nandi's blog

5 Reasons Why 2018 Was a Big Year for Paleontology

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The dinosaur Ledumahadi mafube — reconstructed in this illustration — made headlines in 2018. Credit: Courtesy of Viktor Radermacher

A lot happened in the world of paleontology in 2018. Some of the big events included some major fossil finds, a new understanding of our reptile ancestors and a major controversy whose outcome could rewrite human history. The Conversation Africa asked Julien Benoit to discuss five important moments in paleontology you may have missed during 2018, and what they mean — particularly for Africa and its place in the story of human origins.

1. A contested thigh bone

The year started with a bang. In January Roberto Macchiarelli, a professor of human paleontology, accused his colleague Michel Brunet of totally misrepresenting an important piece of evidence in the story of human evolution. The evidence in question is a femur — a thigh bone found in northern Chad in 2001. Macchiarelli believes that the femur belonged to Toumaï (Sahelanthropus tchadensis), a species which his opponent argues is the earliest known example of a human ancestor, dating back around 7 million years.

But Macchiarelli insists the femur belonged to a quadrupedal ape, not a bipedal hominin. It’s an important distinction. Before the discovery of Toumaï, it had long been believed that humankind originated in Eastern Africa. Toumaï solidly roots the human family tree on the western side of the continent. But if it turns out not to be a hominin, evolutionary history shifts once more.

2. Out of Africa

Homo sapiens originated from a single, common ancestor that lived in Africa 300,000 years ago. Then, between 100,000 and 80,000 years ago, Homo sapiens left the continent and began to spread out across the world.

Our African origins have been demonstrated countless times by genetic analyses and fossil evidence.

But what’s known as the multiregional model has persisted. Its proponents suggest that modern humans don’t have a single origin. Instead, we evolved independently of each other from different pre-human populations. Asians originated from the Asian Homo erectus, Europeans from the neanderthal man, and Africans from the African Homo heidelbergensis.

It’s a theory ripe with racist undertones and has enjoyed decreasing support in the past few decades.

Those who backed the model pointed out that modern Asian populations and Asian Homo erectus all had unique shovel-like incisors. This was considered a sign of common ancestry.

In April, the final nail was hammered into the theory’s coffin. Genetic analysis showed that this trait of the incisors was merely a side effect of adaptation to a cold environment.

The gene that controls for the shovel-like incisors also coincidentally decreases the number of sweat glands and enriches mothers’ milk with fat. These two features can be crucial for survival during an Ice Age.

Because of the genetic connection between these traits, Homo erectus and Asian modern humans would have incidentally evolved similar incisors by evolving these adaptations against cold in a parallel manner. This means the shovel-like incisors were not inherited by Asian Homo sapiens from a Homo erectus ancestor: they were acquired because of the cold environment.

It’s yet more proof that humankind’s family tree is solidly rooted in Africa.

3. A seriously big dinosaur

We’ve long known that gigantic dinosaurs roamed ancient African landscapes. The Paralititan, from Egypt, weighed around 60 tons. Brachiosaurus, from Tanzania, was among the tallest dinosaurs that ever lived; another Tanzanian specimen, Diplodocus, was among the longest.

The meat-eating Spinosaurus, found in Niger and North Africa, was even bigger than its iconic North American Tyrannosaurus rex.

But when and where did gigantism among dinosaurs first evolve? Ledumahadi mafube, from South Africa, sheds new light on this question. The 200 million-year-old dinosaur weighed around 12 tons, making it the earliest dinosaur to pass beyond the 10 ton threshold. Later, dinosaurs would become even bigger. But in its time, Ledumahadi mafube was a giant among dwarfs.

4. Reimagining reptiles

Mammals evolved from an unexpected source: reptiles, and specifically a group of “mammal-like reptiles” called the cynodonts.

One of the biggest differences between mammals and reptiles today is their reproductive biology. Most reptiles lay eggs and show little to no parental care, whereas most mammals give live birth to younglings and provide them with extensive parental care.

We haven’t known whether cynodonts were more like mammals or reptiles in this respect — until 2018. Scientists in the US studied the fossil remains of an adult cynodont dating back 190 million years, and found preserved with the skeletons of 38 babies.

