Dinosaur-age haramiyids, mammals or reptiles?

This video from the USA says about itself:

High-tech analysis of proto-mammal fossil clarifies the mammalian family tree

16 November 2015

3D Reconstruction of the jaw of Haramiyavia, one of the earliest known proto-mammals, clarifies the debate over when mammals evolved. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Nov 16, 2015, confirms previous suggestions that mammal diversification occurred in the Jurassic around 175 million years ago—more than 30 million years after Haramiyavia and other forerunners to mammals diversified in the Triassic.

From the New York Times in the USA:

Jawbone in Rock May Clear Up a Mammal Family Mystery


NOV. 16, 2015

With technologies like CT scans and 3-D printing, a team of scientists reported on Monday that it had solved a mystery about the family tree of mammals that started with a single tooth a century and a half ago.

The tooth, found in Germany in 1847, was tiny and distinctive in shape — not quite reptile, not quite mammal. More fossils of that kind were found around Europe, but always just single teeth. Scientists named this group of animals haramiyids — Arabic for “trickster.”

The teeth were embedded in rocks as old as 210 million years, an era in which ancestors of the first mammals were evolving.

“These were some of the most enigmatic fossils for years,” said Neil H. Shubin, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago. “People didn’t know what they were at all.”

In the late 1980s, Dr. Shubin, then a graduate student, was part of a team led by Farish Jenkins, a Harvard paleontologist, that searched for fossils in East Greenland. “You’re looking for tiny teeth in this vast Arctic landscape,” Dr. Shubin said. “The words ‘needle in a haystack’ seem very appropriate.”

The researchers found one particularly intriguing specimen, which they named Haramiyavia. “Avia” is Latin for “grandmother” — this was the grandmother of the trickster.

After a couple of years of meticulously clearing away much of the limestone surrounding the fossil, they reported on part of the Haramiyavia jawbone, revealing that the animal was indeed a proto-mammal.

What was unclear was whether Haramiyavia was a direct part of the family tree of mammals — that would push the emergence of mammals back to more than 200 million years ago — or an evolutionary branch that split off before common ancestors of mammals emerged, the view of paleontologists who believe that the first mammals evolved 170 million to 160 million years ago.

About two years ago, Dr. Shubin decided to re-examine the slab of Greenland limestone that enveloped the Haramiyavia fossil. “We knew that there were more bones in the rock,” he said.

Clearing away more limestone would jeopardize the fragile fossil. Instead, Dr. Shubin and his colleagues placed it in CT scanners and saw a mostly complete jawbone and many of the teeth.

“This kind of work used to be unimaginable,” said Zhe-Xi Luo, another University of Chicago paleontologist who joined Dr. Shubin on the new analysis.

Their conclusion: Haramiyavia, and thus all haramiyids, were not mammals, but belonged to a more ancestral side branch.

The crucial evidence they cite, reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a trough in the lower jaw of Haramiyavia. In mammals, the trough is absent, because two bones connected to the trough migrated to the middle ear to form part of the three-bone hearing mechanism. (Birds and reptiles have only one bone in their middle ears.)

“This thing had a very primitive ear,” Dr. Shubin said. “That is the piece that is sort of the smoking gun.”

From the scans of the jaw and the teeth, the researchers created three-dimensional enlargements of the fossils, studying them like puzzle pieces to see how they fit together. Haramiyavia, a few inches long and rodentlike in appearance, ate plants by grinding leaves between broad teeth.

One argument that haramiyids were mammals was the similarity of the teeth to those of later animals known as multituberculates that were unquestionably mammals. But Dr. Shubin said the explanation instead was that the similar tooth characteristics evolved independently.

Timothy Rowe, a professor of geology at the University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in the new research, praised the work. “They really stepped out and squeezed every last bit of information that they could from these fossils,” he said. “What a relief after all these years to see a very compelling case made for exactly where haramiyids fit on the family tree.”

