Eocene fossil ant discovery in Montana, USA


Crematogaster aurora queen. This specimen is the oldest known species in its genus

From Smithsonian Science News in the USA:

New Montana ant species emerge from 46-million-year-old rock

By John Barrat

8 January 2016

She was a stunning brown queen; drowned some 46 million years ago in a shallow lake in Montana. Her remains, recently recovered along the Flathead River, consist of a shadowy silhouette pressed upon a piece of reddish brown shale. Named Crematogaster aurora, this winged female ant is the only known member of her species. Her discovery is raising eyebrows among scientists who study ants.

“Molecular data from living ants suggested that the genus Crematogaster had evolved more recently,” explains Dale Greenwalt, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “Now, this 46-million-year-old specimen is requiring scientists to completely rethink when this genus and its related forms appeared. It is obvious it has been around much longer than previously calculated.”

Crematogaster aurora is one of 12 new prehistoric ant species discovered in Kishenehn Formation shale in northwestern Montana by Greenwalt. They are newly described and named in a paper in the journal Sociobiology by Greenwalt and ant expert J.S. LaPolla of Towson University in Maryland. All 12 represent species new to science, known only from the locality in Montana. All are long extinct yet some represent genera that still exist.

These Kishenehn fossils are from the middle Eocene (46 million years ago), a period of great interest for understanding the “evolution of ants and in particular, their march to terrestrial dominance,” the researchers say. It was during the Eocene that many of today’s ecologically dominant and species rich ant families emerged.

Factors that led to this diversification included the evolution and appearance of many new species of flowering plants, as well as high temperatures—in the early Eocene it was as much as 15 degrees C. warmer worldwide than it is today. “A lot of people also think the meteorite that caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs and ended the Cretaceous kind of reset the table for a lot of new things to evolve and diversify,” Greenwalt adds. “This maybe what happened with the ants.”

While LaPolla and Greenwalt name 12 new fossil species in their paper, the specimens are from a much larger pool of 249 ant fossils examined for the study. The majority of the ants discovered are alates, “which are simply winged forms of the ants,” Greenwalt says. “Workers and soldiers don’t have wings and pretty much stayed on land.”

The alates were able to fly over the lake that formed the Kishenehn shale and many of them fell into the water and ended up on the bottom. Almost all of the fossil ants in the Kishenehn are winged, many of them queens.

By comparing Kishenehn ant species and genera with other North American Eocene fossil deposits such as the Green River Deposit along the Green River in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah (48 million years old) and the Florissant Formation in Colorado (34 million years old) scientists can gradually piece together the abundance and distribution of North American ants during this period.

Fossil horse discovery on Texel island


Ecomare museum curator Arthur Oosterbaan with the horse bone; photo: Ecomare

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

January 8, 2016 – You can find animal bones from the ice age as you wander along the beach on Texel. Eg, the German tourist Andrea with her daughter on January 3 found an intact bone near beach post 12. In Ecomare it turned out to be an ankle bone of a horse!

The dark colour indicates that the bone is from the last ice age, between 10,000 and 100,000 years old. Horse bones from that period are quite common. Then whole herds of horses will have run alongside woolly mammoths, steppe bison, giant deer and woolly rhinos. It is special that this bone is completely intact.

Dinosaur love life discovery in Colorado, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

5 August 2011

Dr. Martin Lockley answers the question “Why do dinosaur tracks contribute to our extinction theories?”

Dr. Martin Lockley is a renowned world expert in the fields of paleontology, geology and evolution. A native of England, he created the Dinosaur Tracks Museum at the University of Colorado at Denver, and is currently its director.

A fountain of knowledge on dinosaurs, fossil footprints and prehistoric creatures, renowned paleontologist Martin Lockley leads an expedition to find and identify dinosaur foot prints within the Gateway confines as well as an excursion just outside Gateway to search for more tracks.

This time, better news from Colorado, USA than last time.

From the Denver Post:

Dinosaur love nests unearthed on local land by Colorado researcher

Rubber molds and fiberglass copies of the scrapes are being stored at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

By Elizabeth Hernandez

01/07/2016 07:00:00 AM MST

A skilled Colorado dinosaur tracker has unearthed 100 million-year-old dino love nests in Denver’s backyard.

The first evidence of dinosaur dating was discovered by Martin Lockley, a University of Colorado Denver geology professor who stumbled across large scratch marks in Colorado rocks. Initially, the marks had Lockley and his international team stumped.

Taking a cue from birds — relatives to the carnivorous dinos that lived in the area — Lockley said he and his crew started to think the scratches could be a ritual activity many male birds partake in: pseudo-nest-building.

“It’s like they’re showing off to a prospective mate,” Lockley said. “They say, ‘Look, I can make a nest.’ And if a female is watching, they make another and another.”

Dozens of scrapes would send the female dinosaurs swooning until mating took place and a real nest was built.

