Ancient fossil bear discovery in Canada

This video says about itself:

18 December 2017

Paddington‘s prehistoric ancestor, a primitive bear with a sweet tooth, has been discovered in the Arctic. Researchers identified the remains of a 3.5-million-year-old bear from a fossil-rich site in Canada’s High Arctic. The findings show that the animal is a close relative of the ancestor of modern bears, and that it also had a taste for sweet treats – shown by cavities in its teeth. They say the ancient bear may have got his bad teeth from munching on berries, rather than Paddington’s preferred sweet treat of marmalade sandwiches.

From the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in the USA:

Primitive fossil bear with a sweet tooth identified from Canada’s High Arctic

December 18, 2017

Researchers from the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County have identified remains of a 3.5-million-year-old bear from a fossil-rich site in Canada’s High Arctic. Their study shows not only that the animal is a close relative of the ancestor of modern bears — tracing its ancestry to extinct bears of similar age from East Asia — but that it also had a sweet tooth, as determined by cavities in the teeth.

The scientists identify the bear as Protarctos abstrusus, which was previously only known from a tooth found in Idaho. Showing its transitional nature, the animal was slightly smaller than a modern black bear, with a flatter head and a combination of primitive and advanced dental characters. The results are published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

“This is evidence of the most northerly record for primitive bears, and provides an idea of what the ancestor of modern bears may have looked like,” says Dr. Xiaoming Wang, lead author of the study and Head of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA). “Just as interesting is the presence of dental caries, showing that oral infections have a long evolutionary history in the animals, which can tell us about their sugary diet, presumably from berries. This is the first and earliest documented occurrence of high-calorie diet in basal bears, likely related to fat storage in preparation for the harsh Arctic winters.”

The research team, which included co-author Dr. Natalia Rybczynski, a Research Associate and paleontologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature, were able to study recovered bones from the skull, jaws and teeth, as well as parts of the skeleton from two individuals.

The bones were discovered over a 20-year period by Canadian Museum of Nature scientists, including Dr. Rybczynski, at a fossil locality on Ellesmere Island known as the Beaver Pond site. The peat deposits include fossilized plants indicative of a boreal-type wetland forest, and have yielded other fossils, including fish, beaver, small carnivores, deerlets, and a three-toed horse.

The findings show that the Ellesmere Protarctos lived in a northern boreal-type forest habitat, where there would have been 24-hour darkness in winter, as well as about six months of ice and snow.

“It is a significant find, in part because all other ancient fossil ursine bears, and even some modern bear species like the sloth bear and sun bear, are associated with lower-latitude, milder habitats,” says co-author Dr. Rybczynski. “So, the Ellesmere bear is important because it suggests that the capacity to exploit the harshest, most northern forests on the planet is not an innovation of modern grizzlies and black bears, but may have characterized the ursine lineage from its beginning.”

Dr. Wang analyzed characteristics of fossil bear remains from around the world to identify the Ellesmere remains as Protarctos and to establish its evolutionary lineage in relation to other bears. Modern bears are wide-ranging, found from equatorial to polar regions. Their ancestors, mainly found in Eurasia, date to about 5 million years ago.

Fossil records of ursine bears (all living bears plus their ancestors, except the giant panda, which is an early offshoot) are poor and their early evolution controversial. The new fossil represents one of the early immigrations from Asia to North America but it is probably not a direct ancestor to the modern American black bear.

Of further significance is that the teeth of both Protarctos individuals show signs of well-developed dental cavities, which were identified following CT scans by Stuart White, a retired professor with the UCLA School of Dentistry. The cavities underline that these ancient bears consumed large amounts of sugary foods such as berries. Indeed, berry plants are found preserved in the same Ellesmere deposits as the bear remains.

“We know that modern bears consume sugary fruits in the fall to promote fat accumulation that allows for winter survival via hibernation. The dental cavities in Protarctos suggest that consumption of sugar-rich foods like berries, in preparation for winter hibernation, developed early in the evolution of bears as a survival strategy,” explains Rybczynski.


