‘Ghostbusters’ ankylosaur dinosaur discovery


This video from Canada says about itself:

10 May 2017

3D animation of the retrodeformed skull of Zuul crurivastator. The original skull was crushed during fossilization, and this animation shows how the skull may have looked beforehand.

Scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) have identified and named a new species of anklylosaurid or armoured dinosaur, Zuul crurivastator (Zool CRUR-uh-vass-TATE-or). Its skeleton is one of the most complete and best preserved skeletons of this group of dinosaurs ever found, which includes a complete skull and tail club, and preserved soft tissues.

From Science News in the USA:

New dinosaur resurrects a demon from Ghostbusters

Found in Montana, the skeleton is the most complete ankylosaur unearthed to date

By Laurel Hamers

5:00am, June 12, 2017

Zuul is back. But don’t bother calling the Ghostbusters. Zuul crurivastator is a dino, not a demon. A 75-million-year-old skeleton unearthed in Montana in 2014 reveals a tanklike dinosaur with a spiked club tail and a face that probably looked a lot like its cinematic namesake.

The find is the most complete fossil of an ankylosaur, a type of armored dinosaur, found in North America, researchers report May 10 in Royal Society Open Science. It includes a complete skull and tail club, plus some preserved soft tissue, says study co-author Victoria Arbour, a paleobiologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “It really gives us a good idea of what these animals looked like.”

The bones reveal that Z. crurivastator had spikes running all the way down its tail, not just on the club itself. That arrangement means the weaponry was more than just a “massive sledgehammer,” Arbour says. The club was a formidable weapon. The term crurivastator comes from the Latin for “shin destroyer.”

Arbour previously created mathematical models to calculate the force with which similar ankylosaurs might have swung their tails. These appendages provided a winning combination: good at absorbing impacts and able to smack an opponent hard enough to hurt, she says. Despite their armor and fearsome tail, ankylosaurs were plant eaters. So they probably used their tails to smack predators or compete with other ankylosaurs.

Arbour and museum colleague David Evans plan to investigate the thin sheet of fingernail-like material covering the bony plates on the tail, along with other details of the fossil that are typically lost in such old specimens. The rare preserved soft tissue might even let scientists extract ancient proteins, Arbour says, providing insight into how these building blocks of life have changed since the days of dinos.

Having all this material in hand, she says, “kind of pushes the envelope about what we can identify in the fossil record.”

This music video from the USA is called Ray Parker Jr. – Ghostbusters.

Tyrannosaurus had scales, not feathers everywhere


This video says about itself:

Scientists Confirm T. Rex Didn’t Have Feathers

9 jun. 2017

Since humans knew about dinosaurs, we have speculated that they were reptiles with scaly skin. Then in 2011, there were dinosaur fossils found in amber that had feathers on them. That started a debate on whether Jurassic Park and Jurassic World got it wrong for having dinosaurs in the movies without feathers. Now scientists want the world to know that the T. rex did not have feathers.

From Biology Letters:

Tyrannosauroid integument reveals conflicting patterns of gigantism and feather evolution

Phil R. Bell, Nicolás E. Campione, W. Scott Persons, Philip J. Currie, Peter L. Larson, Darren H. Tanke, Robert T. Bakker

Published 7 June 2017

Abstract

Recent evidence for feathers in theropods has led to speculations that the largest tyrannosaurids, including Tyrannosaurus rex, were extensively feathered.

We describe fossil integument from Tyrannosaurus and other tyrannosaurids (Albertosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Gorgosaurus and Tarbosaurus), confirming that these large-bodied forms possessed scaly, reptilian-like skin.

Body size evolution in tyrannosauroids reveals two independent occurrences of gigantism; specifically, the large sizes in Yutyrannus and tyrannosaurids were independently derived. These new findings demonstrate that extensive feather coverings observed in some early tyrannosauroids were lost by the Albian, basal to Tyrannosauridae. This loss is unrelated to palaeoclimate but possibly tied to the evolution of gigantism, although other mechanisms exist.

According to Dutch paleontologist Anne Schulp, it is possible that tyrannosaurs had a few feathers as ornament at places where no scales were found.

Dinosaur age baby bird discovered in amber


This video says about itself:

Stunning fossil reveals prehistoric baby bird caught in amber

9 June 2017

Amber hunters in Burma dug up a remarkably complete bird hatchling that dates to the time of the dinosaurs. The bird’s side, almost half of its body, was dipped in tree sap, which hardened around the neck bones, claws, a wing and its toothed jaws.