That’s a huge clutch size; one that’s never encountered in mammals but is typically found among some reptiles that lay eggs. The scientists also argue that it’s unlikely that the adult mother cynodont could have produced enough milk or provided enough parental care to raise so many babies.

This suggests that cynodonts must have had a reptilian reproductive biology, and helps us to understand these important human ancestors a little better. It also means that South Africa’s extensive fossil record, which has so far been interpreted to propose that cynodonts cared for their young, might need a complete reinterpretation.

5. A four-legged find

In June, it was announced that two species of fossil amphibians new to science had been found in South Africa.

The two represent the oldest evidence of four legged land-dwelling animals, called tetrapods, on the African continent: a missing link between fish, amphibians and reptiles. Historically, the search for tetrapod ancestry overlooked Africa. This puts the continent on the map when it comes to seeking evidence for how the transition of life from sea to land occurred.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Paralititan stromeri - giant titanosaurian from Albian-Cenomanian of Egypt

Paralititan (meaning "tidal giant") was a giant titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur genus discovered in coastal deposits in the Upper Cretaceous Bahariya Formation of Egypt. It lived between 99.6 and 93.5 million years ago.

Joshua Smith, who informally led the research team that found the dinosaur fossils, told an interviewer, "It was a truly enormous dinosaur by any reckoning."

Paralititan size by Sassani, 2012.

Little of Paralititan is known, so its exact size is difficult to estimate. However, the limited material, especially the long humeri, suggested that it is one of the most massive dinosaurs ever discovered, with an estimated weight of 59 t (65 short tons). The complete right humerus measured 1.69 meters (5.54 ft) long which at the time of discovery was the longest known in a Cretaceous sauropod; this was surpassed in 2016 with the discovery of Notocolossus which had a 1.76 m (5 ft 9 in) humerus. Using Saltasaurus as a guide, Carpenter estimated its length at around 26 m (85 ft). Scott Hartman estimates an animal that is massive, but still smaller than the biggest titanosaurs such as PuertasaurusAlamosaurus, and Argentinosaurus. In 2010, Gregory S. Paul estimated the length at twenty metres, the weight at twenty tonnes.

From the formation another sauropod had already been known, AegyptosaurusParalititan differs from Aegyptosaurus in its larger size, the latter genus weighing only fifteen tons, possibly in not having pleurocoels in its front tail vertebrae, and in possessing a relatively longer deltopectoral crest on its humerus.

Humeri at the Egyptian Geological Museum

The holotype specimen of Paralititan, CGM 81119, was found in a layer of the Bahariya Formation, dating from the Cenomanian. It consists of a partial skeleton lacking the skull. It is incomplete, apart from bone fragments containing two fused posterior sacral vertebrae, two anterior caudal vertebrae, both incomplete scapulae, two humeri and a metacarpal. The Paralititan type specimen shows evidence of having been scavenged by a carnivorous dinosaur as it was disarticulated within an oval of eight metres length with the various bones being clustered. A Carcharodontosaurus tooth was discovered in between the clusters. The holotype is part of the collection of the Cairo Geological Museum.

The large anterior dorsal vertebra 1912V11164, in 1932 by Stromer referred to an undetermined "Giant Sauropod", was in 2001 tentatively referred to Paralititan.

The autochthonous, scavenged skeleton was preserved in tidal flat deposits containing in the form of fossil leaves and root systems, a mangrove vegetation of seed ferns, Weichselia reticulata. The mangrove ecosystem it inhabited was situated along the southern shore of the Tethys Sea. Paralititan is the first dinosaur demonstrated to have inhabited a mangrove habitat. It lived at approximately the same time and place as giant predators CarcharodontosaurusSpinosaurus, and the sauropod Aegyptosaurus.

Source: /

Disney Channel Acquires Animated Dinosaur Series 'Gigantosaurus'

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Courtesy of Cyber Group Studios

The show, which premieres Jan. 18, follows four dinosaur friends on their adventures.

Dinosaurs are coming to Disney Channel.

The network has acquired a CGI animated adventure series called Gigantosaurus from Cyber Group Studios that's aimed at preschoolers. It's set to premiere at 9 a.m. Jan. 18 on Disney Channel and the DisneyNOW app.

