Unique Imaging of Dinosaur’s Skull Tells Evolutionary Tale

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Researchers using Los Alamos’ unique neutron-imaging and high-energy X-ray capabilities have exposed the inner structures of the fossil skull of a 74-million-year-old tyrannosauroid dinosaur nicknamed the Bisti Beast in the highest-resolution scan of tyrannosaur skull ever done. The results add a new piece to the puzzle of how these bone-crushing top predators evolved over millions of years.

“Normally, we look at a variety of thick, dense objects at Los Alamos for defense programs, but the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science was interested in imaging a very large fossil to learn about what’s inside,” said Ron Nelson, of the Laboratory’s Physics Division. Nelson was part of a team that included staff from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the museum, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Edinburgh. “It turns out that high energy neutrons are an interesting and unique way to image something of this size.”

The results helped the team determine the skull’s sinus and cranial structure. Initial viewing of the computed tomography (CT) slices showed preservation of un-erupted teeth, the brain cavity, internal structure in some bones, sinus cavities, pathways of some nerves and blood vessels, and other anatomical structures. These imaging techniques have revolutionized the study of paleontology over the past decade, allowing paleontologists to gain essential insights into the anatomy, development, and preservation of important specimens.

To peer inside the 40-inch skull, which was found in 1996 in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area near Farmington, NM, the Los Alamos team combined neutron and X-ray CT to extract anatomical information not accessible otherwise and without the risk of damaging the irreplaceable fossil. Los Alamos is one of a few places in the world that can perform both methods on samples ranging from the very small to the very large.

The thickness of the skull required higher energy X-rays than those typically available to adequately penetrate the fossil. The lab’s microtron electron accelerator produced sufficiently high-energy X-rays.

To provide an alternate view inside the skull, the team also used a newly developed, high-energy neutron imaging technique with neutrons produced by the proton accelerator at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center. The neutrons interact with the nuclei rather than the electrons in the skull, as X-rays do, and thus have different elemental sensitivity. This provides complementary information to that obtained with X-rays.

The team’s study illuminates the Bisti Beast’s place in the evolutionary tree that culminated in Tyrannosaurus rex.

“The CT scans help us figure out how the different species within the T. rrex family related to each other and how they evolved,” said Thomas Williamson, Curator of Paleontology at the New Mexico museum. “The Bistahieversor represents the most basal tyrannosaur to have the big-headed, bone-crushing adaptations and almost certainly the small forelimbs. It was living alongside species more closely related to T-rex, the biggest and most derived tyrannosaur of all, which lived about 66 million years ago. Bistahieversor lived almost 10 million years before T. rex, but it also was a surviving member of a lineage that retained many of the primitive features from even farther back, closer to when tyrannosaurs underwent their transition to bone-crushing.”


Dinosaurs and Modern Animals are Birds of a Feather

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dinosaurs and Modern Animals are Birds of a Feather

I read with interest the Oct. 27 news article “Feathered dinosaur bore a mask like a raccoon’s,” about the fossil of Sinosauropteryx, the small dinosaur from the Cretaceous having “feathery fluff” that had been discovered in 1996. However, other than saying that the find “helped cement the idea that birds are living, avian dinosaurs,” the article made no mention of the fact that several fossils of other species of small, bipedal, feathered dinosaurs were subsequently found, some having actual wings with feathers that were very similar to those of present-day birds. Not mentioning that fact might have left some readers dubious about the idea that birds have dinosaur ancestry. In fact, even before those finds, Archaeopteryx, the first fossil of which was discovered in 1861, was actually a small, bipedal, feathered, winged dinosaur.

It should be made clear that the skeletons of these avian progenitors were still typically dinosaur-like. The only significant difference between their skeletons and those of other bipedal dinosaurs is that the digits of the forelimb — which were still separate instead of fused together as in present-day birds — were lengthened to form the wings. Most likely, though, because they did not have a sternum as modern birds do for muscle attachment, their mode of flight was likely gliding instead of powered.


