Prehistoric North American camels, new research


This December 2e017 video is called Camelops || North American Camel || Facts & Photos.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Extinct camelids reveal insights about North America’s ancient savannas

June 10, 2020

A new study looking at extinct camelids — ancestors of today’s camels and llamas — tells the story of North America’s ancient savannas and highlights how past climatic and environmental conditions influenced the composition of mammalian faunas.

Although savanna habitats (treed grasslands) are only found in the tropics today, around 18 million years ago, during the Miocene epoch, savanna ecosystems, similar to those of modern Africa, existed in the mid-latitudes of North America. At their peak — around 12 million years ago — they were comparable in their mammalian diversity to that of the Serengeti today.

The study, published in Frontiers in Earth Science, is the work of palaeobiologists at the University of Bristol and the University of Helsinki. It provides the first quantitative characterisation of the ecomorphology of a group of large herbivorous ungulates (i.e. hoofed mammals) known as artiodactyls, which includes camels and antelope, from ancient North American savannas and how they compare with their counterparts from the present-day African savannas, such as the Serengeti.

Lead author of the research, Nuria Melisa Morales García from the University of Bristol, said: “The North American savannas housed a vast diversity of camelids. In fact, camelids actually originated and first diversified in North America where they lived for more than 40 million years and were incredibly successful and widespread.”

The researchers measured the skulls, jaws and limb bones of dozens of extinct North American artiodactyls, including camelids, and compared them with those living today in the Serengeti savanna of East Africa. The researchers recorded data on body size and on aspects of the anatomy of the animals that are linked with their ecology.

“The Serengeti mammals are very well known to research: we know how they live, how they eat and we have all their measurements. By using what we know about them, we can make solid inferences on how the extinct artiodactyls of North America were behaving,” said Professor Christine Janis, from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences and supervising author of the study.

The analysis showed that while there was considerable overlap between the ecologies of extinct and modern species, the majority of extinct camelids were most similar to the modern common eland, an arid-adapted antelope with a diet of grass and leaves. This reveals important information about the ecosystem they inhabited and suggests the North American savannas were drier than modern African savannas (a notion supported by other research).

“We also studied how these faunas were affected by the climatic changes of the Neogene: as temperatures dropped and conditions became more arid, these faunas became more depauperate — lacking in number and diversity. Camels still dominated in these faunas, but the diversity of all ungulates took a big hit. Our study shows how ungulate faunas responded to a particular scenario of climate change which, now more than ever, is extremely relevant in understanding what is to come,” said Morales-García.

How prehistoric whales died, video


This 29 April 2020 video says axbout Chile about itself:

How the Andes Mountains Might Have Killed a Bunch of Whales

At a site known as Cerro Ballena or Whale Hill, there are more than 40 skeletons of marine mammals — a graveyard of ocean life dating back 6.5 million to 9 million years ago, in the Late Miocene Epoch. But the identity of the killer that they finally settled on might surprise you.

Miocene fossil crab discovery in New Zealand


This 8 April 2020 video says about itself:

Man finds 12-million-year-old fossil, then spends 15 hours to expose crab hidden in stone

This timelapse footage shows an amateur palaeontologist uncovering an ancient crab fossil that he says is “12-million-years-old.”

The fossil, found on a beach in Christchurch, is encased in rock and Morne (Mamlambo on YouTube) carefully picks it away revealing the crab’s claws and shell.

Morne told Newsflare: “I found a fossil crab on a beach in New Zealand and then used an air scribe to remove the rock to show the fossil crab. It took about 10 hours and I made a timelapse of it.

“It [the fossil] is dated by the age of the rock it is found in, Miocene era in this case. The rock layers have been dated by some geologists using a variety of techniques, I use that information to date it. It isn’t very specific, rather a range.

“The species is a Tumidocarcinus giganteus. Found in New Zealand.”

Fossil Miocene lizard discovery in Dominican amber


This 2017 video is called Dominican Amber Fossil Anolis Lizard Inclusion.