Based on Jonny Duddle's best-selling book of the same name, the family series stars four dinosaur friends who embark on comedy-filled adventures as they dare to be themselves and explore the world beyond their nests. Their adventures find them exploring the mystery of "Gigantosaurus," the biggest, fiercest dinosaur of all, as they learn to face their individual fears and work together to solve a problem.

"We're so excited to introduce families to the incredible world of Gigantosaurus,"said Pierre Sissmann, chairman and CEO of Cyber Group Studios. "Children have always been fascinated by dinosaurs and they will immediately relate to these unique characters, who, like them, are just beginning to assert their independence and learn about the importance of being themselves and being a good friend."


700,000 LEGO Bricks: NHM's 'Jurassic World' Display

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

See Blue, and a vehicle that's been dino'd, in "life-size" form, via hundreds of thousands of LEGO bricks, at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

Been humming "Blue Christmas" lately?

You may be revisiting the Kingly carol because it is a true classic, a slow-sweet song that encapsulates a holiday that's arriving with a little heartache in tow.

But, of course, you could also be referring to Blue, the rascal of a velociraptor seen in the "Jurassic World" films, a scaly superstar known for her ability to jump, run, and show her very shiny, very big teeth.

She's not currently running, nor jumping, at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, but the big-screen dinosaur is standing tall, atop an overturned Jeep, and looking quite proud about it, too.

However, this version of Blue, and this Jeep, and this display, which is open for a limited-time at the Exposition Park science museum, isn't comprised of real dino teeth and actual car parts: It has been deftly and imaginatively fashioned out of 700,000 LEGO bricks.

The display's height? Look up: It stands at an impressive, dino-big 12 feet.

The display's weight? It's 3,560 pounds, which is notably less than what a Tyrannosaurus rex weighed, but still square in the "whoa, that's a lot" department.

Where to find it? Stomp, stomp, stomp for the museum's Otis Booth Pavilion on Level G.

The cost to admire this LEGO-riffic, dino-dazzling wonder of a brick-filled artwork it? It's free with your paid NHMLA admission.

There are more great things to see at NHMLA this holiday season, so dash, raptor-style, to this page pronto.


Human Ancestors Weren’t Fussy When Eating Plants

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Paranthropus boisei, as modelled by the Smithsonian, helping itself to a plant.  BILL O'LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY IMAGES

Isotope analysis shows early hominins were generalist feeders.

The carbon composition of enamel in early hominin teeth, supported by soil sample evidence, suggests our ancestors were dietary generalists, able to eat a wide variety of plants that grow in both semi-arid and wooded areas.

Paranthropus boisei and Homo rudolfensisare coexisted roughly 2.4 million years ago near Lake Malawi in the East African Rift system, where they ate large amounts of C3 plants, which today include beans, rice, and potatoes. But by two million years ago, Paranthropus shifted their plant preferences as they moved to hotter, drier areas, according to a new study by a group of paleontologists, led by Tina Lüdecke of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt, Germany. 

The researchers conclude that during the Early Pleistocene, hominins showed “a high versatility in the diverse habitats of the East African Rift system”.

Lüdecke and her team analyse the enamel of fossilised teeth from the region, as well as soil samples.

Plants are generally either C3 or C4 types, depending on the number of carbon atoms in the molecules created during photosynthesis. C3 plants occur in more temperate climates, are thought to have evolved earlier than C4 plants, and are woodier.

C4 plants make up only 5% of existing plant biomass. They include grasses, corn, and sugarcane, and can withstand warmer temperatures.

Since animals, including humans, use carbon from plants to form enamel, looking at carbon isotopes in it can help determine what type of plant matter an organism ate. (The isotopes can also be passed on from meat. Someone with an all-beef diet, for example, would carry isotopes from the cow’s food.)

Lüdecke’s team also looked at isotope data from soil at the fossil sites, which helped them reconstruct the temperature data for the region. This data support their findings that P. boisei and H. rudolfensis were dietary generalists.

“Collectively, the stable isotope and faunal data presented here document that early Homo and Paranthropus were dietary opportunists and able to cope with a wide range of paleohabitats, which clearly demonstrates their high behavioral flexibility in the African Early Pleistocene,” the scientists write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Behavioural flexibility is considered a key component to survival, so these findings could help explain why humans are here today.


