Ancient big sea scorpion discovery in Iowa, USA


Pentecopterus decorahensis. Image: Patrick Lynch/Yale University

From Vice.com in the USA:

This Prehistoric Sea Scorpion Was the Size of a Person

Written by Becky Ferreira

1 September 2015 // 01:00 AM CET

The fossilized remains of an enormous sea scorpion have been found in a Iowan fossil bed at the bottom of an ancient impact crater. (Take a moment to let all that sink in.)

Named for a Greek warship called the penteconter, Pentecopterus decorahensis is like some kind of evolutionary fever dream. The newly-discovered species was decked out with lethal clawlike appendages and an idiosyncratic, paddle-shaped leg that was likely used for locomotion.

Measuring almost six feet long, Pentecopterus was a veritable giant in the seas of the Ordovician period, some 467 million years ago.

“It was probably the largest animal in its ecosystem,” paleontologist James Lamsdell told me. Lamsdell is the lead author of a paper describing the animal, published today in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

“From what we know, there was nothing else around that would have been likely to consider Pentecopterus prey,” he added. “It seems that Pentecopterus was the dominant animal in its ecosystem.”

This is even more impressive considering this species is the oldest eurypterid—the scientific term for sea scorpion—ever found in the fossil record. Eurypterids were a very diverse group of creatures that flourished for over 200 million years, before dying off at the dawn of the Triassic period. Among their ranks were the largest arthropods that ever roamed the Earth, and their close relatives live on today in the arachnid family.

The discovery of Pentecopterus pushes the evolutionary timeline of these influential animals back about nine million years, though Lamsdell said the eurypterid family tree’s roots run even deeper.

“We know that Pentecopterus is actually a relatively advanced eurypterid,” he told me. “The exciting thing about this is that it means that there must have been a number of other eurypterid groups around at the time too that we have yet to discover.”

“It is clear however that Pentecopterus was one of the earliest large predators in these complex ecosystems,” he added.

What’s more, Pentecopterus left behind the kind of beautifully fossilized remains that most paleontologists only dream about. “It is very rare to find such exquisite preservation in fossils of this age,” Lamsdell said. “I have never seen anything like this before in a eurypterid.”

The fine state of the specimens is due to the unique nature of Iowa’s Decorah crater where the fossils, which include both adult and juvenile members of the species, were excavated.

The crater was formed about 470 million years ago, when a 200-meter-wide meteorite impacted the Earth. The Ordovician oceans flooded the deformation, creating a shallow marine environment of brackish water. Here, Pentecopterus communities flourished, and when individuals died, they were etched into geological history by the crater’s deoxygenated seafloor, which provided perfect conditions for fossilization.

Indeed, according to Lamsdell, some of the fossils have even retained the creature’s hair and skin patterns. “The really exciting thing is that fine details like hair patterns can tell us a lot about the animals’ ecology,” he said.

“For animals with an external exoskeleton, hairs are the primary way in which they sense the world around them, as eyes can only be looking at one place at any one time,” he continued. “From looking at hair patterns we can see which parts of the animal were particularly sensitive.”

“For example, there are many hairs on the margins of the swimming paddle, meaning that it would have been very sensitive to changes in current flow, which would have helped it as a swimmer,” Lamsdell said.

So, to sum up: Paleontologists have inferred intimate details about a monster species of sea scorpion, the oldest yet found, which lived in the cozy fallout of a planetary collision nearly half a billion years ago. If that doesn’t rate high on your wow meter, you need to get it fixed.

See also here. And here. And here.

Pterosaur fossil with poop discovery


The full Rhamphorhynchus specimen (Hone et al., PeerJ DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1191/fig-1 (CC-BY 4.0))

From Smithsonian.com in the USA:

Fossilized Poop is Rare, Fossilized Poop Inside a Fossilized Dinosaur is Even Rarer

This title is a bit misleading; as the article is about a pterosaur, a flying reptile which is not a dinosaur.

Fossilized feces are always interesting, and researchers may have just found an extra special example

By Marissa Fessenden

24 August 2015

Paleontologists get really excited when they find poop — or at least, fossilized feces, called coprolites. They are not alone in the research world in this regard. Finding coprolites still within the animal that created it is rare indeed, but that may be exactly what a newly discovered specimen of Rhamphorhynchus, a winged reptile, contains.