From the University of Bonn in Germany:

Rare lizard fossil preserved in amber

February 27, 2020

The tiny forefoot of a lizard of the genus Anolis was trapped in amber about 15 to 20 million years ago. Every detail of this rare fossil is visible under the microscope. But the seemingly very good condition is deceptive: The bone is largely decomposed and chemically transformed, very little of the original structure remains. The results, which are now presented in the journal PLOS ONE, provide important clues as to what exactly happens during fossilization.

How do fossils stay preserved for millions of years? Rapid embedding is an important prerequisite for protecting the organisms from access by scavengers, for example. Decomposition by microorganisms can for instance be prevented by extreme aridity. In addition, the original substance is gradually replaced by minerals. The pressure from the sediment on top of the fossil ensures that the fossil is solidified. “That’s the theory,” says Jonas Barthel, a doctoral student at the Institute for Geosciences at the University of Bonn. “How exactly fossilization proceeds is currently the subject of intensive scientific investigation.”

Amber is considered an excellent preservative. Small animals can be enclosed in a drop of tree resin that hardens over time. A team of geoscientists from the University of Bonn has now examined an unusual find from the Dominican Republic: The tiny forefoot of a lizard of the genus Anolis is enclosed in a piece of amber only about two cubic centimeters in size. Anolis species still exist today.

Vertebrate inclusions in amber are very rare

The Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History has entrusted the exhibit to the paleontologists of the University of Bonn for examination. “Vertebrate inclusions in amber are very rare, the majority are insect fossils,” says Barthel. The scientists used the opportunity to investigate the fossilization of the seemingly very well preserved vertebrate fragment. Since 2018 there is a joint research project of the University of Bonn with the German Research Foundation, which contributes to the understanding of fossilization using experimental and analytical approaches. The present study was also conducted within the framework of this project.

The researchers had thin sections prepared for microscopy at the Institute for Evolutionary Biology at the University of Bonn. The claws and toes are very clearly visible in the honey-brown amber mass, almost as if the tree resin had only recently dripped onto them — yet the tiny foot is about 15 to 20 million years old.

Scans in the micro-computer tomograph of the Institute for Geosciences revealed that the forefoot was broken in two places. One of the fractures is surrounded by a slight swelling. “This is an indication that the lizard had perhaps been injured by a predator,” says Barthel. The other fracture happened after the fossil was embedded — exactly at the place where a small crack runs through the amber.

Amber did not protect from environmental influences

The analysis of a thin section of bone tissue using Raman spectroscopy revealed the state of the bone tissue. The mineral hydroxyapatite in the bone had been transformed into fluoroapatite by the penetration of fluorine. Barthel: “This is surprising, because we assumed that the surrounding amber largely protects the fossil from environmental influences.” However, the small crack may have encouraged chemical transformation by allowing mineral-rich solutions to find their way in. In addition, Raman spectroscopy shows that collagen, the bone’s elastic component, had largely degraded. Despite the seemingly very good state of preservation, there was actually very little left of the original tissue structure.

“We have to expect that at least in amber from the Dominican Republic, macromolecules are no longer detectable,” says the supervisor of the study, Prof. Dr. Jes Rust from the Institute for Geosciences. It was not possible to detect more complex molecules such as proteins, but final analyses are still pending. The degradation processes in this amber deposit are therefore very advanced, and there is very little left of the original substance.

Acids in tree resin attack bone

Amber is normally considered an ideal preservative: Due to the tree resin, we have important insights into the insect world of millions of years. But in the lizard’s bone tissue, the resin might even have accelerated the degradation processes: Acids in the tree secretion have probably attacked the apatite in the bone — similar to tooth decay.

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Giant extinct freshwater turtles discovered


This 13 February 2020 video says about itself:

Stupendemys geographicus – the largest freshwater turtle

Researchers discovered new Stupendemys geographicus specimens in the Urumaco Formation, Venezuela, and La Tatacoa Desert in Colombia. The new specimens revealed that the shell of male Stupendemys had horns. Researchers estimate that the CIAAP-2002-01 specimen had a body mass between 871 kg and 1145 kg. According to palaeontologist Marcelo Sánchez: “The carapace of some Stupendemys individuals reached almost three meters, making it one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed”.