Ancient Whale Named for UW Paleontologist Elizabeth Nesbitt

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Elizabeth Nesbitt with some of the whale fossils in the Burke Museum’s collection.University of Washington

A newly discovered species of whale — found preserved in ancient rock on the Oregon coast — has been named for a University of Washington paleontologist.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Elizabeth Nesbitt, who is curator of invertebrate paleontology and micropaleontology at the Burke Museum and an associate professor in the UW’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences.

Maiabalaena nesbittae lived about 33 million years ago and was described in a study published in Current Biology by researchers at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

The genus portion of the name combines “balaena,” the Latin word for whale, and “maia” meaning mother, because this species, that had neither teeth nor baleen, is the intermediate stage between modern, filter-feeding baleen whales and their toothed whale ancestors. The Smithsonian paleontologists concluded that this whale used suction to pull fish or squid into its mouth.

While Nesbitt’s research is mostly on smaller fossils of marine animals without backbones, she was instrumental in figuring out the age of Washington and Oregon rocks that the marine mammal fossils are found in. In January 2018, Nesbitt published a paper about the ages of the geologic units in Washington and Oregon that are younger than 50 million years old.

“I use the fossils, mostly different types of clams and snails, to tell geologic time,” Nesbitt said. “Any one species, or any group of species of fossil, lives for a certain period of time. Then when they die, they’re gone. You’re never going to see those guys again, thus each group characterizes a geologic time span,” Nesbitt said.

She compares the fossil assemblages from the Pacific Northwest with those in other parts of the world to pin down dates. Dating rocks is especially tricky in the Pacific Northwest, she said, which is isolated from other land masses and geologically complex.

An artistic reconstruction of a mother and calf of Maiabalaena nesbittae nursing offshore of Oregon during the Oligocene, about 33 million years ago.Alex Boersma

“If you go to the Gulf Coast, everything’s in nice layers. Here, because of plate tectonics, because of the Olympics and the Cascades, everything is tilted, folded and out of sequence. And the other problem in the western Pacific Northwest is dense vegetation covering the rock outcrops. So the dating is much more complicated here than other places in the world,” Nesbitt said.

Another challenge in the dating for the new species, she added, was the rock samples attached to the fossil were just small slivers.

The fossil of the M. nesbittae had been collected in Oregon in the 1970s and sent to the Smithsonian. It wasn’t until lead author Carlos Mauricio Peredo, a doctoral student at George Mason University and predoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian, was investigating very early marine mammals that he realized this specimen’s potential evolutionary importance, Nesbitt said.

The M. nesbittae was likely the size of a dolphin. Researchers do not know how widely it roamed. It just happens that the Pacific Northwest is one of the best places in the world — along with Japan and New Zealand — to find fossils of whales.

“First of all, we have the rocks of the right age, from around the 30-million-year-old time period in which there was an absolute explosion of whales of different types,” Nesbitt said.

“Secondly, when these sediments were deposited the water was deep. So the deeper the water the better chance you have of preserving the fossils — when these rocks were collected they’re essentially sitting in concrete. It takes an incredible amount of time to prepare them.”

Over the course of her career, Nesbitt has explored almost every part of the coast in Washington and Oregon. At this point in her career, she does less fieldwork, since many of the fossils are found on steep cliff faces. But she recently collected whale fossils on Vancouver Island with Nicholas Pyenson, an affiliate curator at the Burke Museum and a co-author on the Current Biology paper.

Nesbitt is also involved in an ongoing project with the Washington Department of Ecology studying modern-day marine microorganisms, from the mid-1990s to today, to learn about changes in Puget Sound ecology.

Nesbitt encourages people in the Seattle area to explore the fossil whales on display at the Burke Museum, many of which were collected by Burke research associate James Goedert and prepared by staff member Bruce Crowley.

As for the new whale, the authors write that “the specific epithet nesbittae honors Dr. Elizabeth Nesbitt, for her lifetime of contribution to the paleontology of the Pacific Northwest and her mentorship and collegiality at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.”


Scientists Discover How Birds and Dinosaurs Evolved to Dazzle with Colourful Displays

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Primotrogon fossil (above) compared with its modern day equivalent, the Narina Trogon. Credit: Fossil: Jakob Vinther and Fiann Smithwick. Photograph: Daniel Field

Iridescence is responsible for some of the most striking visual displays in the animal kingdom. Now, thanks to a new study of feathers from almost 100 modern bird species, scientists have gained new insights into how this colour diversity evolved.