Dr. Rowe said there was no longer evidence that the earliest divergence of mammals occurred during the Triassic Period more than 200 million years ago. “The oldest date that’s based on real evidence is 30 or 40 million years younger than that,” he said. “It helps more accurately calibrate the mammalian tree of life.”

Not everyone agrees. “It’s a very great work, but I don’t think I’m totally convinced that is the case,” said Jin Meng, the curator of fossil mammals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Dr. Meng is a member of a team that in the last couple of years has described more recent species of haramiyids that lived in China about 160 million years ago. The well-preserved Chinese fossils, nearly complete, possessed the characteristics of true mammals, Dr. Meng and his colleagues said.

The mammalian characteristics include the absence of a jawbone trough, Dr. Meng said in an interview. “If we accept the conclusion of this study, many of those mammalian structures must have evolved independently,” he said. “I still think the other hypotheses remain alive.”

Fossil seal discovered in South America

Figure 6, from Valenzuela-Toro et al. (2015) shows the relative size of Australophoca changorum (number 12 in the figure) to other assemblages of fossil and living pinnipeds, from other places (based on latitude) and geologic times

This picture shows the relative size of newly discovered fossil seal Australophoca changorum (number 12 in the figure) to other fossil and living pinnipeds (seal relatives), from other places (based on latitude) and geologic times.

From Pyenson Lab:


by Ana Valenzuela-Toro

Australophoca, a new dwarf fossil seal from South America

Today, my South American colleagues and I announce the publication of a new species of fossil seal from the western coast of South America. The name of the new genus and species, Australophoca changorum, reflects its austral origin from Chile and Peru, and honors the Changos, a coastal tribe of indigenous people who lived in the Atacama (from northern Chile to southern Peru), and were short in stature. The description, published in Papers in Palaeontology, provides a scientific name for a dwarf species of true seal from the late Miocene Bahía Inglesa and Pisco formations of Chile and Peru, respectively. One of the paratype specimens that we identified was originally recovered from Cerro Ballena in the Atacama Region of Chile; the type specimen is USNM 438707.

This tiny fossil seal was smaller than a living harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and ranks among the smallest true seals ever described, including both living and fossil ones. Interestingly, in the past ~11-3 million years, the western coast of South America seems to have been only occupied by true seals (or phocids), a fact that stands in stark difference to what we know about pinniped communities from other parts of the world, and other time[s] in the geologic record. This unusual feature of the pinniped community in western South America fits into a broader pattern of ecological turnover seen in the fossil record of marine consumers, including pinnipeds and seabirds, throughout the Southern Hemisphere, since the late Miocene.

New hadrosaur dinosaur discovery

This 13 November 2015 video is called New Duck-Billed Dinosaur found, Probrachylophosaurus – Should it be used in Jurassic World 2?

From Gizmodo.com in the USA:

This New Hadrosaur Species Is A Classic Missing Link

Kiona Smith-Strickland

11/15/15 7:06pm

A new dinosaur species sheds some light on how duck-billed dinosaurs got their crests. Paleontologists say Probrachylophosaurus bergei is a missing link between two other species, and it fills in vital pieces of the story of how crests evolved.

Probrachylophosaurus bergei is a hadrosaur, one of the large crested herbivores that roamed the Earth – mostly on their hind legs – during the late Cretaceous period. Hadrosaurs are best known for their duck-like bills and their frilled, crested skulls, and now scientists know a little more about how those distinctive crests evolved.

The fossils’ age put Probrachylophosaurus right in the middle of two hadrosaur species: the older Acristavus, which had no crest on its skull, and the more recent Brachylophosaurus, which had a large, well-developed crest. “So we would predict that its crest would be intermediate between these species. And it is,” said Elizabeth Freedman Fowler, the Montana State University paleontologist who unearthed the first Probrachylophosaurus fossils in 2007 and has studied them ever since.

81 million years ago, a hadrosaur called Acristavus roamed the Late Cretaceous coastal plain that is now Montana. Unlike its descendants, Acristavus had a flat skull with no sign of a crest – but by 79 million years ago, its descendants had evolved small, triangular crests that stuck up from their skulls just slightly, right above their eyes. Otherwise, their skulls weren’t very different from their ancestor, Acristavus. This small-crested species is now called Probrachylophosaurus.