Oldest plesiosaur, new study

This video says about itself:

How Sea Dragons Swam – Plesiosaur Locomotion, by Max Hawthorne

26 July 2017

For well over a century, dinosaur enthusiasts and paleontologists alike have wondered how plesiosaurs and pliosaurs – the four-flippered sea dragons of the Mesozoic – swam. NOW, Max Hawthorne, author of the Kronos Rising series of paleo-novels, and Dr. Mark McMenamin, discoverer of the Triassic Kraken, present their findings.

This 13 December 2017 video is called Plesiosaurs emerged 50 million years earlier than thought.

From the University of Bonn in Germany:

The oldest plesiosaur was a strong swimmer

Researchers at the University of Bonn describe this unusual underwater reptile that lived 201 million years ago

December 13, 2017

Plesiosaurs were especially effective swimmers. These long extinct “paddle saurians” propelled themselves through the World’s oceans by employing “underwater flight” — similar to sea turtles and penguins. Paleontologist from the University of Bonn, Germany, now describe the oldest plesiosaur in the journal Science Advances, together with colleagues from Japan and France. The find comes from the youngest part of the Triassic period and is about 201 million years old.

Instead of laboriously pushing the water out of the way with their paddles, plesiosaurs were gliding elegantly along with limbs modified to underwater wings. Their small head was placed on a long, streamlined neck. The stout body contained strong muscles keeping those wings in motion. Compared to the other marine reptiles, the tail was short because it was only used for steering. This evolutionary design was very successful, but curiously it did not evolve again after the extinction of the plesiosaurs” says paleontologist Prof. Martin Sander from the Steinmann Institute of Geology, Mineralogy, and Paleontology of the University of Bonn.

The long extinct paddle saurians easily could have held their own against today’s water animals. Whereas sea turtles mainly use their strong forelimbs for propulsion, the plesiosaurs moved all four limbs together, resulting in powerful thrust. These ancient animals did not have a shell like turtles, however. Plesiosaurs fed on fish. Numerous fossils document a global distribution of the group during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

A private collector discovered the fossil in a clay pit

The private collector Michael Mertens discovered a truly exceptional specimen during quarrying operations in a clay pit in Westphalia, Germany, in 2013. The subsequent evaluation by the LWL-Museum für Naturkunde in Münster, Germany, revealed that the find represents a marine reptile from the Triassic, the period that predates the Jurassic. This news reached Prof. Sander of the University of Bonn while on sabbatical in Los Angeles. “I could not believe that there was a plesiosaur from the Triassic, given that these animals had been studied by paleontologists for nearly 300 years, and never was there one older than Jurassic” said Sander. He also notes that only through the timely and efficient cooperation between the private collector, the natural heritage protection agency, the Münster museum, and the scientists, the unique find could be described and published. The detailed research by Ph.D. student Tanja Wintrich of the Steinmann Institute of the University of Bonn revealed that the find indeed represent the oldest plesiosaur at an age of about 201 million years, which makes it the only plesiosaur skeleton from the Triassic period.

The reconstructed length of the skeleton is 237 cm (7′ 7″) (part of the neck was lost to quarrying). “We are looking at a relatively small plesiosaur” says Wintrich. The scientists bestowed the name Rhaeticosaurus mertensi on the unique fossil. The first part of the name refers to its geologic age (Rhaetian) and the second part honors the discoverer. Together with scientists from Osaka Natural History Museum, the University of Osaka, the University of Tokyo and the Paris Natural History Museum, the team from Bonn studied a bone sample. First, they “looked” into the interior of the bone using computed tomography, and then they cut thin sections for microscopic study from especially promising parts of the bone.

Scientists study the growth marks in the bones

Based on the growth marks in the bones, the researchers recognized that Rhaeticosaurus was a fast growing youngster. They compared the thin sections with those from young plesiosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretacous. “Plesiosaurs apparently grew extremely fast before reaching sexual maturity” Sander sums up the results. The paleontologists interprets this as a clear indication that plesiosaurs were warmblooded. Since plesiosaurs spread quickly all over the world, “they must have been able to regulate their body temperature to be able to invade cooler parts of the ocean” says the paleontologist. Because of their warmbloodedness and their efficient locomotion, plesiosaurs were extremely successful and widespread — until they disappeared from the face of the earth. Sander says “at the end of the Cretaceous, a meteorite impact together with volcanic eruptions lead to an ecosystem collapse, of which plesiosaurs were prominent victims.”