Iridescence refers to the phenomena where colour changes when an object is viewed from different angles. Birds produce this varying coloration in their feathers by using nanoscale arrays of melanin-filled organelles (melanosomes) layered with keratin. In this form of structural colouration, the shapes of melanosomes together with the thickness of keratin layers determine what colour is produced.

While melanosome morphology has previously been used to predict colour in fossil animals, melanosome variation in iridescent feathers has not been analysed on as large a scale until this study.

As reported in the journal Evolution, a team of University of Bristol researchers used scanning electron microscopy to quantify melanosome extracts from the feathers of 97 species of modern birds with iridescent plumage, taken from the collections of the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen.

The study showed that iridescent feathers contain the most varied melanosome morphologies of all types of bird coloration sampled to date. Unlike black, grey and brown feathers that always contain solid melanosomes, iridescent feathers can contain melanosomes that are hollow and/or flattened.

Scaniacypselus fossil (above) compared with its modern day equivalent, the Plume-toed Swiftlet. Credit: Fossil: Jakob Vinther and Fiann Smithwick. Photograph: Daniel Field

"We found that melanosomes in modern iridescent feathers are more diverse in shape than those found in grey, black or brown feathers combined (that also contain melanosomes)," said lead author Klara Nordén, who conducted the study during her undergraduate years at Bristol's School of Earth Sciences. "It is already known that structural coloration is responsible for 70 per cent of the colour variability in birds. These two facts might be coupled – birds evolved varied forms of melanosomes to achieve ever greater diversity in colour.

"I wanted to find out if we could improve current predictive models for fossil colour based on melanosome morphology by including all types of melanosomes found in iridescent feathers."

Dr. Jakob Vinther, co-author of the study and a leading researcher in the field of paleocolour at Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, had already collected the perfect fossil samples to test the new model on. "We had sampled Scaniacypselus, related to modern tree swifts, and Primotrogon, ancestor to modern trogons. These groups are iridescent today and have flat and hollow melanosomes. Did their 48-million-year-old ancestors from Germany also have iridescent plumage?"

Interestingly, the model predicted that Primotrogon probably was iridescent, but it used solid rather than hollow melanosomes, unlike its modern descendants.

"This demonstrates how we now have the tools to map out the evolution of iridescence in fossil lineages," said Klara, who is now a Ph.D. student at Princeton University. "It opens the door to many new discoveries of dazzling displays in fossil birds and other dinosaurs."

The current study focused on mapping out how melanosomes vary in iridescent feathers. Further avenues of research might examine why birds utilise such diversity of melanosome types in iridescent feathers. These insights could ultimately enhance our understanding of why fossil birds or dinosaurs might have used such morphologies, revealing something about their behaviour.

More information: Klara K. Nordén et al. Melanosome diversity and convergence in the evolution of iridescent avian feathers-Implications for paleocolor reconstruction, Evolution (2018). DOI: 10.1111/evo.13641


6 NEW Books for Kids About Dinosaurs

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

6 Books for Kids About Dinosaurs

I’ve got dinosaurs on my mind lately—not only because of the books I’m about to share in today’s column, but also because I recently got Duelosaur Island, a two-player spin-off board game of Dinosaur Island, and I’m eager to play that some more. Today’s books are mostly picture books, along with one longer book that’s sort of a graphic novel and sort of a picture book. Let’s dig in!


The Dinosaur Expert 

by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas

Kimmy loves fossils and dinosaurs, so she’s really excited to visit the natural history museum with her class. But Jake keeps telling her that girls can’t be scientists, which discourages her. (Grrrr, Jake!) Fortunately, her teacher Mr. Tiffin recognizes both her expertise and her uncomfortable silence, and introduces her to Gasparinisaura Cincosaltensis: a dinosaur discovered by Zulma Brandoni de Gasparini, a Latina woman. Kimmy finds her groove again, and adds Dr. Brandoni de Gasparini to her list of heroes. The back of the book includes a section of Kimmy’s favorite paleontologists, women who are all (except one) still alive and working now. I liked this book not only because it does teach some actual dinosaur facts, but also because of the way that it promotes the idea that girls can be scientists (and that boys—including Jake—can learn to accept that, too).