From the University of Zurich in Switzerland:

Extinct giant turtle had horned shell of up to three meters

February 12, 2020

Summary: Paleobiologists have discovered exceptional specimens in Venezuela and Colombia of an extinct giant freshwater turtle called Stupendemys. The carapace of this turtle, which is the largest ever known, measured between 2.4 to almost 3 meters. Moreover, the shell of male Stupendemys had horns – a rare feature in turtles.

The tropical region of South America is one of the world’s hot spots when it comes to animal diversity. The region’s extinct fauna is unique, as documented by fossils of giant rodents and crocodylians -including crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gavials — that inhabited what is today a desert area in Venezuela. Five to ten million years ago, this was a humid swampy region teeming with life. One of its inhabitants was Stupendemys geographicus, a turtle species first described in the mid-1970s.

Giant turtle 100 times heavier than its closest relative

Researchers of the University of Zurich (UZH) and fellow researchers from Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil have now reported exceptional specimens of the extinct turtle recently found in new locations across Venezuela and Colombia. “The carapace of some Stupendemys individuals reached almost three meters, making it one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed,” says Marcelo Sánchez, director of the Paleontological Institute and Museum of UZH and head of the study. The turtle had an estimated body mass of 1,145 kg — almost one hundred times that of its closest living relative, the big-headed Amazon river turtle.

Males carried horns on their carapace

In some individuals, the complete carapace showed a peculiar and unexpected feature: horns. “The two shell types indicate that two sexes of Stupendemys existed — males with horned shells, and females with hornless shells,” concludes Sánchez. According to the paleobiologist, this is the first time that sexual dimorphism in the form of horned shells has been reported for any of the side-necked turtles, one of the two major groups of turtles worldwide.

Despite its tremendous size, the turtle had natural enemies. In many areas, the occurrence of Stupendemys coincides with Purussaurus, the largest caimans. This was most likely a predator of the giant turtle, given not only its size and dietary preferences, but also as inferred by bite marks and punctured bones in fossil carapaces of Stupendemys.

Turtle phylogeny thoroughly revised

Since the scientists also discovered jaws and other skeleton parts of Stupendemys, they were able to thoroughly revise the evolutionary relationships of this species within the turtle tree of life. “Based on studies of the turtle anatomy, we now know that some living turtles from the Amazon region are the closest living relatives,” says Sánchez. Furthermore, the new discoveries and the investigation of existing fossils from Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela indicate a much wider geographic distribution of Stupendemys than previously assumed. The animal lived across the whole of the northern part of South America.

Fossil seashells, sharks, butterflies in museum


This video is called Miocene fossil clam Pseudolarix amabilis, October 4 2019.

On 13 January 2019, again to Naturalis museum.

Once again, to its Life Science hall.

Marian was working on many, mostly very small, fossils from the Tortonian age; part of the Miocene age; over 7 million years old. The fossils were from France.

There are thousands of seashell species represented in the fossils. As it was then warmer, there was more biodiversity.

Marian sorted the fossil shells according to genus. Later, specialists would do research on the species.

There were also other fossils found at that spot. Like shark teeth, acorn barnacles, sea urchins, and coral.

Next to Marian, work was in progress on classifying 500,000 unclassified butterflies of the Naturalis collection.

This October 20189 Dutch video is about the Naturalis collection.

New Zealand extinct native mammals


This 26 December 2019 video says about itself:

The Mystery of New Zealand’s Only Native Mammal.

New Zealand was thought to be a dominated by flightless birds, with only seals and bats making up its mammal population but 16 million years ago there lived a mammal. How did it get there? Where did it come from? What type of mammal was it?

Springtail fossil discovery in Dominican Republic


This is a 2010 video about springtails taken from the BBC’s Life in the Undergrowth documentary series.

