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.

See also here.

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.

Western Australia dinosaur tracks, new study

This video says about itself:

Dinosaur Footprints in Broome, Western Australia

At Gantheaume Point and 30 m (98 ft) out to sea are dinosaur footprints dated as Early Cretaceous in age (approximately 130 million years ago). The tracks can be seen only during very low tide.

From the Science Network of Western Australia site:

Friday, 16 October 2015

Dinosaur tracks offer window to ancient landscapes

Written by Kandy Curran

RESEARCHERS are working to reconstruct scenes from 130 million years ago, when Australia was still connected to Antarctica and covered in towering conifer forests, via dinosaur tracks.

When the sun, moon and earth align to produce the biggest tidal range, Dr Salisbury from The University of Queensland and his team of palaeontologists, geologists and roboticists are on the exposed intertidal zone to study the coast where some 16 species of dinosaur once roamed.

The ambitious project aims to digitally catalogue remnant dinosaur tracks over an 80 km stretch of coastline and then use that imaging to reconstruct the ancient landscape that was inhabited by some of the planet’s biggest dinosaurs.

These tracks are the only known evidence of dinosaurs along the Broome coast thus far, as the muddy sediment that the dinosaurs walked over has hardened to eventually form sedimentary rock.

“We also want to figure out just how many different types of dinosaur tracks there are in this area to get a handle on the significance of the footprint fauna, because to this point very little detailed work has been done,” Dr Salisbury says.

With many only exposed for a few hours each day, and only a few days each year, the team have had to adopt innovative remote sensing technologies to speed up the process.

In addition to making moulds of various tracks with a quick setting silicon rubber, thousands of photographs are being taken using a conventional camera and a low-flying drone.

These images are used to create virtual 3D models that are combined with laser scans from a hand-held LiDAR unit developed by CSIRO.

Geological analysis of various rocks in the area has revealed that many of the tracks seem to occur in the same layer of sandstone, created as seasonal floods inundated low-lying sandbars and floodplains. It was over this muddy environment that the dinosaurs walked and left their tracks.

Dr Salisbury says his team is now beginning to contextualise the tracks over large geographic areas, and can better understand which direction the dinosaurs were travelling, whether they were walking or running, and if they were interacting or crossing the landscape in groups, searching for food, or trying to escape predators.

“One of the really special things about the tracks is that they’re part of the creation mythology associated with indigenous law and culture in this area; they’re integrated into a song cycle that extends along the coast, with the knowledge of the tracks probably extending back thousands of years”.

In an effort to protect, promote and educate the public about the dinosaur tracks of the Dampier Peninsula, Dr Salisbury and members of the Broome community formed a Dinosaur Coast Management Group in 2014.

Dr Salisbury and his team have provided outstanding presentations on their research in the Science on the Broome Coast series, drawing large audiences on both occasions.

The science series, which aims to showcase the exciting research that is underway on Broome’s coast, is an initiative of the Roebuck Bay Working Group and Yawuru Land and Sea Unit, and sponsored by Inspiring Australia, Rangelands NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, the Department of Parks and Wildlife and Broome Shire Council.

Fossilized hadrosaur dinosaur babies discovery in Mongolia

Perinatal specimens of Saurolophus angustirostris: bones on the right side of the block show a certain degree of articulation, whereas bones on the left are disarticulated. Image credit: Dewaele L et al.


Paleontologists Find Fossilized Hadrosaur Nest in Mongolia

Oct 15, 2015

An international team of paleontologists from Belgium, France and Mongolia, has unearthed an exceptional block of perinatal specimens (babies) of the giant hadrosaurid dinosaur Saurolophus angustirostris, with associated eggshell fragments, in an area called the Dragon’s Tomb.

The Dragon’s Tomb dinosaur locality was discovered in 1947 in the Nemegt Formation of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.

The bone bed at this site has yielded numerous articulated skeletons of Saurolophus angustirostris. This dinosaur is particularly abundant in the whole Nemegt Formation, comprising approximately 20 percent of all vertebrate fossils found.