Fossil embryos turn out to be jellyfish

Pseudooides. Credit: University of Bristol

From the University of Bristol in England:

Fossil orphans reunited with their parents after half a billion years

December 13, 2017

Everyone wants to be with their family over the holidays, but spare a thought for a group of orphan fossils that have been separated from their parents since the dawn of animal evolution, over half a billion years ago.

For decades, paleontologists have puzzled over the microscopic fossils of Pseudooides, which are smaller than sand grains.

The resemblance of the fossils to animal embryos inspired their name, which means ‘false egg’.

The fossils preserve stages of embryonic development frozen in time by miraculous processes of fossilisation, which turned their squishy cells into stone.

Pseudooides fossils have a segmented middle like the embryos of segmented animals, such as insects, inspiring grand theories on how complex segmented animals may have evolved.

A team of paleontologists from the University of Bristol‘s School of Earth Sciences and Peking University have now peered inside the Pseudooides embryos using X-rays and found features that link them to the adult stages of another fossil group.

It turns out that these adult stages were right under the scientists’ noses all along: they have been found long ago in the same rocks as Pseudooides.

Surprisingly, these long-lost family members are not complex segmented animals at all, but ancestors of modern jellyfish.

Dr Kelly Vargas from the University of Bristol said: “It seems that, in trying to classify these fossils, we’ve previously been barking up the wrong branch of the animals family tree.”

Professor Philip Donoghue, also from the University of Bristol, co-led the research with Professor Xiping Dong of Peking University.

Professor Donoghue added “We couldn’t have reunited these ancient family members without the amazing technology which allowed us to see inside the fossilized bodies of the embryos and adults.”

The team used the Swiss Light Source, a gigantic particle accelerator near Zurich, Switzerland, to supply the X-rays used to image the inside of the fossils.

This showed that the details of segmentation in the Pseudooides embryos to be nothing more than the folded edge of an opening, which developed into the rim of the cone-shaped skeleton that once housed the anemone-like stage in the life cycle of the ancient jellyfish.

Luis Porras, who helped make the discovery while still a student at the University of Bristol, said: “Pseudooides fossils may not tell us about how complex animals evolved, but they provide insights into the how embryology of animals itself has evolved.

“The embryos of living jellyfish usually develop into bizarre alien-like larvae which metamorphose into anemone-like adults before the final jellyfish (or ‘medusa‘) phase.

“Pseudooides did things differently and more efficiently, developing directly from embryo to adult. Perhaps living jellyfish are a poor guide to ancestral animals.”

Professor Donoghue added: “It is amazing that these organisms were fossilised at all.

“Jellyfish are made up of little more than goo and yet they’ve been turned to stone before they had any chance to rot: a mechanism which some scientists refer to as the ‘Medusa effect’, named after the gorgon of Greek mythology who turned into stone anyone that laid eyes upon her.”

The Bristol team are still looking for fossil remains of the rest of Pseudooides life cycle, including the ‘medusa’ jellyfish stage itself. However, jellyfish fossils are few and far between, perhaps ironically because the ‘Medusa effect’ doesn’t seem to work on them.

In the interim, the embryos of Pseudooides have been reunited with their adult counterparts, just in time for Christmas.

Human-sized fossil penguin discovery

This video from the USA says about itself:

Ancient penguin was as big as a (human) Pittsburgh Penguin

12 December 2017

NEW YORK — Fossils from New Zealand have revealed a giant penguin that was as big as a grown man, roughly the size of the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The creature was slightly shorter in length and about 20 pounds heavier than the official stats for hockey star Sidney Crosby.

It measured nearly 5 feet, 10 inches long when swimming and weighed in at 223 pounds. If the penguin and the Penguin faced off on the ice, however, things would look different. When standing, the ancient bird was maybe only 5-foot-3.