From the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the USA:

16-million-year-old fossil shows springtails hitchhiking on winged termite

November 25, 2019

Summary: A newly reported, 16-million-year-old fossil is shedding light on how a group of tiny arthropods may have traversed the globe — by hitchhiking.

When trying to better the odds for survival, a major dilemma that many animals face is dispersal — being able to pick up and leave to occupy new lands, find fresh resources and mates, and avoid intraspecies competition in times of overpopulation.

For birds, butterflies and other winged creatures, covering long distances may be as easy as the breeze they travel on. But for soil-dwellers of the crawling variety, the hurdle remains: How do they reach new, far-off habitats?

For one group of tiny arthropods called springtails (Collembola), a recent fossil discovery now suggests their answer to this question has been to piggyback on the dispersal abilities of others, literally.

In findings published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and Museum national d’Histoire naturelle have detailed the discovery of an ancient interaction preserved in 16-million-year-old amber from the Dominican Republic: 25 springtails attached to, and nearby, a large winged termite and ant from the days of the early Miocene.

The fossil exhibits a number of springtails still attached to the wings and legs of their hosts, while others are preserved as if gradually floating away from their hosts within the amber. Researchers say the discovery highlights the existence of a new type of hitchhiking behavior among wingless soil-dwelling arthropods, and could be key to explaining how symphypleonan springtails successfully achieved dispersal worldwide.

“The existence of this hitchhiking behavior is especially exciting given the fact that modern springtails are rarely described as having any interspecfic association with surrounding animals,” said Ninon Robin, the paper’s first author whose postdoctoral research at NJIT’s Department of Biological Sciences was funded by the Fulbright Program of the French-American Commission. “This finding underscores how important fossils are for telling us about unsuspected ancient ecologies as well as still ongoing behaviors that were so far simply overlooked.”

Today, springtails are among the most common arthropods found in moist habitats around the world. Most springtails possess a specialized appendage under their abdomen they use to “spring” away in flea-like fashion to avoid predation. However, this organ is not sufficient for traversing long distances, especially since most springtails are unable to survive long in dry areas.

The hitchhikers the researchers identified belong to a lineage of springtails found today on every continent, known as Symphypleona, which they say may have been “pre-adapted” to grasping on to other arthropods through prehensile antennae.

Because springtails would have encountered such winged termites and ants frequently due to their high abundance during the time of the preservation, these social insects may have been their preferred hosts for transportation.

“Symphypleonan springtails are unusual compared to other Collembola in that they have specialized antennae that are used in mating courtship,” said Phillip Barden, assistant professor of biology at NJIT and the study’s principal investigator. “This antennal anatomy may have provided an evolutionary pathway for grasping onto other arthropods. In this particular fossil, we see these specialized antennae wrapping around the wings and legs of both an ant and termite. Some winged ants and termites are known to travel significant distances, which would greatly aid in dispersal.”

Barden says that the discovery joins other reports from the Caribbean and Europe of fossil springtails attached to a beetle, a mayfly and a harvestman in amber, which together suggest that this behavior may still exist today.

Barden notes that evidence of springtail hitchhiking may not have been captured in such high numbers until now due to the rarity of such a fossilized interaction, as well as the nature of modern sampling methods for insects, which typically involves submersion in ethanol for preservation.

“Because it appears that springtails reflexively detach from their hosts when in danger, evidenced by the detached individuals in the amber, ethanol would effectively erase the link between hitchhiker and host,” said Barden. “Amber derives from fossilized sticky tree resin and is viscous enough that it would retain the interaction. … Meaning, sometimes you have to turn to 16-million-year-old amber fossils to find out what might be happening in your backyard.”

Prehistoric rhino discovery in Yukon, Canada


This 18 June 2019 Canadian TV says about itself:

A pair of fossilized teeth found in Yukon in the 1970s belong to a species of ancient hyena that roamed the grassy tundra during the early years of the last ice age, paleontologists have found. The fossils sat in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa until Jack Tseng, an expert on ancient predatory mammals, was brought in to confirm that they are the first hyena fossils found in the Arctic.