Scientists identified the animal as a member of the extinct group called enantiornithes, and published their discovery in the journal Gondwana Research this week.

The chick died young and fell into a pool of sap. It died halfway through its first feather molt, suggesting that the animal broke out of its egg just a few days before it perished. Its life began in the moist tropics beneath conifer trees. It ended near a puddle of conifer gunk, called resin, which fossilized into amber. Burmese diggers uncovered the amber 99 million years later.

Enantiornithines are close relatives to modern birds, and in general, they would have looked very similar. However, this group of birds still had teeth and claws on their wings,” said Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at Canada’s Royal Saskatchewan Museum. This animal lived during the Cretaceous Period, which came to a cataclysmic close 65.5 million years ago and took the non-bird dinosaurs with it.

The enantiornithes, due to their distinct hip and ankle bones, may have flown differently than modern birds. But they were capable fliers. (If you are wondering whether this bird relative was more bird or winged dinosaur, well, consider it both: Birds are avian dinosaurs, after all.)

Entombed in amber were details as fine as the hatchling’s eyelid and the outer opening of its ear. The resin recorded no sign of a struggle. “The hatchling may have been dead by the time it entered” the resin pool, McKellar said. “One of the leg bones has been dragged away from its natural position, suggesting that the corpse may have been scavenged before it was covered by the next flow of resin.”

Evidence suggests that enantiornithes received little in the way of parental care, unlike more doting modern birds. The ancient chicks, born on the ground, had to scamper into trees to avoid being eaten. Scampering enantiornithes got stuck in resin fairly frequently, McKellar said, though this fossil is far more comprehensive than typical specimens.

Its 99-million-year-old claws appear almost as detailed as chicken feet you’d find in a supermarket. The foot, presumed at first to be a lizard‘s by the amber miner who found it, was covered in golden scales and just under an inch long. “The preserved skin surface allows us to observe the feet in great detail,” McKellar said.

The resin trapped one of the bird’s wings as well. Despite its young age, the animal already had brown flight feathers on its wings. McKellar said it also had “a sparse coat of fluffy pale or white feathers across most of its belly, legs, and tail.”

McKellar and his colleagues probed the fossil using several types of imaging technology, including light microscopes and X-ray micro-CT scanning. The researchers discovered that the feathers on the enantiornithes’ wings were quite similar to modern bird feathers. But its tail and legs were covered by what McKellar described as tufts similar to “proto-feathers” or “dino-fuzz.”

Recent amber discoveries offer strikingly detailed, if orange-tinted, windows into ancient worlds. Sap trapped not only birds but lizards, bugs and bits of non-bird dinosaurs, too. In December, McKellar and his colleagues announced they’d found a dinosaur tail trapped in amber also excavated from a mine in Burma (also known as Myanmar).

But amber containing dino DNA, as popularized by “Jurassic Park” and its ancient mosquitoes swollen with dinosaur blood, appears to remain in the realm of science fiction. “Unfortunately, DNA seems to be ‘off the menu’ for specimens such as this one,” McKellar said. “To the best of our current understanding, DNA has a half-life of around 500 years and cannot be recovered in meaningful quantities from amber pieces that are more than a few million years old.”

From LiveScience:

100-Million-Year-Old Amber Holds Tiny, Feathery Chick

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer

June 9, 2017 11:20am ET

Much of the body of a wee Cretaceous-era chick was preserved in incredible detail in a piece of Burmese amber, and bears “unusual plumage,” according to the researchers who described the unique find in a new study.

Excavated from a mine in what is now northern Myanmar, the precious lump of fossilized tree sap is estimated to be about 98 million years old, and holds the most complete specimen to date representing a group of extinct toothed birds called enantiornithines (eh-nan-tee-or-NITH’-eh-neez), which died out at the end of the Cretaceous period (about 145 million to 65.5 million years ago).

Body proportions and plumage development in the tiny specimen indicated that it was very young, while details in the feathers’ structures and distribution highlighted some of the key differences between these ancient avians and modern-day birds, the scientists wrote in the study. [See Stunning Photos of the Cretaceous Chick in Amber]

Though scientists had previously found specimens of this bird group in amber, the new find included features never seen before, such as the ear opening, the eyelid and skin on the feet.

Its body measured about 2.4 inches (6 centimeters) in length, from the tip of its beak to the end of the truncated tail. The scientists used micro-CT scans and digital 3D reconstruction to further analyze the specimen — processes that took nearly a year to complete, study co-author Jingmai O’Connor, a professor with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Live Science in an email.