The newly found bird is about 7 inches longer than any other ancient penguin that has left a substantial portion of a skeleton, said Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. A potentially bigger rival is known only from a fragment of leg bone, making a size estimate difficult.

The biggest penguin today, the emperor in Antarctica, stands less than 4 feet tall. Mayr and others describe the giant creature in a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature Communications.

They named it Kumimanu biceae, which refers to Maori words for a large mythological monster and a bird, and the mother of one of the study’s authors. The fossils are 56 million to 60 million years old. That’s nearly as old as the very earliest known penguin fossils, which were much smaller, said Daniel Ksepka, curator at the Bruce Museum of Greenwich, Connecticut.

He has studied New Zealand fossil penguins but didn’t participate in the new study. The new discovery shows penguins “got big very rapidly” after the mass extinction of 66 million years ago that’s best known for killing off the dinosaurs, he wrote in an email.

That event played a big role in penguin history. Beforehand, a non-flying seabird would be threatened by big marine reptile predators, which also would compete with the birds for food. But once the extinction wiped out those reptiles, the ability to fly was not so crucial, opening the door for penguins to appear.

Birds often evolve toward larger sizes after they lose the ability to fly, Mayr said. In fact, the new paper concludes that big size appeared more than once within the penguin family tree. What happened to the giants? Mayr said researchers believe they died out when large marine mammals like toothed whales and seals showed up and provided competition for safe breeding places and food. The newcomers may also have hunted the big penguins, he said.

From LiveScience:

Giant Penguin: This Ancient Bird Was As Tall As a Refrigerator

By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer

December 12, 2017 03:21pm ET

The fossils of a refrigerator-size penguin were so gargantuan that the scientists who discovered them initially thought they belonged to a giant turtle. The ancient behemoth is now considered the second-largest penguin on record.

The newfound penguin species would have stood nearly 6 feet tall (1.8 meters) and weighed about 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) during its heyday tens of millions of years ago.

The bird’s gigantism indicates that “a very large size seems to have developed early on in penguin evolution, soon after these birds lost their flight capabilities,” said study co-lead researcher Gerald Mayr, a curator of ornithology at the Senckenberg Research Institute, in Germany. [In Photos: The Amazing Penguins of Antarctica]

At first, the researchers thought the penguin fossils belonged to a turtle, said study co-lead researcher Alan Tennyson, a vertebrate curator at the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa), who discovered the fossil with paleontologist Paul Scofield on a beach in New Zealand’s Otago province in 2004.

But shortly after a fossil technician began preparing the specimen in 2015, he found a part of the shoulder blade, known as the coracoid, which revealed that the fossils came from a penguin, Tennyson told Live Science.

Further analysis dated the penguin to between 55 million and 59 million years ago, meaning that it lived a mere 7 million to 11 million years after an asteroid slammed into Earth and killed the nonavian dinosaurs, Mayr said.

The researchers named the late-Paleocene penguin Kumimanu biceae. Its genus name, Kumimanu, was inspired by the Maori indigenous culture of New Zealand. In the Maori culture, “kumi” is a mythological monster, and “manu” is the Maori word for “bird.” The species name, biceae, honors Tennyson’s mother, Beatrice “Bice” A. Tennyson, who encouraged him to pursue his interest in natural history.

K. biceae didn’t look much like modern penguins. Although researchers could not find its skull, they “know from similarly aged fossils that the earliest penguins had much longer beaks, which they probably used to spear fishes, than their modern relatives [do],” Mayr told Live Science. Like its modern cousins, however, K. biceae would have already developed typical penguin feathers, waddled with an upright stance and sported flipper-like wings that helped it swim, he added.

Researchers have discovered other ancient penguin fossils in New Zealand, including those of Waimanu manneringi, which lived about 61 million years ago. However, the largest penguin on record is Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, which lived about 37 million years ago in Antarctica. P. klekowskii stood about 6.5 feet (2 m) tall and weighed a whopping 250 lbs. (115 kg), according to a 2014 study in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol (Palevol Reports).

Given that the Antarctic penguin was larger than K. biceae, it’s likely that “giant size evolved more than once in penguin evolution”, Mayr said.