A New Cretaceous Dinosaur from Utah with Origins in Jurassic of Europe

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A New Cretaceous Dinosaur from Utah with Origins in Jurassic of Europe

The collaboration of Utah paleontologists with Spanish and English researchers has led to identification of the correct familial relationships of the new Utah dinosaur.


Although the Doellings Bowl Bonebed was first identified by Utah State Paleontologist James Kirkland in 1991, the age and great extent of skeletal remains at the site were not recognized until 2006. Following a flash flood in 2010, some large bones were observed by former UGS geologist Gary Hunt of Enterprise, Utah at the base of a dry wash adjoining the original dig site. Excavation of these bones revealed the skeleton of a mired sauropod or long-necked dinosaur with both a fore limb and hind limb extended down into the marsh deposit below the level of the rest of the skeleton. The excavation team, led by Dr. James Kirkland of the Utah Geological Survey, discovered and prepared two sauropod specimens, one of them very complete, including the skull.


The Doellings Bowl Bone Bed is in the lower Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation near the very base of Utah’s thick and very fossiliferous Cretaceous sequence. The Yellow Cat Member is divided into an upper and lower sequence as it preserves two non-overlapping dinosaur faunas separated by a well-developed fossil soil horizon representing significant time on the order of one to a few million years. It has been shown recently that the Yellow Cat Member in Grand County, Utah preserves the two oldest dinosaur faunas because Early Cretaceous salt movement induced subsidence, creating a protected depression in the northern Paradox “salt” Basin while the rest of western North America was undergoing erosion.

The presence of silicified peat, fern roots, tiny fish bones, rare turtles and rare crocodilian fossils suggests the Doellings Bowl Bonebed represents a marsh deposit. Mierasaurus coexisted in the same ecosystem as the ornithopod Iguanacolossus, an armored polacanthid ankylosaur, small “raptors” (carnivorous dinosaurs), such as Yurgovuchia, large allosaurid theropods, and a large, primitive therizinosaur. The environmental interpretation for the site where Mierasaurus was discovered was a marsh area with vegetation of ferns that was climatically wetter than that indicated for both the underlying Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation and overlying upper Yellow Cat Member.

The specific age of these rocks is controversial but new data is being published. Our best current estimates are approximately 130-135 Ma (millions of years ago).


The collaboration of Utah paleontologists with Spanish and English researchers led to identification of the correct familial relationships of the new Utah dinosaur. While it is obviously a new dinosaur species, without the collaboration Kirkland’s team would almost certainly have compared the new dinosaur with North America’s well-known Upper Jurassic sauropod Camarasaurus. As it turned out, Dr. Rafael Royo-Torres first recognized the more primitive turiasaurs as a distinct group of European Upper Jurassic sauropods.

During 2016 and 2017 the description and comparison of the new remains was conducted by an international multidisciplinary team composed of Doctors Rafael Royo-Torres, Alberto Cobos and Luis Alcalá from the Fundación Conjunto Paleontológico de Teruel-Dinópolis (Teruel, España), Paul Upchurch from the University College London (London, United Kingdom), James Kirkland and Donald D. DeBlieux from the Utah Geological Survey (Utah, USA), and John Foster from the Museum of Moab (Utah, USA).

This new paper, published in the journal “Scientific Reports” contains several milestones:

1.-Description of a new genus and species of sauropod dinosaur (quadruped, with long neck and tail and small skull);

2.- identification of a group of Upper Jurassic European dinosaurs, the Turiasauria, not identified in North America prior to this study;

3.-Given the evolutionary relationships of the Turiasauria, Mierasaurus is the most primitive sauropod identified in North America, though actually younger than many Jurassic N.A. sauropods

4.-Recognition that a second North American sauropod from the upper Yellow Cat fauna, Moabosaurus, also belonged to the group of Turiasauria;

5. Moabosaurus is more specialized than the older Mierasarus in having divided ribs along its neck; and

6.- Recognition that the Cretaceous turiasaurs in North America are the geologically youngest known so far.