From the University of Colorado at Boulder in the USA:

Ancient rhinos roamed the Yukon

October 31, 2019

Summary: Paleontologists have used modern tools to identify the origins of a few fragments of teeth found more than four decades ago by a schoolteacher in the Yukon.

In 1973, a teacher named Joan Hodgins took her students on a hike near Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory. In the process, she made history for this chilly region.

While exploring the tailings left behind by a now-defunct copper mine, Hodgins and her students stumbled across a few fragments of fossils — bits and pieces of what seemed to be teeth alongside pieces of bone.

The ancient fragments of teeth were so small and in such bad shape that “most paleontologists may not have picked them up”, said Jaelyn Eberle, a curator of fossil vertebrates at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Museum of Natural History.

But Hodgins did. Now, more than 40 years after the teacher’s fateful hike, an international team led by Eberle used modern technology to identify the origins of those enigmatic fossils.

In a study published today, Eberle and her colleagues report that the fossil tooth fragments likely came from the jaw of a long-extinct cousin of today’s rhinoceroses. This hefty animal may have tromped through the forests of Northwest Canada roughly 8 to 9 million years ago.

And it’s a first: Before the rhino discovery, paleontologists had not found a single fossil vertebrate dating back to this time period in the Yukon.

“In the Yukon, we have truckloads of fossils from ice age mammals like woolly mammoths, ancient horses and ferocious lions”, said Grant Zazula, a coauthor of the new study and Yukon Government paleontologist. “But this is the first time we have any evidence for ancient mammals, like rhinos, that pre-date the ice age.”

It’s a gap in the fossil record that scientists have been keen to fill.

To understand why, imagine the Earth during the Tertiary Period, a span of time that began after the dinosaurs went extinct and ended about 2.6 million years ago. In that age, a land bridge called Beringia connected what are today Russia and Alaska.

Paleontologists believe that animals of all sorts, including mammoths and rhinos, poured over that bridge.

There’s just one problem: The geology and environment of the Yukon, which sat at the center of that mass migration route, isn’t conducive to preserving fossils from land animals.

“We know that a land bridge must have been in operation throughout much of the last 66 million years,” Eberle said. “The catch is finding fossils in the right place at the right time.”

In this case, the people at the right place and at the right time was a Yukon schoolteacher and her students.

When Eberle first saw Hodgins’ fossil teeth, now housed in the Yukon Government fossil collections in Whitehorse, she didn’t think she could do much with them.

Then she and her colleagues landed on an idea: Eberle put one of the small pieces under a tool called a scanning electron microscope that can reveal the structure of tooth enamel in incredible detail.

She explained that mammal teeth aren’t all built alike. The crystals that make up enamel can grow following different patterns in different types of animals, a bit like a dental fingerprint. The Yukon tooth enamel, the team found, carried the tell-tale signs of coming from a rhinoceros relative.

“I hadn’t thought that enamel could be so beautiful,” Eberle said.

The method isn’t detailed enough to determine the precise species of rhino. But, if this animal was anything like its contemporaries to the south, Eberle said, it may have been about the same size or smaller than today’s black rhinos and browsed on leaves for sustenance. It also probably didn’t have a horn on its snout.

The group also looked at a collection of fossils found alongside the rhino’s tooth chips. They belonged to two species of turtle, an ancient deer relative and a pike fish. The discovery of the turtles, in particular, indicated that the Yukon had a warmer and wetter climate than it does today.

Hodgins, now-retired, is excited to see what became of the fossils she and her students discovered more than 40 years ago: It’s “just so wonderful to learn what has developed with them from long ago,” she said.

Eberle added that the Yukon’s newly-discovered rhino residents are a testament to the importance of museums.

“The fact that these specimens were discovered in the Yukon museum collection makes me really want to spend more time in other collections, including at CU Boulder, looking for these kinds of discoveries that are there but haven’t had the right eyes on them yet,” Eberle said.