The amber chunk — which measured around 3.4 inches (8.6 cm) long, 1.2 inches (3 cm) wide and 2.2 inches (5.7 cm) thick— had been divided down the middle into two pieces. Unfortunately, this cut sliced through the specimen’s skull, damaging some of the bones and relegating the chick’s beak to one amber fragment and the braincase and neck to the other, the researchers reported.

Even so, the body was near-complete, with the amber containing the tiny bird’s head and neck, part of its wings, feet and tail; and plenty of soft tissue and attached feathers. The bird was undergoing its first molt when it became caught in the sticky tree sap; there was only a light covering of plumage on its body. But it already had a full set of flight feathers on its wings, suggesting that birds in this group were highly independent from an early age, the study authors wrote.

In recent years, amber fossils have revealed fascinating glimpses of life from many millions of years ago — from ant-termite warfare and a daddy longlegs’ long-lasting erection to a spider attacking prey in its web and a bug that jumped out of its skin.

And when it comes to birds, fossils’ exceptional preservation of plumage helps paleontologists understand the diversity of feathers and the role they played for early avians, O’Connor said in the email.

“Feathers can never be well understood in normal fossils,” O’Connor said. “But in amber, we get crystal-clear views of what primitive feathers were like, and they reveal all sorts of bizarre morphologies,” she said.

The findings were published online June 6 in the journal Gondwana Research.

Old dinosaur, new research


This video is called Megalosaurus Tribute – You’re Going Down.

From the University of Warwick in England:

World’s ‘first named dinosaur’ reveals new teeth with scanning tech

June 7, 2017

Summary: Pioneering technology has shed fresh light on the world’s first scientifically-described dinosaur fossil — over 200 years after it was first discovered — thanks to research.

Pioneering technology has shed fresh light on the world’s first scientifically-described dinosaur fossil — over 200 years after it was first discovered — thanks to research by WMG at the University of Warwick and the University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History.

Professor Mark Williams at WMG has revealed five previously unseen teeth in the jawbone of the Megalosaurus — and that historical repairs on the fossil may have been less extensive than previously thought.

Using state of the art CT scanning technology and specialist 3D analysis software, Professor Williams took more than 3000 X-ray images of the world-famous Megalosaurus jawbone, creating a digital three-dimensional image of the fossil.

In an unprecedented level of analysis, Professor Williams at WMG was able to see inside the jawbone for the first time, tracing the roots of teeth and the extent of different repairs.

Some damage occurred to the specimen when it was removed from the rock, possibly shortly after it was discovered.

Records at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History suggest that some restoration work may have been undertaken by a museum assistant between 1927 and 1931, while repairing the specimen for display — but there are no details about the extent of the repairs or the materials used.

The scans have revealed previously unseen teeth that were growing deep within the jaw before the animal died — including the remains of old, worn teeth and also tiny newly growing teeth.

The scans also show the true extent of repairs on the fossil for the first time, revealing that there may have been at least two phases of repair, using different types of plaster. This new information will help the museum make important decisions about any future restoration work on the specimen.

This research was made possible through a collaboration between Professor Williams’ research group at WMG, University of Warwick — including PhD researcher Paul Wilson — and Professor Paul Smith, director of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Professor Williams commented: “Being able to use state-of-the-art technology normally reserved for aerospace and automotive engineering to scan such a rare and iconic natural history specimen was a fantastic opportunity.

“When I was growing up I was fascinated with dinosaurs and clearly remember seeing pictures of the Megalosaurus jaw in books that I read. Having access to and scanning the real thing was an incredible experience.”

The Megalosaurus jawbone is on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History alongside other bones from the skeleton.

Megalosaurus — which means ‘Great Lizard’ — was a meat-eating dinosaur which lived in the Middle Jurassic, around 167 million years ago. It would have been about 9 metres long and weighed about 1.4 tonnes (1400 kg).

The research was recently presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)’s International Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference in Torino, Italy.

See also here.

World’s oldest fossil mushroom discovery in Brazil


This video says about itself:

7 June 2017

The world’s oldest fossilized mushroom, dating from 115 million year ago, has been discovered in Brazil and is being called a ‘scientific wonder’. The mushroom fell into a river and began its journey in becoming a fossil at the time when Earth’s supercontinent Gondwana was breaking apart.

It made its way into a highly saline lagoon, sank through the stratified layers of salty water, and was covered in layers of fine sediment, in time becoming a fossil. The world’s oldest fossil mushroom was preserved in limestone, an extraordinarily rare event, researchers say.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

World’s oldest fossil mushroom found

June 7, 2017

Roughly 115 million years ago, when the ancient supercontinent Gondwana was breaking apart, a mushroom fell into a river and began an improbable journey. Its ultimate fate as a mineralized fossil preserved in limestone in northeast Brazil makes it a scientific wonder, scientists report in the journal PLOS ONE.