Recovered fossils (from the skull, teeth, neck, back and tail, bones of the shoulder and hips, and bones of the front and back limbs, including the hands and feet) allow us to state that this new specimen, Mierasaurus, represents the most complete individual sauropod dinosaur from the Cretaceous of North America. In addition, Mierasaurus (as well as Moabosaurus) are sauropods with more primitive characteristics, when compared to other sauropods from North America. The length of Mierasaurus, estimated between 32-39 feet (10 and 12 meters), is much smaller than that of its European relatives, which in Turiasaurus could surpass 82 feet in length (25 meters).

How did the turiasaurs arrive to North America from Europe? The study indicates that none of the more than 430 examples of sauropods documented in North American sites from the Upper Jurassic are turiasaurs. The Turiasauria were well-represented in the Jurassic only in Europe. The discovery of the turiasaurs Mierasaurus and Moabosaurus in younger deposits, in the Lower Cretaceous Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation in Utah, allows scientist to infer that representatives of this group of primitive sauropods migrated into North America via an intercontinental bridge, after the Upper Jurassic (between 145 and 130 million years ago) from Europe, during the final opening of the North Atlantic during a time of lower sea levels.

The name of the genus of the new dinosaur, Mierasaurus, is dedicated to the Spanish cartographer and chief scientist D. Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco (1713-1785), born in Santibáñez de Villacarriedo (Cantabria, Spain). Miera was the scientific leader of the 1776 Domínguez-Escalante Expedition. The purpose of the expedition was to establish a stable communication and trade route between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Monterrey, California. For six months, they traveled 2,000 miles, establishing peaceful contact with numerous groups of native Americans (Hopis, Lagunas, Yutas and Apaches, among others). Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco made the first map of this territory, largely unknown to Europeans at this time.

This map stands out for its accuracy and artistic style, and for the numerous geographic, geological and ethnographic notes that it contains. This expedition was also the first known arrival of Europeans into what is now the state of Utah, where Mierasaurus was discovered. The name of the species, bobyoungi, is dedicated to the American geologist Robert Young, who conducted the first comprehensive work on the Early Cretaceous of the Colorado Plateau, where Mierasaurus was discovered.


Decennatherium rex: Ancient Giraffe Relative, Once Roamed Iberian Peninsula

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Decennatherium rex

A new large species of giraffid being named Decennatherium rex has been discovered by Dr. Maria Rios from the National Museum of Natural History of Spain and co-authors.

Decennatherium rex lived during the late Miocene epoch, approximately 9 million years ago, in what is now Spain.

The animal belongs to the family Giraffidae (giraffids), a group of ruminant artiodactyl mammals that includes modern day giraffes and okapis.

“Giraffids were much more diverse and widespread in the past, with more than 30 fossil species described,” Dr. Rios and colleagues said.

“For the past decades a number of studies intended to resolve the phylogenetic relationships of giraffids, but due to the lack of fossilized skulls no clear consensus was reached regarding the phylogenetic relationships amongst the different members of the family.”

“The exceptionally complete remains of Decennatherium rex allow us to improve and reassess giraffid systematics, offering a lot of new data, both anatomic and phylogenetic, on the large late Miocene giraffids.”

Skeletal and life reconstructions of an adult female Decennatherium rex. Image credit: Oscar Sanisidro.

The paleontologists conducted a phylogenetic analysis to help elucidate evolutionary patterns.

“The results suggest that the genus Decennatherium may have been the most basal branch of a clade of now-extinct giraffids containing both sivatheres, the largest known giraffids, and samotheres, whose appearance was somewhere in between that of okapis and giraffes,” they said.

“All giraffids in this group feature four horn-like skull protuberances known as ossicones, two over the eyes and two larger ridged ossicones at the back of its head.”

Decennatherium rex was likely the earliest-evolving example of this ossicone layout.”

“The inclusion of this species in the sivathere-samothere clade would extend its timespan back to the early late Miocene and its range as far as the Iberian Peninsula, making the clade one of the most successful and long-lived of all the giraffids.”

The discovery of Decennatherium rex is reported in the journal PLoS ONE.