“When we first realized that they were mating evidence, my first thought was, ‘This is going to be big,’ ” said Lockley, who has been at CU Denver for 35 years. “It’s dinosaurs and sex. What a combo.”

Flowers and a box of chocolates? Hardly.

The scrapes, Lockley said, are very deep, narrow grooves, with a claw mark on the end.

These etchings of courtship, which come in pairs, can be as large as bathtubs.

The markings have been found at Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, areas around Montrose, and Dinosaur Ridge, just south of Lakewood, said Harley Armstrong, the Bureau of Land Management’s state and regional paleontologist.

“The reason it’s a big deal is that these kinds of scrapes have never been found ever in the world,” Lockley said, “but that didn’t stop scientists from speculating.”

Many researchers long believed dinosaurs were trying to attract one another, but there was no physical evidence of the prehistoric courtship until Lockley unearthed his two years of research.

“Not only have we found the scrape marks — like dinosaur foreplay,” Lockley said, “but we found 50 or 60 of these things, and these sites are what have been called display arenas where they play out their display activity and then go and nest.”

Because the marks were unable to be removed from the massive rock slabs without being damaged, 3-D images were created to document them. Rubber molds and fiberglass copies of the scrapes are being stored at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

The Lockley-led study appears Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Armstrong said. “It’s another feather for Colorado’s fossil cap. Because we have some of the known dinosaur fossils, the world has been coming to our doorsteps since 1877.”

Lockley looks forward to finding more scratches and ones that existed more than 100 million years ago.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all after publishing this article that there are people in Europe, South America, Asia that go, ‘Oh, we have those. We just didn’t know what they were,'” Lockley said.

Ice age wolf’s bone discovery on Texel island


The Texel wolf's bone. photo: Ecomare

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Dec 24, 2015 – An exciting discovery on the beach at beach post 12 on Texel. Hiker Els ten Napel found a big bone in the sand. Because she wanted to know what animal it came from, she took it to Ecomare. It proved to be a bone from the Ice Age. Judging from the shape, it is a thigh bone of a wolf. On Texel fossil bones are found regularly, they come from the seabed to the beach. …

From the deep brown color of the wolf’s bone you can see that it probably dates from the last ice age. It would therefore be between 10,000 and 100,000 years old. Wolves were quite common in the last ice age. They hunted many large herbivorous animals that were here then. There were at that time also other carnivorous animals: lions, hyenas, brown bears and humans, but they were a lot rarer. Ecomare has the bones of these predators from the ice age in the collection.

Nicolas Cage’s stolen tyrannosaur skull back to Mongolia


This video from the USA says about itself:

Smuggled dinosaur fossils found by US authorities

11 July 2014

US authorities have found over 18 smuggled dinosaur fossils, including two Tyranosaurus bataar skeletons. They’ve agreed to send them back to Mongolia. Report by Simon Longden.

From Reuters:

Mon Dec 21, 2015 9:52pm EST

Actor Nicolas Cage returns stolen dinosaur skull he bought

NEW YORK | By Joseph Ax

Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage has agreed to turn over a rare stolen dinosaur skull he bought for $276,000 to U.S. authorities so it can be returned to the Mongolian government.

The office of Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, filed a civil forfeiture complaint last week to take possession of the Tyrannosaurus bataar skull, which will be repatriated to Mongolia.

The lawsuit did not specifically name Cage as the owner, but Cage’s publicist confirmed that the actor bought the skull in March 2007 from a Beverly Hills gallery, I.M. Chait.

The “National Treasure” actor is not accused of wrongdoing, and authorities said he voluntarily agreed to turn over the skull after learning of the circumstances.

Alex Schack, a publicist for Cage, said in an email that the actor received a certificate of authenticity from the gallery and was first contacted by U.S. authorities in July 2014, when the Department of Homeland Security informed him that the skull might have been stolen.

Following a determination by investigators that the skull in fact had been taken illegally from Mongolia, Cage agreed to hand it over, Schack said.

Cage outbid fellow movie star Leonardo DiCaprio for the skull, according to prior news reports.

The I.M. Chait gallery had previously purchased and sold an illegally smuggled dinosaur skeleton from convicted paleontologist Eric Prokopi, whom Bharara called a “one-man black market in prehistoric fossils.”

The Chait gallery has not been accused of wrongdoing. A representative did not return a request for comment on Monday.

It was unclear whether the Nicolas Cage skull was specifically connected to Prokopi, who pleaded guilty in December 2012 to smuggling a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton out of Mongolia‘s Gobi desert and was later sentenced to three months in prison.

As part of his guilty plea, Prokopi helped prosecutors recover at least 17 other fossils.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell, who prosecuted Prokopi, was also the lead government lawyer in the Cage case, according to court records.

The Tyrannosaurus bataar, like its more famous relative Tyrannosaurus rex, was a carnivore that lived approximately 70 million years ago. Its remains have been discovered only in Mongolia, which criminalized the export of dinosaur fossils in 1924.

