the blue box.

From the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility:

The early bird got to fly: Archaeopteryx was an active flyer

March 13, 2018

The question of whether the Late Jurassic dino-bird Archaeopteryx was an elaborately feathered ground dweller, a glider, or an active flyer has fascinated palaeontologists for decades. Valuable new information obtained with state-of-the-art synchrotron microtomography at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (Grenoble, France), allowed an international team of scientists to answer this question in Nature Communications. The wing bones of Archaeopteryx were shaped for incidental active flight, but not for the advanced style of flying mastered by today’s birds.

Was Archaeopteryx capable of flying, and if so, how? Although it is common knowledge that modern-day birds descended from extinct dinosaurs, many questions on their early evolution and the development of avian flight remain unanswered. Traditional research methods have thus far been unable to answer the question whether Archaeopteryx flew or not. Using synchrotron microtomography at the ESRF’s beamline ID19 to probe inside Archaeopteryx fossils, an international team of scientists from the ESRF, Palacký University, Czech Republic, CNRS and Sorbonne University, France, Uppsala University, Sweden, and Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum Solnhofen, Germany, shed new light on this earliest of birds.

Reconstructing extinct behaviour poses substantial challenges for palaeontologists, especially when it comes to enigmatic animals such as the famous Archaeopteryx from the Late Jurassic sediments of southeastern Germany that is considered the oldest potentially free-flying dinosaur. This well-preserved fossil taxon shows a mosaic anatomy that illustrates the close family relations between extinct raptorial dinosaurs and living dinosaurs: the birds. Most modern bird skeletons are highly specialised for powered flight, yet many of their characteristic adaptations in particularly the shoulder are absent in the Bavarian fossils of Archaeopteryx. Although its feathered wings resemble those of modern birds flying overhead every day, the primitive shoulder structure is incompatible with the modern avian wing beat cycle.

“The cross-sectional architecture of limb bones is strongly influenced by evolutionary adaptation towards optimal strength at minimal mass, and functional adaptation to the forces experienced during life”, explains Prof. Jorge Cubo of the Sorbonne University in Paris. “By statistically comparing the bones of living animals that engage in observable habits with those of cryptic fossils, it is possible to bring new information into an old discussion”, says senior author Dr. Sophie Sanchez from Uppsala University, Sweden

Archaeopteryx skeletons are preserved in and on limestone slabs that reveal only part of their morphology. Since these fossils are among the most valuable in the world, invasive probing to reveal obscured or internal structures is therefore highly discouraged. “Fortunately, today it is no longer necessary to damage precious fossils”, states Dr. Paul Tafforeau, beamline scientist at the ESRF. “The exceptional sensitivity of X-ray imaging techniques for investigating large specimens that is available at the ESRF offers harmless microscopic insight into fossil bones and allows virtual 3D reconstructions of extraordinary quality. Exciting upgrades are underway, including a substantial improvement of the properties of our synchrotron source and a brand new beamline designated for tomography. These developments promise to give even better results on much larger specimens in the future.”

Scanning data unexpectedly revealed that the wing bones of Archaeopteryx, contrary to its shoulder girdle, shared important adaptations with those of modern flying birds. “We focused on the middle part of the arm bones because we knew those sections contain clear flight-related signals in birds”, says Dr. Emmanuel de Margerie, CNRS, France. “We immediately noticed that the bone walls of Archaeopteryx were much thinner than those of earthbound dinosaurs but looked a lot like conventional bird bones”, continues lead author Dennis Voeten of the ESRF. “Data analysis furthermore demonstrated that the bones of Archaeopteryx plot closest to those of birds like pheasants that occasionally use active flight to cross barriers or dodge predators, but not to those of gliding and soaring forms such as many birds of prey and some seabirds that are optimised for enduring flight.”

“We know that the region around Solnhofen in southeastern Germany was a tropical archipelago, and such an environment appears highly suitable for island hopping or escape flight”, remarks Dr. Martin Röper, Archaeopteryx curator and co-author of the report. “Archaeopteryx shared the Jurassic skies with primitive pterosaurs that would ultimately evolve into the gigantic pterosaurs of the Cretaceous. We found similar differences in wing bone geometry between primitive and advanced pterosaurs as those between actively flying and soaring birds”, adds Vincent Beyrand of the ESRF.