Soft things like tissue and stomach contents don’t preserve in the fossil record well, explains Shaena Montanari for Forbes. As a result, it is “often difficult for paleontologists to fully understand the diet and ecology of extinct creatures. While there are ways of analyzing tooth shape and also chemical signatures in fossils to determine diet, an easier way to see direct feeding behavior is fossilized gut contents,” she writes.

The pterosaur specimen dates back to the Late Jurassic, about 161 to 146 million years ago. Paleontologists originally found this Rhamphorhynchus  the Schernfeld quarry from Bavaria, Southern Germany in 1965. Now, the fossil is held by the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palenotology in Alberta, Canada. There, a research team recently got the chance to analyze the fossil in depth. 

The team notes in their paper, published in PeerJ, that the specimen is in good condition — some soft tissues such as wing membranes and the skin that stretch from the hindlimbs to the tail are visible. In addition, lying amongst the specimen’s guts are the bones of what may be fish. There’s also a mass of something below the creature’s sacrum, a triangular bone at the base of the spine, close to where the cloaca would be.

The possible coprolite has structures in it that look like hooks. These structures, the team hypothesizes, may be the remains of spines from some kind of marine invertebrate (perhaps a sponge or relative of a starfish). If the suspiciously-located mass really is a coprolite then it will be the first found for any kind of pterosaur.

Eurasian cave lion fossil discovery by seven-year-old


This video says about itself:

World Of The [Eurasian] Cave Lion

20 January 2014

Simba‘s European Cousin.

Translated from Nu.nl in the Netherlands:

Boy finds in Gelderland bones of prehistoric cave lion

August 16, 2015 20:20

The now ten-year-old Enzo Smink in the Gelderland town Wekerom has found an absolutely unique find. On a secluded beach nearby he found the lower jaw of a rare prehistoric cave lion.

That is reported by paleontological museum De Groene Poort in Boxtel this Sunday.

Smink made the discovery as early as the summer of 2012, but no one then realized what the boy had found. The remains landed in a box with his grandmother.

Only when the boy earlier this year got the bones out again for a speech, his mother decided to send a picture of it to specialists.

“An archaeological finding of this format is probably done once in twenty years,” says director René Fraaije of the museum to NU.nl. “Cave lions at that time were already rare, let alone that ten thousand years later their bones are often found.”

Cave drawings

The cave lion was the largest predator of the time of the mammoths. This animal lived in most of Europe then. The name does not refer to the lifestyle of the enormous feline, but to the place where most of the remains of the lions have been found.

The animal became extinct at the end of the last ice age, roughly ten thousand years ago. This was due to the changing climate and the extinction of the prey animals that the lions fed on. Most information about the appearance of the cave lion is derived from prehistoric cave drawings.

Enzo Smink will transfer the find officially to the prehistoric museum on Monday. There the lower jaw will get a special place in the collection.

Mignon Talbot and the forgotten women of paleontology


petrel41:

On female paleontologist Mary Anning, see here.

Originally posted on Letters from Gondwana.:

Sin título Mignon Talbot  (From Turner et al, 2010)

The nineteenth century was the “golden age” of Geology, and women began to play an important role in the advance of this field of science. They collected fossils and mineral specimens, and were allowed to attend scientific lectures, but they were barred from membership in scientific societies. It was common for male scientists to have women assistants, often their own wives and daughters. A good example of that was Mary Lyell (1808–1873), daughter of the geologist Leonard Horner and the wife of eminent geologist Charles Lyell. But for most of men, the participation of women in geology and paleontology was perceived as a hobby.

Mary Anning (1799-1847), was a special case. She was the most famous woman paleontologist of her time, and found the first specimens of what would later be recognized as Ichthyosaurus, the first complete Plesiosaurus, the first pterosaur skeleton outside Germany…

View original 659 more words

Dinosaur discoveries in Spain


Artist's rendering of small dromaeosaur from the South Pyrenees. Credit: Sydney Mohr (artist), University of Alberta

From the University of Alberta in Canada:

Big dinosaur discoveries in tiny toothy packages

August 7, 2015

Researchers have examined one of the smallest parts of the fossil record—theropod teeth—to shed light on the evolution of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous. Findings published in the prestigious journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica have effectively quadrupled the dinosaur diversity in the area of study, eight localities from Treviño County, Huesca and Lerida—including the exceptional site of Laño. There were previously only two known species in the area.