M. Ríos et al. 2017. A new giraffid (Mammalia, Ruminantia, Pecora) from the late Miocene of Spain, and the evolution of the sivathere-samothere lineage. PLoS ONE 12 (11): e0185378; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185378


Dinosaur Unearthed in Fort McMurray Oilsands was Carried to Watery Grave by ‘Bloat and Float’

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dinosaur Unearthed in Fort McMurray Oilsands was Carried to Watery Grave by ‘Bloat and Float’

‘As a big-gutted ankylosaur, you have lots of big digestive chambers that fill up with the rotting gasses’


A dinosaur famously unearthed from a Fort McMurray oilsands mine was likely the victim of “bloat and float,” says Edmonton paleontologist Scott Persons.

The Borealopelta ankylosaur skeleton was found at the Suncor site in 2011, tens of millions of years after it had been “dumped at sea.”

Scott Persons during a dig. (Scott Persons/Supplied )

“It had sunk to the bottom and settled down into the very fine silty sediment of the sea floor, before scavengers could disturb it and before the skeleton fell apart,” Persons said during his dinosaur series with CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

“Bad stuff usually happened to their bodies. They got torn apart by scavengers, or their carcasses rotted and their skeletons fell apart into a big jumble.

“But not the Borealopelta specimen.”

Much like the opening scene of a murder mystery: a few hard-working labourers were going routinely about their jobs at the remote mine, when they stumbled across the specimen.

A team of expert detectives is called in to investigate, and a slew of mysterious circumstances surface.

The fossil, which is now the centrepiece of a recently opened exhibit at the Royal Tyrrell Museum near Drumheller, is part of a larger paleontological mystery, said Persons, a PhD student at the University of Alberta.

The armoured herbivores, not much larger than the modern hippo, were land animals but their fossils are most often found in areas that were once submerged in prehistoric ocean.

How did the “Suncor Ankylosaur” reach its watery grave? Paleontologists believe they have cracked the case.

The dinosaur likely died in an inland marsh, and as it began to rot, its distended body was carried out to sea, Persons said.

The “Suncor ankylosaur” was likely transported to its watery grave by rotting gases in its guts. (Alberta Tourism and Culture)

“Bloat and float, that’s something not uncommonly observed today, when the carcasses of cattle can be found bobbing up and down in the ocean,” said Persons.

“Or when the corpse of an Indian elephant is seen floating down even a shallow portion of the Ganges River.”

Persons hypothesizes that the dinosaur was living in the wetlands of prehistoric Alberta, it died of natural causes.


‘Like really gross balloons’

“Imagine this, you are an elder Borealopelta living it up in the wetlands of prehistoric Alberta, but the time has come to shuffle off your mortal coil.”

It died, but not in a violent way, said Persons.

“You aren’t torn apart limb from limb by a hungry tyrannosaur or pack of raptors. You’re done in by a disease, or a heart attack, or maybe you drank some bad swamp water,” Persons said.

“As your body sits in the subtropical sun, you start to rot. Bacteria feeding on your soft insides produce gas as a byproduct.”

“You’re done in by a disease, or a heart attack, or maybe you drank some bad swamp water.” – Scott Persons, paleontologist

The ankylosaur, one of the best-preserved specimens of its kind, is the perfect example of this puzzling phenomenon, said Persons.

The combination of having extra big guts and heavy armour, which would bring the carcass quickly to the bottom of the briny deep, made ankylosaurs particularly prone to bloat and float.

From fossil records, paleontologists can tell that these armoured animals had great barrel-shaped bodies designed to house lots of digestive vats and looping intestines.

“As a big-gutted ankylosaur, you have lots of big digestive chambers that fill up with the rotting gasses quickly and swell, like really gross balloons.

“That’s the bloat.”


Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Could Hold the Cure for Cancer

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Could Hold the Cure for Cancer

Being diagnosed with cancer doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight as it did a few decades ago, and treatments today have increased the survival rates for many types of the disease dramatically. That said, we obviously still don’t have a cure, but new research into the effects of iridium on cancer cells looks not only promising, but incredibly exciting.

The research, which was conducted by a team of scientists from both the University of Warwick and China’s Sun Yat-Sen University, tested a novel approach to combating cancer which involves flooding the cells with a toxic form of oxygen that not only kills off the cancer but leaves surrounding healthy tissue unfazed. The research was published in the journal Angewandte Chemi.