By 77.5 million years ago, those small triangular crests had evolved further, into large, flat, paddle-shaped crests covering the back portion of the top of their skulls. Paleontologists now call these hadrosaurs Brachylophosaurus, and aside from the crests, their skulls are very similar to Acristavus and Probrachylophosaurus.

It’s a classic example of a “missing link” in a field where things seldom fall into place so neatly. “It is a perfect example of evolution within a single lineage of dinosaurs over millions of years,” said Freedman Fowler. She published her findings in the journal PLOS One.

Largest rats ever discovered in East Timor

Jaw bone of giant rat species discovered on East Timor, being compared with the same bone of a modern rat. (Photo : Stuart Hay, ANU)

From Science World Report:

Giant Rat Fossils Discovered, Largest To Have Existed

Rosanna Singh

Nov 06, 2015 01:23 PM EST

Archaeologists have discovered fossil remains of the world’s largest rat species in East Timor. The seven giant rat fossils were ten times the size of modern rats, according to the team of researchers from the Australian National University (ANU).

“They are what you would call mega-fauna. The biggest one is about five kilos, the size of a small dog,” said Dr Julien Louys, lead author of the study, in a news release. “Just to put that in perspective, a large modern rat would be about half a kilo.”

The researchers claimed that this species is considered to be the largest known rats to have ever lived. The researchers’ main objective in the study was to figure out what caused the rat species’ extinction. The study is a part of the Sunda to Sahul project, which is examining the earliest human movement through Southeast Asia.

ANU researchers found that the earliest evidence of humans in East Timor dates back to 46,000 years ago, leading them to believe that humans from that period lived with the rats.

“We know they’re eating the giant rats because we have found bones with cut and burn marks. The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago,” said Louys. “The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale.”

The researchers are hoping that they can find out when humans started inhibiting islands of Southeast Asia and how their activities impacted the ecosystem. The researchers believe that this information in turn can be used to create conservation practices.

“We’re trying to find the earliest human records as well as what was there before humans arrived,” said Louys. “Once we know what was there before humans got there, we see what type of impact they had.”

The findings of this study will be presented at the Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Texas.

Frozen cave lion cubs discovery in Siberia

This video says about itself:

Extinct cave lions, almost perfectly preserved, discovered in Siberia

27 October 2015

The bodies of two extinct cave lion cubs from at least 10,000 years ago have been recovered in Russia’s Sakha Republic, almost perfectly preserved in permafrost, The Siberian Times reports.

From the Siberian Times in Russia:

WORLD EXCLUSIVE – Meet this extinct cave lion, at least 10,000 years old

By Anastasia Koryakina

26 October 2015

‘Sensational’ find of two cubs, the best preserved ever seen in the world, announced today.

The unprecedented discovery of the ancient predator was made this summer in the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia. The cave lions were almost perfectly preserved in permafrost and could be much older.

The Siberian Times is proud to be working with the Academy of Sciences of Yakutia which will introduce the cubs properly at a presentation to the Russian and international media in late November.

Along with the two lions, paleontologists will also show other Pleistocene animals preserved by ice in this vast region, the largest and coldest in the Russian Federation. Among these will be the famous woolly mammoth Yuka, the ‘Oimyakon‘ mammoth, the carcass of a Kolyma woolly rhinoceros, and Yukagir bison and horses.

The cave lions – Panthera spelaea (Goldfuss) – lived during Middle and Late Pleistocene times on the Eurasian continent, from the British Isles to Chukotka in the extreme east of Russia, and they also roamed Alaska and northwestern Canada. The extinct creatures were close relatives of modern Afro-Asiatic lions.

Finds of their remains are rare: today’s announcement about the existence of the pair is coupled with the confident claim that they are the best preserved ever unearthed in the world.

Full details will be given at the presentation in November, including the first results of research into the lions.