Since 2012, Bharara’s office has recovered more than a dozen Mongolian fossils, including three full Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons.

“Each of these fossils represents a culturally and scientifically important artifact looted from its rightful owner,” Bharara said last week.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler)

How plesiosaurs swam, new study


This 2011 video says about itself:

Predator XPlanet DinosaurEpisode 4BBC One

At 15 metres long and weighing about 45 tonnes, Predator X was the most powerful marine reptile ever discovered.

From PLOS Computational Biology:

Computer Simulations Imply Forelimb-Dominated Underwater Flight in Plesiosaurs

Shiqiu Liu, Adam S. Smith, Yuting Gu, Jie Tan, C. Karen Liu, Greg Turk

Published: December 18, 2015

Abstract

Plesiosaurians are an extinct group of highly derived Mesozoic marine reptiles with a global distribution that spans 135 million years from the Early Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous. During their long evolutionary history they maintained a unique body plan with two pairs of large wing-like flippers, but their locomotion has been a topic of debate for almost 200 years.

Key areas of controversy have concerned the most efficient biologically possible limb stroke, e.g. whether it consisted of rowing, underwater flight, or modified underwater flight, and how the four limbs moved in relation to each other: did they move in or out of phase? Previous studies have investigated plesiosaur swimming using a variety of methods, including skeletal analysis, human swimmers, and robotics.

We adopt a novel approach using a digital, three-dimensional, articulated, free-swimming plesiosaur in a simulated fluid. We generated a large number of simulations under various joint degrees of freedom to investigate how the locomotory repertoire changes under different parameters. Within the biologically possible range of limb motion, the simulated plesiosaur swims primarily with its forelimbs using an unmodified underwater flight stroke, essentially the same as turtles and penguins. In contrast, the hindlimbs provide relatively weak thrust in all simulations. We conclude that plesiosaurs were forelimb-dominated swimmers that used their hind limbs mainly for maneuverability and stability.

Ancient flightless bird discovery in Canada


This video from Yale University in the USA says about itself:

Science on Saturday: The Evolution of Birds: Why Birds are Dinosaurs

Science Saturdays is a special lecture series designed for families that brings the excitement of research and the passion of scientists to school-age children and adults. Each event involves a lecture by a Yale professor and engaging science demonstrations run by Yale college students. The lectures are free and open to the public and the topics explored are for kids in 7th grade and above. On October 8, 2005 the presentation was “The Evolution of Birds: Why Birds are Dinosaurs” by Richard Prum, Biologist.

From the Canadian Press:

New species of flightless bird discovered in fossil on Vancouver Island beach

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 01:57 AM EST

VICTORIA — A family out for a stroll on southern Vancouver Island stumbled upon the extraordinary fossilized remains of a 25-million-year-old flightless bird that has created a flap in the world of paleontology.

The fossil was in good enough condition for researchers to identify the animal as a new species of a plotopterid, a long-extinct penguin or cormorant-like bird never before found in Canada.

A collarbone from the bird was found inside a slab of rock on a Sooke, B.C., beach.

It’s only the second set of fossilized bird bones found on southern Vancouver Island since 1895, said bird expert Gary Kaiser of the Royal B.C. Museum.

Fossils of birds are extremely rare because the fragile and hollow bones don’t hold up to crushing weight, acidic soils and elements like other fossils do.

“They get broken up, crushed easily,” Kaiser said in an interview Tuesday. “The bones simply dissolve. They disappear.”

In this case, the sandstone and lack of acid in the water seemed to preserve the fossil, he said.

A father, daughter and son were out for a walk two years ago when they found the bone in a slab of rock that had fallen from the nearby cliffs, he said.

The daughter spotted the fossil. Her brother carried the slab off the beach, before the father brought it to the museum.

Next to a skull, the collarbone is the best bone to find because it sits at the shoulder where the wings function and where the collar blade, arm bone and sternum are attached.

“It is the most informative bone in a bird skeleton. It tells you more than anything else about what the bird does for a living,” Kaiser said.

The long, skinny bone wasn’t anything like he had ever seen before.

“Right away, I knew it was an unusual bone,” he said, noting that’s when he linked it to the plotopterid fossil.

Relatives of the bird have been found in Japan and in Oregon and California, but none has been as small.

“Of those several hundred birds, all but two of them are huge. I mean they’re birds that probably weighed 200 kilograms when they were alive and stood six-foot tall,” Kaiser said.

This animal was about the size of [a] cormorant.

Kaiser and his colleague Junya Wantanabe of Kyoto University named the bird Stemec suntokum because it’s a new species. The name means long-necked waterbird in the language of the T’Sou-Ke First Nation who live in the area.

Kaiser said he believes that if they had the fossil’s brain case the animal would look like a penguin, but an American man who studies plotopterids is convinced they are more like cormorants.

“It’s a bit of a fight, but not unusual in biology because there’s no way of telling,” he added.

The discovery announcing the new species has been published in the online journal Palaeontologia Electronica.