The technique the researchers used is fairly complex, but it all starts with iridium. Iridium is the second densest metal on the planet, and while it’s fairly rare to find here on Earth, it’s often found in large quantities in asteroids. The dinosaur-killing space rock that slammed into the earth some 65 million years ago is thought to have been responsible for much of the iridium found here today, and it’s a key ingredient in a cancer-fighting cocktail.

To create the cancer-conquering substance, scientists created a compound of iridium and organic matter which was then used against the cancer cells. The compound converts the oxygen found within the cells into what is called singlet oxygen, which behaves dramatically when interacting with organic compounds and is toxic to the cancer. When the proteins of the targeted cancer are attacked it dies off, while the healthy cells around it remain unaffected.

“This project is a leap forward in understanding how these new iridium-based anti-cancer compounds are attacking cancer cells, introducing different mechanisms of action, to get around the resistance issue and tackle cancer from a different angle,” Cookson Chiu, co-author of the study and postgraduate research at Warwick explained.


Gigantic Dinosaur-Eating Plane-Size Reptile Discovered in Mongolia

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Gigantic Dinosaur-Eating Plane-Size Reptile Discovered in Mongolia

A monstrous, meat-eating flying reptile that had a wingspan of a small airplane, could walk on all fours and stalked its prey on land has been found in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia.

Fortunately for us humans, who would have made for a delightful midday snack, this pterosaur is dead. Long dead. Seventy million years dead.

Scientists think this pterosaur had to settle for a diet of little dinosaurs.

Researchers from the United States, Japan and Mongolia have been collecting the prehistoric animal’s skeletal remains since 2006, when Buuvei Mainbayar, a paleontologist from Mongolia, discovered its first fossil in the western Gobi.

Mainbayar showed the fossil to Takanobu Tsuihiji of the University of Tokyo, and “I immediately recognized that it might be a pterosaur and was astonished at its gigantic size,” Tsuihiji said. “Straight away, we went back to the site and discovered the rest of the specimen.”

What they discovered were the remains of a flying monster that would have stood 18 feet high on the ground and had a wingspan that rivaled the length of the two largest pterosaurs currently known: Quetzalcoatlus, found in Texas in the 1970s, and Hatzegopteryx, found in Romania in the 1990s.

The Mongolian pterosaur has not been declared a new species yet, because of its incomplete remains.

“Although fragmentary, the specimen is from a gigantic individual … extending the geographic range of gigantic pterosaurs to Asia,” the scientists wrote in their report, which has been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.


Is the Dinosaur Family Tree Becoming a Dinosaur?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dinosaur Family Tree

The division of dinosaurs into two groups, a taxonomy that dates back to the Victorian era, is looking increasingly shaky to some paleontologists in light of a wealth of new fossil discoveries.

The dinosaur family tree has two main branches: the bird-hipped dinosaurs and the lizard-hipped dinosaurs. Paleontologists have built upon this idea for nearly 130 years. Textbook writers know it. Museum curators know it. Even children know it.

But what if it’s wrong? What if the established dinosaur family tree is, well, a dinosaur?

That question has sparked a heated debate among paleontologists. The Victorian-era model now has a formidable rival.

The debate reverberates beyond paleontology, as learning about dinosaurs often marks our first interaction with evolutionary biology. So as the scientists delve into the data, they open a window for the public to view how scientific models change.

“Just because we grew up with these ideas doesn’t mean that that’s set in stone,” says Peter Makovicky, associate curator at the Field Museum in Chicago. “We have to continuously revisit the evidence.”

It began in March. With all the new dinosaur fossils – just last year saw 36 new species described – it’s time to rethink the structure of the dinosaur family tree, according to Matthew Baron, who was a PhD student at the University of Cambridge at the time. After examining a massive dataset of dinosaur fossils, Dr. Baron and his advisors proposed a new model, placing the typically two-legged lizard-hipped theropods (like Tyrannosaurus) on a branch with the bird-hipped dinosaurs (like Stegosaurus and Triceratops), and the four-legged lizard-hipped, long-necked sauropods (like Brontosaurus) off on their own branch.