How to Be a T. Rex

written by Ryan North, illustrated by Mike Lowery

Sal is a little girl, but what she really wants to be is a T. Rex. After all, it’s so much cooler when you can roar, ignore all the rules, and eat everything. Of course, as she discovers, sometimes when you ignore all the rules, you still get sent to your room, even if you are a dinosaur. So she works on some compromises, calling upon her inner dinosaur when the time is right, but also being able to wear her snazzy sneakers. Okay, so this one isn’t really a non-fiction book like many of the others in the list, but it’s cute and amusing, and does include some valuable life lessons (even if it doesn’t teach you literally how to be an actual T. Rex).

Titanosaur: Discovering the World’s Largest Dinosaur

written by Dr. José Luis Carballido & Dr. Diego Pol, illustrated by Florencia Gigena

(Note that Titanosaur won’t be released until February 2019, but it is available for pre-order now.)

The titanosaur shows up briefly in The Dinosaur Expert (above), but gets to take center stage in this picture book, which is a non-fictional account of the discovery of Patagotitan mayorum, written by the two paleontologists who led the dig. It’s told in simple language that kids can understand, with some sidebars that explain specific terms or show photographs of the process, and it’s an exciting story: a gaucho and his dog stumbled upon a bone, which eventually led to the excavation of several titanosaur skeletons.

One thing the book doesn’t really get into is that the titanosaur is a group of dinosaurs, not one specific one, and (as far as I can tell) the Patagotitanisn’t actually the largest of the bunch—so it’s not entirely clear to me what the “world’s largest dinosaur” claim is based on. Either way, it’s a massive dinosaur, with a femur longer than the paleontologists who dug it up, and the book is a great way to learn more about it.

Dinosaur: A Photicular Book 

written by Kathy Wollard, created by Dan Kainen

Photicular books are like an analog version of animated GIFs: as you open and close the book, the image (seen through a lenticular display) is animated in a short loop. This one features eight scenes (including the T. Rex on the cover), each accompanied by one-page introduction and some quick facts like size, diet, and threats. At the beginning of the book is a longer introduction by Wollard about dinosaurs, extinction events, and paleontology.

The Colorful World of Dinosaurs

by Matt Sewell

Dinosaur science is always evolving: we thought dinosaurs were cold-blooded, scaly reptiles, but it turns out they may have been mesothermic and feathered. After a brief (but more densely worded) introduction to dinosaurs (as well as pterosaurs and icthyosaurs, which aren’t technically dinosaurs but are also included here), Sewell fills nearly 100 pages with colorful watercolor illustrations of dinosaurs, accompanied by short descriptions that often include a bit of humor. These illustrations aren’t meant to be photorealistic and are a bit cartoony, but they play with the idea that dinosaurs may have been more brightly colored than we’ve thought in the past.


by Sean Rubin

Bolivar is a dinosaur who lives in New York City, but nobody notices him because everybody’s too busy with their own things. That works for Bolivar, who just wants to live quietly in his apartment and stay out of trouble. But Sybil, the little girl who lives next door, notices him, and is on a mission to get photographic proof (because her mother, as with all the other people in the book, just thinks Sybil is being silly).

This book is a hybrid between a graphic novel and a picture book: there are speech bubbles and panels on some pages, but a lot of the pages are also full-page illustrations accompanied by some narrated text. It’s also much longer than your average picture book, at over 200 pages, and it’s gorgeous. Although the people (and Bolivar himself) are somewhat cartoony, their surroundings are incredibly detailed, from the mosaic mural in the subway station to the various exhibits in the natural history museum.

The story is very funny, and progresses from the predictable—Sybil’s mom manages to interrupt every time she’s about to snap a photo—to a zany, madcap adventure involving the mayor and a case of mistaken identity. It’s kid-friendly, but also may serve as a helpful reminder to adults to pay a little more attention to the world around them.


In China at a Copper Mine Discovered Dinosaur Footprints

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Large areas of rocks with dinosaur footprints discovered in open cut mining of copper ore in China, the newspaper “Zhongguo QINGNIAN Bao”.

The traces were found during blasting in the mine “of Canbelego” in Sichuan province. The company’s administration reported the discovery to local authorities. When inspection of the site revealed three sites of the breed, showing many traces of one, two, three and four fingers.