The study of 142 isolated teeth from the Campanian-Maastrichtian of the South Pyrenean Basin suggests six additional species of toothed theropods (five small, one large) were present in the region. “Studying these small parts helps us reconstruct the ancient world where lived and to understand how their extinction happened,” says lead author Angelica Torices, post-doctoral fellow in biological sciences at the University of Alberta. “Teeth are especially important in the study of Upper Cretaceous creatures in Spain and the rest of Europe because we don’t have complete skeletons of theropods from that time in those locations. We have to rely on these small elements to reconstruct the evolution of these dinosaurs, particularly the theropods.”

Carnivorous dinosaurs replaced their teeth continuously, with just one dinosaur producing a huge number of these dental pieces and an endless number of clues for understanding these mysterious creatures. This study demonstrates the value of isolated teeth in reconstructing the composition of dinosaur paleofaunas when other, more complete material is not present, allowing interpretation of the evolution of diversity through time.

The findings provide huge strides in understanding not only the diversity of carnivorous dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous in Europe, but also how the diversity of large animals responds to climatic changes. “It completely changes the vision of the ecosystem,” says Torices. “Moreover, we now understand that these dinosaurs disappeared very quickly in geological time, probably in a catastrophic event. Climatic models show that we may reach Cretaceous temperatures within the next century, and the only way we can study biodiversity under such conditions is through the fossil record.”

More information: “Theropod dinosaurs from the Upper Cretaceous of the South Pyrenees Basin on Spain” appeared in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica in August, 2015.

Pre-Cambrian Fractofusus organism’s sex life, new research


This video from Canada says about itself:

15 June 2011

Mistaken Point is a permanent exhibit of the oldest multi-celled organism fossils ever found on earth. Over half a billion years ago Thectardis, Ivesheadia, Bradgatia, Fractofusus, Charniodiscus and more were locked in the sands of time. They would eventually be discovered as fossils at what we now know as Mistaken Point on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador.

From the BBC:

Sex life of ancient Fractofusus organism revealed

By Rebecca Morelle, Science Correspondent, BBC News

3 August 2015

One of the earliest complex organisms had a surprisingly complicated sex life, scientists say.

Until now, little was known about the biology of Fractofusus, which lived in the ocean 565 million years ago.

But new research has revealed a dual mode of reproduction. In one method, the organism sprouted young from its body in much the same way that a spider plant or strawberry plant multiplies.

In another, it produced seeds or tiny buds into the water column.

This allowed the ancient life-form to produce clones that could colonise a new patch of seabed.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

Fractofusus – originally called “the Spindle” until it was formally described in 2007 – appeared in the Ediacaran age.

It is among the earliest-known, complicated organisms, emerging from an ocean of simple multi-cellular microbes.

It grew to up to 40cm long and had a flat, oval shape, made up of a series of little branches stretching across the sea floor.

“It has a very distinct body plan that is totally unique,” said Dr Emily Mitchell, the paper’s lead author, from the University of Cambridge.

“There is nothing like Fractofusus around today, which makes trying to understand anything about it really, really difficult.”

She added: “We knew very little, apart from the fact it lived in the deep sea, it has a relatively large surface area – so it got its nutrients from the water column.

“We literally had no idea how it reproduced prior to this study.”

The organism died out 540 million years ago

An analysis of fossil beds in Newfoundland, Canada, enabled the team to shed light on the organism’s sex life.

Dr Mitchell said that while the two modes of reproduction might sound unusual, many plants reproduced in this way.

She added that Fractofusus should not be classified as a plant.

“It certainly wasn’t a plant because it couldn’t photosynthesise – there was no light (that deep in the ocean).”

Nor was it an animal, she said.

“Fractofusus doesn’t exhibit any of the features you associate with an animals. It belonged to a now-extinct eukaryotic group known as rangeomorphs.