K. biceae is a “cool fossil,” said Daniel Ksepka, a curator at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, who was not involved in the research. “It’s very old; it’s almost as old as the oldest known penguins anywhere”, Ksepka told Live Science. “That shows that [penguins] got big really quickly. And it all seems to have happened in New Zealand.” [Photos of Flightless Birds: All 18 Penguin Species]

But why was New Zealand a penguin paradise? The archipelago was surrounded by fish for penguins to eat, and it originally had no native mammals (although today it’s home to many sheep, weasels and domestic pets), meaning that there were no predators to bother the penguins when they came ashore to molt their feathers and lay eggs, Ksepka said.

The study was published online today (Dec. 12) in the journal Nature Communications.

Ticks drank dinosaur blood

This 2017 video says about itself:

In this video we will explore 10 bugs, insects and invertebrates from the dinosaur times [and earlier].

By Laurel Hamers:

Ticks had a taste for dinosaur blood

But it’s not clear which species the bloodsuckers preferred

Ticks once tickled dinosaursfeathers.

The tiny arthropods have been surreptitiously sucking blood for more than 100 million years, but evidence of early ticks’ preferred hosts has been scant. Now, samples of amber from Myanmar have caught the critters with their spiny mouthparts inside the cookie jar. A hunk of 99-million-year-old amber holds a tick tangled in a dinosaur feather, researchers report December 12 in Nature Communications. Other pieces of amber suggest that a different tick species from the same period, dubbed Deinocroton draculi, hung out in feathered dinosaur nests (SN: 8/23/14, p. 15).

The tick enmeshed in the feather belongs to the same group of ticks as the deer ticks that bite humans and other animals today. But it’s hard to say what type of dinosaur the tick dined on.

While the researchers say the age of the feather places it on a dinosaur, they can’t tell how birdlike that creature may have been. The feather shares characteristics with the plumage that helps modern birds fly, such as longer barbs on one side of the feather’s shaft than the other. But that shape doesn’t necessarily mean that the feather’s former owner could fly, says study coauthor Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, a paleobiologist at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“In the future, we may be able to further narrow down the range of potential hosts, but this is currently the best that can be done with an isolated feather,” adds Ryan McKellar, an invertebrate paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina who wasn’t part of the study.

Another chunk of amber contained two ticks preserved so close together that they were likely entrapped at the same time. Both had what looked like tiny barbed hairs stuck to their bodies — these hairlike structures are frequently found on beetle larvae that hung out in dinosaur nests. “So we think that those beetle hairs were acquired by the ticks in a feathered dinosaur nest”, says Pérez-de la Fuente. That’s further evidence that early ticks fed on dinos, he says.

There’s a “strong case” for that interpretation, McKellar says. “It is impressive to see small clues and associations build up to form a larger picture of ancient ecosystems.”

Plesiosaurs’ ears, new research

This video says about itself:

29 September 2015

Sauropterygia” is an extinct, diverse taxon of aquatic reptiles that developed from terrestrial ancestors soon after the end-Permian extinction and flourished during the Mesozoic before they became extinct at the end of that era. Sauropterygians are united by a radical adaptation of their pectoral girdle, designed to support powerful flipper strokes. Some later sauropterygians, such as the pliosaurs, developed a similar mechanism in their pelvis.

From the University of Oxford in England:

It’s all in the ears: Inner ears of extinct sea monsters mirror those of today’s animals

Inner ears of fossil marine reptiles called sauropterygians are revealed for the first time

December 7, 2017

A new study led by Oxford University Museum of Natural History has revealed that an extinct group of marine reptiles called sauropterygians evolved similar inner ear proportions to those of some modern day aquatic reptiles and mammals. The research is published in Current Biology today.

Sauropterygians were swimming reptiles from the ‘Age of Dinosaurs‘ that included some semi-aquatic forms, nearshore swimmers and fully-aquatic ‘underwater-flyers’. Their most well-known members are the plesiosaurs, ferocious sea monsters with four flippers, which hunted anything from small fish and squid to large marine reptiles.