Monkey, ape brain evolution, new research


This 21 August 2019 video says about itself:

See the digital reconstruction of an ancient monkey’s skull | Science News

The digital reconstruction of an extinct South American monkey’s fossilized skull, seen twirling in this video, offered a rare chance to study brain development in a 20-million-year-old animal. From high-resolution X-ray CT scans of the skull, researchers built a 3-D model of the brain of Chilecebus carrascoensis, seen in the second part of the video.

Read more here.

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

20-million-year-old skull suggests complex brain evolution in monkeys, apes

New study reveals that brain enlargement and modern features evolved repeatedly in anthropoids

August 21, 2019

It has long been thought that the brain size of anthropoid primates — a diverse group of modern and extinct monkeys, humans, and their nearest kin — progressively increased over time. New research on one of the oldest and most complete fossil primate skulls from South America shows instead that the pattern of brain evolution in this group was far more checkered. The study, published today in the journal Science Advances and led by researchers from the American Museum of Natural History, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the University of California Santa Barbara, suggests that the brain enlarged repeatedly and independently over the course of anthropoid history, and was more complex in some early members of the group than previously recognized.

“Human beings have exceptionally enlarged brains, but we know very little about how far back this key trait started to develop,” said lead author Xijun Ni, a research associate at the Museum and a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “This is in part because of the scarcity of well-preserved fossil skulls of much more ancient relatives.”

As part of a long-term collaboration with John Flynn, the Museum’s Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals, Ni spearheaded a detailed study of an exceptional 20-million-year-old anthropoid fossil discovered high in the Andes mountains of Chile, the skull and only known specimen of Chilecebus carrascoensis.

“Through more than three decades of partnership and close collaboration with the National Museum of Chile, we have recovered many remarkable new fossils from unexpected places in the rugged volcanic terrain of the Andes,” Flynn said. “Chilecebus is one of those rare and truly spectacular fossils, revealing new insights and surprising conclusions every time new analytical methods are applied to studying it.”

Previous research by Flynn, Ni, and their colleagues on Chilecebus provided a rough idea of the animal’s encephalization, or the brain size relative to body size. A high encephalization quotient (EQ) signifies a large brain for an animal of a given body size. Most primates have high EQs relative to other mammals, although some primates — especially humans and their closest relatives — have even higher EQs than others. The latest study takes this understanding one step further, illustrating the patterns across the broader anthropoid family tree. The resulting “PEQ” — or phylogenetic encephalization quotient, to correct for the effects of close evolutionary relationships — for Chilecebus is relatively small, at 0.79. Most living monkeys, by comparison, have PEQs ranging from 0.86 to 3.39, with humans coming in at an extraordinary 13.46 and having expanded brain sizes dramatically even compared to nearest relatives. With this new framework, the researchers confirmed that cerebral enlargement occurred repeatedly and independently in anthropoid evolution, in both New and Old World lineages, with occasional decreases in size.

High-resolution x-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning and 3D digital reconstruction of the inside of Chilecebus’ skull gave the research team new insights into the anatomy of its brain. In modern primates, the size of the visual and olfactory centers in the brain are negatively correlated, reflecting a potential evolutionary “trade-off”, meaning that visually acute primates typically have weaker senses of smell. Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that a small olfactory bulb in Chilecebus was not counterbalanced by an amplified visual system. This finding indicates that in primate evolution the visual and olfactory systems were far less tightly coupled than was widely assumed.

Other findings: The size of the opening for the optic nerve suggests that Chilecebus was diurnal. Also, the infolding (sulcus) pattern of the brain of Chilecebus, although far simpler than in most modern anthropoids, possesses at least seven pairs of sulcal grooves and is surprisingly complex for such an ancient primate.

“During his epic voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin explored the mouth of the canyon where Chilecebus was discovered 160 years later. Shut out of the higher cordillera by winter snow, Darwin was inspired by ‘scenes of the highest interest’ his vista presented. This exquisite fossil, found just a few kilometers east of where Darwin stood, would have thrilled him”, said co-author André Wyss from the University of California Santa Barbara.