The mushroom somehow made its way into a highly saline lagoon, sank through the stratified layers of salty water and was covered in layer upon layer of fine sediments. In time — lots of it — the mushroom was mineralized, its tissues replaced by pyrite (fool’s gold), which later transformed into the mineral goethite, the researchers report.

“Most mushrooms grow and are gone within a few days,” said Illinois Natural History Survey paleontologist Sam Heads, who discovered the mushroom when digitizing a collection of fossils from the Crato Formation of Brazil. “The fact that this mushroom was preserved at all is just astonishing.

“When you think about it, the chances of this thing being here — the hurdles it had to overcome to get from where it was growing into the lagoon, be mineralized and preserved for 115 million years — have to be minuscule,” he said.

Before this discovery, the oldest fossil mushrooms found had been preserved in amber, said INHS mycologist Andrew Miller, a co-author of the new report. The next oldest mushroom fossils, found in amber in Southeast Asia, date to about 99 million years ago, he said.

“They were enveloped by a sticky tree resin and preserved as the resin fossilized, forming amber,” Heads said. “This is a much more likely scenario for the preservation of a mushroom, since resin falling from a tree directly onto the forest floor could readily preserve specimens. This certainly seems to have been the case, given the mushroom fossil record to date.”

The mushroom was about 5 centimeters (2 inches) tall. Electron microscopy revealed that it had gills under its cap, rather than pores or teeth, structures that release spores and that can aid in identifying species.

Fungi evolved before land plants and are responsible for the transition of plants from an aquatic to a terrestrial environment,” Miller said. “Associations formed between the fungal hyphae and plant roots. The fungi shuttled water and nutrients to the plants, which enabled land plants to adapt to a dry, nutrient-poor soil, and the plants fed sugars to the fungi through photosynthesis. This association still exists today.”

The researchers place the mushroom in the Agaricales order and have named it Gondwanagaricites magnificus.

‘Oldest human fossils discovered in Morocco’


This video says about itself:

2 June 2017

Caption: Composite reconstruction of the earliest known Homo sapiens fossils from Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) based on micro computed tomographic scans of multiple original fossils. Dated to 300 thousand years ago these early Homo sapiens already have a modern-looking face that falls within the variation of humans living today. However, the archaic-looking virtual imprint of the braincase (blue) indicates that brain shape, and possibly brain function, evolved within the Homo sapiens lineage.

Credit: Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Moroccan fossils show human ancestors’ diet of game

June 7, 2017

Summary: New fossil finds from Morocco do more than push back the origins of our species by 100,000 years. They also reveal what was on the menu for our oldest-known Homo sapiens ancestors 300,000 years ago: Plenty of gazelle.

New fossil finds from the Jebel Irhoud archaeological site in Morocco do more than push back the origins of our species by 100,000 years. They also reveal what was on the menu for our oldest-known Homo sapiens ancestors 300,000 years ago:

Plenty of gazelle meat, with the occasional wildebeest, zebra and other game and perhaps the seasonal ostrich egg, says Teresa Steele, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Davis, who analyzed animal fossils at Jebel Irhoud.

Steele, who studies how food sources and environmental change influenced human evolution and migration, was part of the international research team that began excavating at the site in 2004. She is the co-author of one of two papers featured on the cover of the June 8 issue of Nature: “Human origins: Moroccan remains push back date for the emergence of Homo sapiens.”

Jebel Irhoud has been well known since the 1960s for its human fossils and for its Middle Stone Age artifacts, but the geological age of those fossils was uncertain.

The new excavation project — led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer of the National Institute for Archaeology and Heritage (INSAP) in Rabat, Morocco — uncovered 16 new Homo sapiens fossils along with stone tools and animal bones. The remains comprise skulls, teeth, and long bones of at least 5 individuals.

Thermoluminescence dating of heated flints yielded an age of approximately 300,000 years ago — 100,000 years earlier than the previously oldest Homo sapiens fossils.

Analysis of the animal fossils provided additional evidence to support the date. Dating of rodent remains suggested they were 337,000 to 374,000 years old.

Gazelle Bones Common

Steele sifted through hundreds of fossil bones and shells, identifying 472 of them to species as well as recording cut marks and breaks indicating which ones had been food for humans.