The inner ear is a structure shared by all vertebrates, containing an important sense organ that helps maintain balance and orientation. Aquatic animals move more naturally in a three-dimensional environment, so have different sensory inputs compared to animals which live on land. The inner ear is therefore very useful for detecting differences in locomotion in extinct animals, especially by comparing with living organisms.

Researchers were surprised when sauropterygians with very different lifestyles had evolved inner ears that were very similar to those of some modern animals.

“Sauropterygians are completely extinct and have no living descendants,” said Dr James Neenan, lead author of the study. “So I was amazed to see that nearshore species with limbs that resemble those of terrestrial animals had ears similar to crocodylians, and that the fully-aquatic, flippered plesiosaurs had ears similar to sea turtles.”

The similarities don’t end there. Some groups of plesiosaurs, the ‘pliosauromorphs‘, evolved enormous heads and very short necks, a body shape that is shared by modern whales. Whales have the unusual feature of highly miniaturized inner ears (blue whales have a similar-sized inner ear to humans), possibly the result of having such a short neck. Neenan and colleagues have now shown that ‘pliosauromorph‘ plesiosaurs also have a reduced inner ear size, supporting this idea.

These interesting results are the product of convergent evolution, the process in which completely unrelated organisms evolve similar solutions to the same evolutionary hurdles.

“Nearshore sauropterygians swam in a similar way and had comparable lifestyles to modern-day crocodiles, so had similar inputs on the inner ear organ,” said Dr Neenan. “Plesiosaurs also ‘flew’ under water with similar flippers to those of sea turtles. So it’s not surprising that the organ of balance and orientation evolved to be a similar shape between these unrelated groups.”

Oldest eye ever of fossil trilobite?

This video says about itself:

7 December 2017

An ‘exceptional’ 530-million-year-old fossil contains what could be the oldest eye ever discovered, according to researchers. The remains of the extinct sea creature include an early form of the eye seen in many of today’s animals, including crabs, bees and dragonflies. Experts made the find while examining the well-preserved fossil of a hard-shelled species called a trilobite.

From the University of Edinburgh in Scotland:

530-million-year-old fossil has look of world’s oldest eye, study suggests

December 7, 2017

A 530-million-year-old fossil contains what could be the oldest eye ever discovered, a study reveals.

The remains of an extinct sea creature include an early form of the eye seen in many of today’s animals, including crabs, bees and dragonflies, researchers say.

Scientists made the finding while examining the well-preserved fossil of a hard-shelled species — called a trilobite. These ancestors of spiders and crabs lived in coastal waters during the Palaeozoic era, between 541-251 million years ago.

They found the ancient creature had a primitive form of compound eye — an optical organ that consists of arrays of tiny visual cells, called ommatidia, similar to those of present-day bees.

The team, which included a researcher from the University of Edinburgh, say their findings suggest that compound eyes have changed little over 500 million years.

The right eye of the fossil — which was unearthed in Estonia — was partly worn away, giving researchers a clear view inside the organ. This revealed details of the eye’s structure and function, and how it differs from modern compound eyes.

The species had poor vision compared with many animals today, but it could identify predators and obstacles in its path, researchers say.

Its eye consists of approximately 100 ommatidia, which are situated relatively far apart compared to contemporary compounds eyes, the team says.

Unlike modern compound eyes, the fossil’s eye does not have a lens. This is likely because the primitive species — called Schmidtiellus reetae — lacked parts of the shell needed for lens formation, the team says.

The team also revealed that only a few million years later, improved compound eyes with higher resolution developed in another trilobite species from the present-day Baltic region.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was carried out in collaboration with the University of Cologne, Germany, and Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia.

Professor Euan Clarkson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “This exceptional fossil shows us how early animals saw the world around them hundreds of millions of years ago. Remarkably, it also reveals that the structure and function of compound eyes has barely changed in half a billion years.”

Professor Brigitte Schoenemann, of the University of Cologne, said: “This may be the earliest example of an eye that it is possible to find. Older specimens in sediment layers below this fossil contain only traces of the original animals, which were too soft to be fossilised and have disintegrated over time.”