That shake-up of the dinosaur family tree set off a whirlwind of press activity and a flurry of exchanges among paleontologists. But we shouldn’t rewrite the textbooks just yet, say another group of paleontologists, in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature. This team, led by Max Langer of the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, reexamined the data underpinning the Baron et al. paper and concluded that the traditional dinosaur family tree should still stand – at least for now.

But the debate is still far from settled. This responding study actually found support for both models. The difference was “statistically indistinguishable,” says study co-author Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, although the results slightly leaned toward the traditional model.

The Victorian model

That family tree traces its roots back to 1888, when a British paleontologist, Harry Seeley, proposed that the distinction between dinosaur groups hinged on the hips. Seeley noted that all the dinosaur hip fossils on hand could easily be sorted into two groups determined by whether their pubic bones pointed forward or backward. Those that pointed forward resembled the hips of lizards, so Seeley dubbed that group saurischians (“lizard-hipped”). Likewise, the ornithischians (“bird-hipped”) had backward pointed pubic bones resembling those seen in birds.

Left: The traditional dinosaur family tree, with sauropods and theropods (both considered “lizard-hipped” dinosaurs) more closely related than ornithischians (“bird-hipped” dinosaurs). Right: The dinosaur family tree proposed by Baron et al. in March, 2017. Here, ornithischians (like Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Iguanodon) share a branch with theropods (like Tyrannosaurus). The long-necked sauropods (like Diplodocus) have their own branch. Courtesy of the University of Cambridge

So what does it take to overthrow a scientific model?

“Right now we’re at a point where we don’t really know with a lot of confidence” what the best model is, Dr. Brusatte says. “There have been so many new fossils, and now there are new datasets and some new techniques that are being used, and it’s thrown everything up into the air.”

What’s a paleontologist to do? The dinosaur family tree, or phylogeny, as scientists call it, underpins the major questions about how these creatures came to rule the Earth millions of years ago. And toppling an established scientific model is no easy feat.

“When you propose such a radical change to a well-established idea, you need very strong evidence,” Dr. Langer writes in an email. “The evidence they were putting forward in support of their model was not as strong as necessary to overthrow decades of studies pointing to another direction.”

Baron and his colleagues penned a rebuttal to the new paper. Still, Baron hopes that the debate will ultimately transcend the back-and-forth of papers and that all the scientists will find a consensus as a team.

For living animals, building phylogenies can be a bit less controversial, because the animals’ genomes are available. And that foundation can reveal surprising relationships. For example, genetic research in 2014 revealed that a tiny shrew that lives in Namibia is actually closely related to elephants.

But when it comes to dinosaurs, all paleontologists have to work with is appearance. DNA degrades too quickly to have lasted the millions of years that have elapsed since the dinosaurs went extinct (sorry, “Jurassic Park” fans). And bones and footprints can be ambiguous.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re making it up,” Brusatte says. “It just means that it’s going to be different depending on which human is looking at these bones and trying to make sense of them.”

With so many dinosaur fossils turning up around the globe, paleontologists have to rely heavily on each others’ descriptions of a new specimen to classify where the species fits in. And that’s where the disagreements come in, right at the root of the discussion.

For more than a century, paleontologists largely sought to place each new find somewhere on the tree that grew out of Seeley’s categorizations. Baron says that when a fossil wasn’t a perfect fit, “we always tried to shoehorn the new find into the old model somehow.”

A ‘Rosetta Stone’ fossil

Could there be some sort of Rosetta Stone fossil that sits just at the right point in the Triassic period, when dinosaurs first emerged, that could resolve the debate? Possibly, says Brusatte. If that animal had a mix of features distinctive of both ornithischians and theropods, then that would be evidence that Baron and his colleagues are correct.

But evolution itself could confound such a revelatory find. Sometimes two unrelated species can undergo convergent evolution, a process by which two different animals independently evolve a similar trait. For example, birds have backward oriented pubic bones (aka bird hips), and they’re dinosaurs. But they are not ornithischians (“bird-hipped” dinosaurs). Birds actually evolved from the theropod lineage, which is one of the two main groups classified as “lizard-hipped.”