Work on the site, it was decided to stop. The experts found that the traces belong to carnivorous dinosaurs. According to the discoverer of the footprints of the former head of the local branch of the Fund of cultural heritage EBI Stefano, it is assumed that carnivorous dinosaurs could swim. According to paleontologists, on the territory of the County, Jossue about 100 million years ago was a large lake on which coast and walking reptiles. The prints of their feet were filled with lake sediments, which later hardened. This allowed the trail to be well preserved.

It is noted that the previously seen dinosaur footprints in the mine, but they were destroyed when mining.


Russian Paleontologists Discover New Giant Herbivorous Sauropod: Volgatitan simbirskiensis

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Skeletal restoration of the titanosaurian sauropod Volgatitan.

Paleontologists from Russia have described a new dinosaur, the Volgatitan. Seven of its fossilized vertebrae, buried in the ground for about 130 million years, were found on the banks of the Volga, not far from the village of Slantsevy Rudnik, five kilometers from Ulyanovsk. The study has been published in the latest issue of Biological Communications.

The Volgatitan belongs to the group of sauropods—giant herbivorous dinosaurs with a long necks and tails, which lived about 200 to 65 million years ago. Weighing around 17 tons, the ancient reptile from the banks of the Volga was not the largest among its relatives. The scientists described it from seven caudal vertebrae. The bones belonged to an adult dinosaur characterized by neural arches (parts of the vertebrae protecting the nerves and blood vessels), which completely merged with the bodies of the vertebrae.

The remains of the dinosaur were discovered near the village of Slantsevy Rudnik. This is where, in 1982, Vladimir Efimov discovered three large vertebrae that had fallen out of a high cliff. Later, in 1984-1987, three nodules of limestone fell off, which contained the remaining vertebrae. In his works, the head of the Undorovsky Paleontology Museum called the unusual finds "giant vertebrae of unknown taxonomic affiliation."

Alexander Averianov said, "In the early 1990s, Vladimir Efimov showed photographs of the bones to Lev Nesov, a well-known Leningrad paleontologist. Lev Nesov thought that the vertebrae belonged to sauropods, giant herbivorous dinosaurs. In 1997, Vladimir Efimov published a preliminary note about this find in the Paleontological Journal. He referred to the vertebrae as a sauropod of the Brachiosauridae family. Last July, I finally managed to visit him in Undory and study the bones, and also managed to determine that they belonged to the new taxon of titanosaurs."

Volgatitan simbirskiensis anterior caudal vertebra (holotype), in right lateral (A), anterior (B), left lateral (C), posterior (D), dorsal (E), and ventral (F) views; photographs. Credit: Alexander Averianov and Vladimir Efimov

The dinosaur received a scientific name—Volgatitan simbirskiensis. It comes from the Volga River and the city of Simbirsk (currently, Ulyanovsk). Titans are ancient Greek gods known for their large size. Therefore, according to a paleontological tradition, this word is used in many scientific names of sauropods from the group of titanosaurs. It is also part of the name of the group.

Today, along with the Volgatitan from Russia, 12 valid dinosaur taxa have been described. There are only three sauropods among them: Tengrisaurus starkovi, Sibirotitan astrosacralis and Volgatitan simbirskiensis. The first two are the first sauropods in Russia, which were also studied by St. Petersburg University scientists in 2017. According to Aleksandr Averianov, the description of dinosaur taxa in recent years has become possible due to progress in understanding the anatomy and phylogeny of dinosaurs. In addition, the Russian sauropod allowed scientists to learn more about how these species of ancient reptiles had lived and developed.

"Previously, it was believed that the evolution of titanosaurs took place mainly in South America, with some taxa moving into North America, Europe and Asia only in the Late Cretaceous," explained the St. Petersburg University professor. In Asia, representatives of a broader group of titanosauriform, such as the recently described Siberian titanium, dominated in the early Cretaceous. However, the recent description of the Tengrisaurus from the Early Cretaceous of Transbaikal Region and the finding of the Volgatitan indicate that titanosaurs in the Early Cretaceous were distributed much more widely; and, perhaps, important stages of their evolution took place in Eastern Europe and Asia."

More information: et al, The oldest titanosaurian sauropod of the Northern Hemisphere, Biological Communications (2018). DOI: 10.21638/spbu03.2018.301 

Provided by: AKSON Russian Science Communication Association