Most of the animal bones came from gazelles. Among the other remains, Steele also identified hartebeests, wildebeests, zebras, buffalos, porcupines, hares, tortoises, freshwater molluscs, snakes and ostrich egg shells.

Small game was a small percentage of the remains. “It really seemed like people were fond of hunting,” she said.

Cuts and breaks on long bones indicate that humans broke them open, likely to eat the marrow, she said. Leopard, hyena and other predators’ fossils were among the finds, but Steele found little evidence that the nonhuman predators had gnawed on the gazelle and other prey.

Steele said the findings support the idea that Middle Stone Age began just over 300,000 years ago, and that important changes in modern human biology and behaviour were taking place across most of Africa then.

“In my view, what it does is to continue to make it more feasible that North Africa had a role to play in the evolution of modern humans.”

See also here.

Elephant evolution, new research


This is a 2015 Italian video on on the extinct elephant species Elephas antiquus, aka Palaeoloxodon antiquus.

A new theory on elephant evolution. Though not as as drastic as the recent theory advocating major changes in the dinosaur family tree.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

Genetic study shakes up the elephant family tree

June 6, 2017

Summary: New research reveals that a species of giant elephant that lived 1.5 million to 100,000 years ago — ranging across Eurasia before it went extinct — is more closely related to today’s African forest elephant than the forest elephant is to its nearest living relative, the African savanna elephant. Understanding elephant evolution is key to protecting present-day elephants from extinction, researchers say.

New research reveals that a species of giant elephant that lived 1.5 million to 100,000 years ago — ranging across Eurasia before it went extinct — is more closely related to today’s African forest elephant than the forest elephant is to its nearest living relative, the African savanna elephant.

The study challenges a long-held assumption among paleontologists that the extinct giant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus, was most closely related to the Asian elephant. The findings, reported in the journal eLife, also add to the evidence that today’s African elephants belong to two distinct species, not one, as was once assumed.

Understanding their genetic heritage is key to keeping today’s elephants from going extinct, said University of Illinois animal sciences professor Alfred Roca, a co-author of the new study. Roca led research in the early 2000s that provided the first genetic evidence that African elephants belonged to two distinct species. Subsequent studies have confirmed this, as does the new research.

“We’ve had really good genetic evidence since the year 2001 that forest and savanna elephants in Africa are two different species, but it’s been very difficult to convince conservation agencies that that’s the case,” Roca said. “With the new genetic evidence from Palaeoloxodon, it becomes almost impossible to argue that the elephants now living in Africa belong to a single species.”

For the new analysis, scientists looked at two lines of evidence from African and Asian elephants, woolly mammoths and P. antiquus. They analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which is passed only from mothers to their offspring, and nuclear DNA, which is a blend of paternal and maternal genes.

The researchers relied on the most sensitive laboratory techniques to extract and amplify the DNA in P. antiquus bones from two sites in Germany — among the first DNA successfully collected from such ancient bones from a temperate climate.

“Up until now, genetic research on bones that are hundreds of thousands of years old has almost exclusively relied on fossils collected in permafrost,” said Matthias Meyer, a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and first author of the paper. “It is encouraging to see that recent advances in laboratory methods are now enabling us to recover very old DNA sequences also from warmer places, where DNA degrades at a much faster rate.”

The mitochondrial analysis revealed that a shared ancestor of P. antiquus and the African forest elephant lived sometime between 1.5 million and 3.5 million years ago. Their closest shared ancestor with the African savanna elephant lived between 3.9 and 7 million years ago.

The nuclear DNA told the same story, the researchers report.

“From the study of bone morphology, people thought Palaeoloxodon was closer to the Asian elephant. But from the molecular data, we found they are much closer to the African forest elephant,” said research scientist Yasuko Ishida, who led the mitochondrial sequencing of modern elephants with Roca.

“Palaeoloxodon antiquus is a sister to the African forest elephant; it is not a sister to the Asian elephant or the African savanna elephant,” Roca said.

“Paleogenomics has already revolutionized our view of human evolution, and now the same is happening for other mammalian groups,” said study co-author Michael Hofreiter from the University of Potsdam, an expert on evolutionary genomics. “I am sure elephants are only the first step and in the future, we will see surprises with regard to the evolution of other species as well.”

Understanding the genetic heritage of elephants is vital to protecting the living remnant populations in Africa and beyond, Roca said.

“More than two-thirds of the remaining forest elephants in Africa have been killed over the last 15 years or so,” Roca said. “Forest elephants are among the most endangered elephant populations on the planet. Some conservation agencies don’t recognize African forest elephants as a distinct species, and these animals’ conservation needs have been neglected.”

See also here.