Furthermore, evolution isn’t linear, it’s bushy and has many dead ends. In other words, a fossil with features of two different groups might not be in the middle of a transition from one to the other. And because not every organism is preserved in the fossil record, determining what is and is not a dead end can be tricky.

“There’s a lot of gray areas and a lot of debates, and there’s a lot of things that we just don’t know. It’s not because we have no evidence. It’s not because we’re not looking. It’s because we have so much evidence that it’s kind of conflicting, and we have to find a path through that chaos.” says Brusatte. “At the end of it all, something might emerge, some kind of consensus, but it might not be for a while.”

Despite the dramatic headlines, a new dinosaur family tree might not actually be a scientific revolution, says Derek Turner, a philosopher of science at Connecticut College. “I do think it would be a pretty significant change if the new model catches on,” he says, as it will open up new questions about dinosaur evolution. “But I think a lot of the upheaval would be more on the public understanding side.”

Dr. Makovicky, who was not an author on either paper, agrees. For many children, this is the first evolutionary family tree they learn about from the deep past, he says. And that divide between bird-hipped and lizard-hipped dinosaurs is deeply entrenched in books and museum displays.

But just as dinosaurs have long helped engage children and adults alike with science, this debate can help communicate a key piece of how science works. “Science is not just pushing the boundaries of what we can call new knowledge,” Makovicky says. “A big part of science is actually self-correction and revising things that we assumed we knew.”


Don’t Expect to See Much of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm in the Upcoming “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Though his return to the franchise was touted earlier this year, don’t expect to see much of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm in the upcoming “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”.

Malcolm was a key supporting character in the first film and the main lead in the second, but sat out the next two movies. Speaking on the Empire podcast this week, the beloved actor suggests his scenes are so short that they could easily cut him out of the film if the need arises:

“It’s small. Who knows, they may cut me out entirely! But if I stay in I’ll be a sprig of parsley or a little garnish, hopefully with some impact!”

B.D. Wong’s Henry Wu is the only other character from the original “Jurassic Park” trilogy confirmed to appear in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” though James Cromwell’s Benjamin Lockwood character has key ties to the late Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond who started the park.

Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Toby Jones, Daniella Pineda, Ted Levine, Geraldine Chaplin and Kevin Layne co-star in the J.A. Bayona-directed film which opens June next year.


Humans Wouldn’t Exist if Dinosaur-Ending Asteroid Hadn’t Struck Where it Did

Friday, November 10, 2017

Humans Wouldn’t Exist if Dinosaur-Ending Asteroid Hadn’t Struck Where it Did

The catastrophic asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago may not have been so devastating had it hit almost anywhere else on earth. It means dinosaurs could still rule the earth and humans may never have evolved at all.

That’s according to new research by Japanese scientists Kunio Kaiho and Naga Oshima, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports. They posit the asteroid, known as the Chicxulub Impactor, which smashed into what was then a shallow sea in modern day Mexico, would not have been so devastating if it hit about 87 percent of anywhere else on the planet.

The roughly six mile (10km) wide asteroid created a crater more 110 miles (176km) across when it smashed into our planet. The collision released more energy than 1 billion atomic bomb detonations which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of WW2.

More than 75 percent of all land and sea animals, the most famous of which being dinosaurs, were wiped out as a result. Huge volumes of ash, soot and dust shot into the atmosphere, blocking as much as 80 percent of precious sunlight from reaching the surface of the planet.

The pair believe the key ingredient in the extinction is the soot, which was produced when the impact ignited rocks loaded with hydrocarbon molecules such as oil. However, the amount of hydrocarbon in rocks varies widely depending on their location.

With this in mind, the team set about analysing places on Earth where the rocks have a high hydrocarbon molecule content. They found that only about 13 percent of the planet have such an environment, essentially meaning that the dinosaurs were unlucky the asteroid hit in such a hydrocarbon rich area.

“The catastrophic chain of events could only have occurred if the asteroid had hit the hydrocarbon-rich areas occupying approximately 13 percent of the Earth’s surface,” the scientists wrote in a university press release.

It’s a good thing for humanity, however, or else we may never had evolved in the first place.