“But how rangeomorphs relate to animals and the origins of animals is incredibly difficult to work out.”

While the debate continues over where it sits on the tree of life, an unusual mode of sex clearly worked for Fractofusus.

But in terms of evolution, the organism was less of a success.

It died out about 540 million years ago – and nothing like it has ever appeared again.

Big dinosaur age shark discovery


Cretaceous fossil sharks reconstruction. Credit: Frederickson et al.

From LiveScience:

20-Foot Monster Shark Once Trolled Mesozoic Seas

by Tia Ghose, Senior Writer

June 03, 2015 02:01pm ET

A giant shark the size of a two-story building prowled the shallow seas 100 million years ago, new fossils reveal.

The massive fish, Leptostyrax macrorhiza, would have been one of the largest predators of its day, and may push back scientists’ estimates of when such gigantic predatory sharks evolved, said study co-author Joseph Frederickson, a doctoral candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Oklahoma.

The ancient sea monster was discovered by accident. Frederickson, who was then an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, had started an amateur paleontology club to study novel fossil deposits. In 2009, the club took a trip to the Duck Creek Formation, just outside Fort Worth, Texas, which contains myriad marine invertebrate fossils, such as the extinct squidlike creatures known as ammonites. About 100 million years ago the area was part of a shallow sea known as the Western Interior Seaway that split North America in two and spanned from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic, Frederickson said.

While walking in the formation, Frederickson’s then-girlfriend (now wife), University of Oklahoma anthropology doctoral candidate Janessa Doucette-Frederickson, tripped over a boulder and noticed a large vertebra sticking out of the ground. Eventually, the team dug out three large vertebrae, each about 4.5 inches (11.4 centimeters) in diameter. [See Images of Ancient Monsters of the Sea]

“You can hold one in your hand,” but then nothing else will fit, Frederickson told Live Science.

The vertebrae had stacks of lines called lamellae around the outside, suggesting the bones once belonged to a broad scientific classification of sharks called lamniformes that includes sand tiger sharks, great white sharks, goblin sharks and others, Frederickson said.

After poring over the literature, Frederickson found a description of a similar shark vertebra that was unearthed in 1997 in the Kiowa Shale in Kansas, which also dates to about 100 million years ago. That vertebra came from a shark that was up to 32 feet (9.8 meters) long.

By comparing the new vertebra with the one from Kansas, the team concluded the Texas shark was likely the same species as the Kansas specimen. The Texan could have been at least 20.3 feet (6.2 m) long, though that is a conservative estimate, Frederickson said. (Still, the Texas shark would have been no match for the biggest shark that ever lived, the 60-foot-long, or 18 m, Megalodon.)

By analyzing similar ecosystems from the Mesozoic Era, the team concluded the sharks in both Texas and Kansas were probably Leptostyrax macrorhiza. Previously, the only fossils from Leptostyrax that paleontologists had found were teeth, making it hard to gauge the shark’s true size. The new study, which was published today (June 3) in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests this creature was much bigger than previously thought, Frederickson said.

Still, it’s not certain the new vertebrae belonged to Leptostyrax, said Kenshu Shimada, a paleobiologist at DePaul University in Chicago, who unearthed the 1997 shark vertebra.

“It is also entirely possible that they may belong to an extinct shark with very small teeth so far not recognized in the present fossil record,” Shimada, who was not involved in the current study, told Live Science. “For example, some of the largest modern-day sharks are plankton-feeding forms with minute teeth, such as the whale shark, basking shark and megamouth shark.”

Either way, the new finds change the picture of the Early Cretaceous seas.

Previously, researchers thought the only truly massive predators of the day were the fearsome pliosaurs, long-necked, long-snouted relatives to modern-day lizards that could grow to nearly 40 feet (12 m) in length. Now, it seems the oceans were teeming with enough life to support at least two top predators, Frederickson said.

As for the ancient shark’s feeding habits, they might resemble those of modern great white sharks, who “eat whatever fits in their mouth,” Frederickson said. If these ancient sea monsters were similar, they might have fed on large fish, baby pliosaurs, marine reptiles and even full-grown pliosaurs that they scavenged, Frederickson said.