Previously, only fragments of carcasses, parts of skeletons and individual bones had been found. Until now, in Yakutia, only skulls, some teeth and bones were unearthed which has prevented scientists having more than an approximate image of the extinct creature.

Like other ancient animals, the cave lion became extinct: research on the two cubs could help to explain why they died out around 10,000 years ago, since the animal had few predators, was smaller than herbivores, and was not prone to getting bogged down in swamps, as did woolly mammoths and rhinos. One theory is a decline in deer and cave bears, their prey, caused their demise.

‘The find is sensational, no doubt,’ said a source close to the discovery. It is known the remains are free of dangerous infections such as anthrax following initial microbiological analysis, but no other significant details or pictures will be released before the presentation.

Extinct dinosaurs’ and birds’ long names

This video says about itself:

8 September 2015

“Micropachycephalosaurus”­ is a monotypic genus of ornithischian dinosaur. It lived in Shandong Province, China during the Late Cretaceous period . The incomplete skeleton of the single specimen was found on a cliff southwest of Laiyang. It was bipedal and herbivorous, and currently has the longest generic name of any dinosaur. Ironically, it was also among the smallest of the dinosaurs, at a little over 1 meter long.

The genus contains only the type species, “Micropachycephalosaurus hongtuyanensis“. Paleontologist Dong Zhiming originally described it as a member of the Pachycephalosauria, a group of bipedal dome-headed herbivores. However, re-evaluation of the family Pachycephalosauridae by Sullivan in 2006 cast doubt on this assignment. Further study of the original specimens by Butler and Zhao in 2008 also failed to find any characteristics linking “Micropachycephalosaurus” with the pachycephalosaurs. The one piece of evidence that could provide this link, the supposedly thickened skull roof, was missing from the fossil collection the scientists examined, and so could not be used to support or refute its original classification. Butler and Zhao therefore classified it as an indeterminate member of the Cerapoda. In 2011, cladistic analysis performed by Butler “et al.” showed that “Micropachycephalosaurus” is a basal member of the Ceratopsia.

British vertebrate palaeontologist Darren Naish writes on Twitter today:

Yes, Micropachycephalosaurus still longest generic name, with the stork Palaeoephippiorhynchus as a close second.


This reconstruction drawing shows Palaeoephippiorhynchus, compared in size to a human. Palaeoephippiorhynchus is an extinct genus of large storks. There are two recorded species, P. dietrichi from the early Oligocene of Egypt and P. edwardsi from the Miocene of Libya.

Fossil giant barn owl discovery in Cuba

This video says about itself:

Endless Owl Evolution

8 February 2009

Owls are among the most fabulous things alive. They have long held a symbolic and even spiritual place in our history, but from an evolutionary perspective, they are just plain awesome. Note how so many have a remarkable camouflage-the white snowy owl would starve it it was too easily seen in the winter and most are grey or bark-colored so they easily blend in to their surroundings. Here I show less than a quarter of the known surviving species of owls worldwide.

From BirdWatching Daily in the USA:

Introducing Craves’s Giant Barn Owl, a new species named after Julie Craves


A new species has been added to the roster of birds that once lived in the West Indies.

It’s an owl, and an impressive one, a relative of the Barn Owl alive today but much larger. Gone for thousands of years now, it is known only from fossils unearthed in Cuba.

The discoverer, ornithologist and paleornithologist William Suárez, and Storrs L. Olson, curator emeritus in the Division of Birds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, described the new species recently in the prestigious journal Zootaxa.

When they did, they bestowed on BirdWatching contributing editor Julie Craves an honor that few ornithologists ever live to see: They named the owl Tyto cravesae, or Craves’s Giant Barn Owl.

I interviewed Suárez and Craves about the owl, and the honor. My questions and their responses are below. — Chuck Hagner, Editor

What makes a barn owl a giant barn owl?

These extinct owls are called giant because they were much larger than living species of barn owls. In fact, at least one species was nearly twice the size of our familiar Barn Owl (Tyto alba). Their large size was the result of specialization in their mammalian prey.