Since Archaeopteryx represents the oldest known flying member of the avialan lineage that also includes modern birds, these findings not only illustrate aspects of the lifestyle of Archaeopteryx but also provide insight into the early evolution of dinosaurian flight. “Indeed, we now know that Archaeopteryx was already actively flying around 150 million years ago, which implies that active dinosaurian flight had evolved even earlier!” says Prof. Stanislav Bureš of Palacký University in Olomouc. “However, because Archaeopteryx lacked the pectoral adaptations to fly like modern birds, the way it achieved powered flight must also have been different. We will need to return to the fossils to answer the question on exactly how this Bavarian icon of evolution used its wings”, concludes Voeten.

It is now clear that Archaeopteryx is a representative of the first wave of dinosaurian flight strategies that eventually went extinct, leaving only the modern avian flight stroke directly observable today.

Oldest Archaeopteryx bird, new research

This video says about itself:

The Perfect Reptile-Bird Hybrid Definitely Looks the Part

15 April 2016

Archeopteryx had strong feathers, bony jaws and teeth, and a tail with a line of bone running down its legs. Physically, it was exactly half-reptile, half-bird.


From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany:

Paleontology: The eleventh Archaeopteryx

January 26, 2018

Researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich report the first description of the geologically oldest fossil securely attributable to the genus Archaeopteryx, and provide a new diagnostic key for differentiating bird-like dinosaurs from their closest relatives.

Some 150 million years ago in what is now Northern Bavaria, Archaeopteryx — the oldest bird species yet discovered — inhabited a subtropical environment characterized by reef islands and lagoons set in a shallow sea that was part of the primordial Mediterranean. All the specimens of Archaeopteryx so far recovered were found in the valley of the Altmühl River, in geological settings that represent this habitat — the Jurassic Solnhofen Archipelago. The latest find was made there in 2010, and this new specimen has now been analyzed by a team of researchers led by LMU paleontologist Oliver Rauhut, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences who is also affiliated with the Bavarian State Collections for Paleontology and Geology in Munich. Stratigraphic analysis of the find locality reveals that the fossil is the oldest known representative of the genus Archaeopteryx.

“Specimens of Archaeopteryx are now known from three distinct rock units, which together cover a period of approximately 1 million years”, Rauhut explains. Notably, the oldest example exhibits features that were so far not known from the other specimens. “Among other things, they reveal that Archaeopteryx was very similar to advanced predatory dinosaurs in many respects”, says Rauhut. Moreover, in the new study, he and his colleagues provide a diagnosis that allows to reliably distinguish Archaeopteryx from its closest relatives, both non-avialan theropod dinosaurs and basal birds. This key will be very valuable, as a whole series of bird-like predatory dinosaurs has been described in recent years, mainly from China, which has greatly complicated the taxonomical classification of the group.

The new specimen is the 12th fossil to be attributed to the genus. However, in a study published in the online journal BMC Evolutionary Biology last year, Rauhut’s group reported that the first of these to come to light — the so-called Haarlem specimen discovered in 1861 — does not actually belong to the group. This result thus reduces the number of Archaeopteryx fossils to 11, although some doubts remain concerning the assignment of two of these. This underlines the necessity for a diagnosis to clearly identify Archaeopteryx.

Moreover, the investigation of the 11th specimen demonstrates that the known specimens span a remarkable range of anatomical variation. Potential explanations for the broad spectrum of variation extend from intraspecific developmental polymorphism to evolutionary differentiation, i.e., the possibility that the fossil material so far recovered represents more than one species. “The high degree of variation in the teeth is particularly striking — none of the specimens shows the same pattern of dentition as any other, which could reflect differences in diet”, Rauhut points out. “This is very reminiscent of the famous case of Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos, which show remarkable variation in their beak shapes. It is even conceivable that this primeval bird genus might, in a similar fashion, have diversified into several specialized forms on the islands of the Solnhofener Archipelago. In that case, the Archaeopteryx fossils could represent a species flock, a Jurassic analog of Darwin’s finches.”

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.”

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


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.