In a new report published in the journal PLoS ONE, paleontologists describe three or four perinatal specimens of Saurolophus angustirostris and two associated eggshell fragments.

The young dinosaurs were likely part of a nest originally located on a river sandbank. The skull length of these Saurolophus angustirostris was around 5 percent that of the largest known S. angustirostris specimens, indicating that these specimens were in the earliest development stages.

“The perinatal bones already resembled Saurolophus angustirostris characteristics, including the upwardly directed snout,” the paleontologists explained.

“The specimens did not yet have the characteristic cranial crest at the top of the head and areas of the skull-the cervical neural arches-were not yet fused, which suggest they may be in the earliest stages of the development of S. angustirostris.”

“The poorly developed crest in Saurolophus angustirostris babies provides evidence of ontogenetic crest growth within the Saurolophini tribe,” said lead author Dr Leonard Dewaele, of Ghent University and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

“The Saurolophini are the only Saurolophinae to bear supra cranial crests as adults.”

The paleontologists can’t tell whether Saurolophus angustirostris babies were still in the eggs or had just hatched when they died, but they were apparently already dead and partly decomposed when they were buried by river sediment during the wet summer season.

The fossilized eggshell fragments associated with the perinatal individuals closely resemble those found from Saurolophus angustirostris relatives in Mongolia.

The team suggests these specimens may bridge a gap in our knowledge of the development of Saurolophus angustirostris.

Extinct horse with fossil uterus discovery

A skeleton of a Eurohippus messelensis mare is shown with its fetus (white ellipse). (photo: Sven Traenkner)

From the Los Angeles Times in the USA:

Oldest preserved uterus found in ancient horse-like fossil

Deborah Netburn

October 7, 2015

Talk about a mother of a discovery: Researchers in Germany have found the fossil of a 48-million-year-old pregnant horse relative, her fetus and bits of her preserved uterus as well.

It is the oldest and only the second fossil uterus ever described, according to Jens Franzen of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany.

Franzen and his colleagues described the find in a paper published Wednesday in PLOS One.

Less than 2% of fossil mammal finds have yielded anything more than fragments of jaw material and other bones, which makes this discovery particularly unexpected.

The primitive horse relative is known as Eurohippus messelensis. It was much smaller than modern-day horses. Even fully grown, the ancient equine was about the size of a fox terrier — about 12 inches high at the shoulders. It was discovered in Grube Messel, near Darmstadt, Germany.

In the picture above, you are looking mostly at the fossilized remains of the mare. The fetus is located in the white oval.

Franzen and his colleagues report that the 48-million-year-old uterus looks nearly identical to those found in modern horses. This suggests that the uteral system was already well developed by the Eocene period (56 to 34 million years ago), and may date back to the Paleocene era (66 million to 56 million years ago) or even earlier.

Grube Messel is a former shale quarry that is famous for its complete vertebrate skeletons. Back in the time when Eurohippus messelensis roamed, it was a freshwater lake, surrounded by a tropical rainforest.

Animals that fell in the lake were preserved thanks to an interaction between bacteria in the lake and iron in the water.

After a dead animal was submerged in the lake, bacteria gathered on its soft tissue and started producing CO2. The CO2 reacted with the iron in the lake to form iron carbonate minerals. This material hardened on the bacteria, creating a fixed bacterial mat that exactly followed the lines of the decomposing soft tissue.

“The bacteria petrified themselves,” Franzen said.

The preserved bit of uterus was not immediately obvious, however. The researchers said they first noticed a “conspicuous gray shadow” between the fetus and the lumbar vertebrae of the mother, after taking a micro X-ray of the fossil.

They eliminated the possibility that the shadow was an artifact of preparation or an abdominal muscle. Eventually, they concluded that they were looking at the oldest bit of fossilized uterus ever seen.

The authors are still not sure what killed the mother Eurohippus messelensis, but it is unlikely that childbirth was to blame. Although the fetus was near term when its mother died, it was not yet positioned to enter the birth canal.

See also here. And here.