Prior to the publication of Suárez and Olson’s paper, five giant barn owls from the West Indies had been described. In addition to describing Craves’s Giant Barn Owl as a new species, the paper reviewed the status of the other species, resulting in two of them being considered synonyms of others.

By the way, they shouldn’t be confused with extinct Cuban giant strigid owls, in the genera Ornimegalonyx and Bubo. (Ornimegalonyx, the Cuban Giant Owl, stood about three feet tall and is thought to be the largest owl that ever existed.)

What kind of bird was Craves’s Giant Barn Owl? How many years ago did it live? What did it eat?

Craves’s Giant Barn Owl was a nocturnal predator. It lived during the Quaternary, in the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago), but probably also into the Holocene, the epoch that followed and continues to the present.

Like all barn owls, it ate mostly mammals, especially rodents. While barn owls today most often eat mice and voles, the giant barn owls of the West Indies were specialists that ate larger rodents. Bones of prey found in fossil deposits formed by the predator indicate that hutias were the principal dish on the menu. Hutias are rodents endemic to the West Indies. They weigh from four to six pounds.

How was it related to the Barn Owl familiar to birders in the United States?

They are congeneric species, in same genus Tyto.

What does it tells us about Cuba (and the West Indies) in the Quaternary?

This fossil barn owl is another element in the West Indian avifauna that evolved to a gigantic form, resulting from the evolution on these islands where no predators on mammals existed, other than birds. The ecological role at the time completely relied on the raptorial avifauna, including large condors, eagles, strigid owls, and others.

What might have made it disappear? Could it have persisted into historical times?

For a highly specialized predator, it is very difficult to survive when your principal prey vanishes. This was the main cause of the disappearance of Craves’s Giant Barn Owl (and others). These barn owls probably persisted into the Holocene, after humans arrived on the islands.

William, where did you collect the fossils of Craves’s Giant Barn Owl?

I collected the material in June 1998 in a cave complex in Artemisa Province, Cuba, southwest of Havana. The bones were in a wall cavity about almost five feet (1.5 m) from the floor of the cave. This is also the type locality of several other fossil Cuban birds, including the Cuban Condor (Gymnogyps varonai) and one of the Ornimegalonyx owls.

Julie, how do you know William? You have described him as a “truly amazing person.” How so?

I met William over 12 years ago while assisting with a number of licensed bird-survey trips to Cuba. William participated as a guide and authority on Cuban birds through his position as curator at Cuba’s National Museum of Natural History. I liked him immediately — so smart, a great sense of humor, charming, and of course, a mutual interest in birds! Over the years, I grew to admire his dedication to science and West Indian bird studies. His perseverance and optimism no matter what obstacles he has faced have been sources of inspiration to me.

William, why did you name the owl after Julie?

For her dedication to avian conservation and her boundless appreciation of Cuban friends and birds.

Julie, why is having a species named after you a big deal?

Most people say it’s because it makes your name immortal. I’ve never been too concerned about my name living on, but my goal as an ecologist has always been to contribute to conservation in some way, however humble, that will make a difference in the future. William’s accomplishments far eclipse my own, so, for me, the fact that he respects my work enough to name a species after me is a true honor. That recognition means I must be doing something right, not to mention it affirms the close ties of our friendship. And yes, I will admit, the bragging rights are very cool.

Very cool, indeed. We couldn’t be happier for Julie. Please join me in congratulating, and bragging about, my dear friend on this profound honor. — C.H.

About Julie Craves

Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. Her column “Since You Asked” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. She has written for the magazine since June 1994.

Read Julie’s column ‘Since You Asked.’

Read her article about the birds of Cuba.

Read Julie’s article about coffee and birds.

Julie also writes regularly at Net Results, the blog of the Rouge River Bird Observatory; at Coffee & Conservation, her acclaimed blog about coffee and the environment; and at Urban Dragon Hunters, a blog about the distribution of dragonflies and damselflies and their role as bioindicators, especially in urban systems.