nandi's blog

Copper Dinosaur Appears in Aberdeen Shopping Centre

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Welcome to Jurassic nark: Coppersaurus “unearthed” as UK grows frustrated with prehistoric broadband

A copper dinosaur has been unveiled at Aberdeen’s Union Square shopping centre as part of a national broadband campaign.

The Coppersaurus is touring the UK as part of the CityFibre’s national campaign to make “misleading broadband adverts extinct”.

It will be making its way to the Bon Accord Centre tomorrow.

Will Brayne, director of marketing and communications at CityFibre, said: “The Coppersaurus represents the UK’s neglected digital infrastructure and its equally redundant advertising rules. Copper is masquerading as fibre across the UK, leaving us stuck with a relic from the past rather than focusing on the digital connectivity of the future.”

The Coppersaurus at Union Square in Aberdeen

At present, the UK’s advertising rules – enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – do not require advertisers to distinguish between full and part fibre services.

The city has been selected as the first location in Scotland to benefit from a complete full fibre transformation as part of CityFibre’s strategic partnership with Vodafone, which aims to deliver full fibre to five million homes and businesses by 2025.


New Dinosaur Species Discovered in Australia: Weewarrasaurus pobeni

Friday, December 7, 2018

An artist’s impression of Weewarrasaurus pobeni. Image credit: James Kuether.

Paleontologists in Australia have found a fossil fragment from a new species of ornithopod dinosaur that walked the Earth approximately 100 million years ago (Cretaceous period).

The new Australian dinosaur, named Weewarrasaurus pobeni, was about the size of a large dog.

The ancient creature was an ornithopod dinosaur, part of a group of small plant-eating species that moved around on two legs and that were particularly abundant on the Cretaceous floodplains of eastern Australia.

A fragment of the jawbone of Weewarrasaurus pobeni was found deep in an underground mine at the Wee Warra locality close to the Grawin/Glengarry opal fields, approximately 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Lightning Ridge, central-northern New South Wales.

The fossil was analyzed by a team of paleontologists from the Australian Opal Centre and the Universities of New England and Queensland.

“Like all fossils from the Lightning Ridge opal mines, the lower jaw of Weewarrasaurus pobeni is preserved in opal,” said University of New England’s Dr. Phil Bell and co-authors.

“Lightning Ridge is the only place in the world where dinosaur bones routinely turn to opal.”

The lower jaw of Weewarrasaurus pobeni. Image credit: Bell et al, doi: 10.7717/peerj.6008.

Lightning Ridge is a world-class fossil resource because it preserves a unique suite of Cretaceous fauna.

“If these fossils were in surface rock, like those found in China and Mongolia, it would be an absolute treasure-trove,” Dr. Bell said.

“Unfortunately, the fossil remnants we see are almost always part of mining spoil, because they sit in rock strata that lie up to 100 feet (30 m) underground.”

“The mining process breaks the fossils into fragments — but on the other hand, we would never get to see even those fragments if it wasn’t for mining.”

“The jawbone of Weewarrasaurus pobeni is a supremely rare and unlikely discovery,” said Dr. Jenni Brammall, manager of the Australian Opal Centre.

“This incredible little object is both the 100 million-year-old jaw of a new dinosaur species and a precious gemstone.”

The discovery is reported in the journal PeerJ.


P.R. Bell et al. 2018. Ornithopod diversity in the Griman Creek Formation (Cenomanian), New South Wales, Australia. PeerJ 6: e6008; doi: 10.7717/peerj.6008


Strangers Replace Boy's Toy Dinosaurs Burnt in California Fire

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Riley Wooten, 4, with some of the dinosaurs strangers sent him after his collection burned with his Paradise, Calif., home in the deadly Camp Fire. (Tanya Renfro)

Four-year-old Riley Wooten literally ran from his house in Paradise, Calif., with his grandmother and his dog as their home suddenly erupted in flames.

He grabbed his favorite toy, a dinosaur named Chompy, but left behind everything else, including his prized collection of other dinos.

He and his family made it safely out of town that day last month to relatives’ homes, dodging fire raining around them in the Camp Fire blaze that killed almost 90 people and scorched about 14,000 homes. In the aftermath, friends and family kept asking Riley’s family: What can we do to help?

In response, Riley’s great aunt, Tanya Renfro, posted on Facebook that maybe someone could send Riley a toy dinosaur, as he sorely missed his collection. She added a photo of Riley on Halloween dressed as a Triceratops. Within days, boxes and boxes of dinosaurs, dino-themed blankets, pillowcases, movies, books and lamps started appearing at their doorstep.

Riley Wooten, 4, with some of the dinosaurs strangers sent him after his home in Paradise, Calif., burned and he lost his collection. (Tanya Renfro)

There were walking Velociraptors, talking Pteradons, light-up Triceratops and a roaring T-Rex.

“All my friends shared my Facebook post and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, give me that baby’s address,’ ” Renfro said. “Some days, we’d get five packages.”

Riley’s collection has been replenished to about 100 different dinosaur toys. But the boxes keep coming — and about half of the packages are from complete strangers.

“The outpouring has been amazing,” Renfro said. “I can’t even describe how much the community has come together to help. Everybody lost everything, nobody had time to get their things.”

Riley’s family is grateful for the many dinosaur toys people have sent, which are helping Riley as he deals with the trauma of watching his home and all his belongings go up in flames.

“My old school burned down,” Riley said in an interview with The Washington Post, and he also described how he left his favorite blue helmet in his old house, and now it’s gone.

“Sometimes he’ll cry and say ‘I want to go home,’ ” Renfro said.

But he excitedly talks about his new toys.

Riley has been raised by his grandmother, Teri Shesson, 58, with the help of other family members since he was just a few weeks old, when his parents couldn’t care for him and they wanted Riley to be raised in a stable, loving home.  “He’s the sweetest boy and he’s very smart,” Renfro said.  He and his grandmother are now living with Riley’s aunt, Jenny Benson, 34, in the town of Gridley, which is about 30 miles from Paradise. Riley and Shesson are sleeping in a room with Benson’s son, who is roughly the same age as Riley.  It has been a bit of a challenge at times, but Benson said they all feel extraordinarily fortunate because they are aware that many people were not able to escape the fire, or if they did, have nowhere to go.  [This family fled the Camp Fire. Then they learned their garage became a makeshift hospital.]  Benson gets excited with Riley every time a package arrives. She has also been helping him set aside some of his new dinosaur toys for other kids in need.  “He’s bagged up some to give to kids who really don’t have anything,” Benson said, adding there is a local shelter in town where she can bring them. “It’s a good lesson for him to pay it forward.”

“I got dinosaur blankets, I got a pillowcase with my name on it and a dinosaur that poops other dinosaurs out,” he said in the phone interview.

Riley has been raised by his grandmother, Teri Shesson, 58, with the help of other family members since he was just a few weeks old, when his parents couldn’t care for him and they wanted Riley to be raised in a stable, loving home.

“He’s the sweetest boy and he’s very smart,” Renfro said.

He and his grandmother are now living with Riley’s aunt, Jenny Benson, 34, in the town of Gridley, which is about 30 miles from Paradise. Riley and Shesson are sleeping in a room with Benson’s son, who is roughly the same age as Riley.

It has been a bit of a challenge at times, but Benson said they all feel extraordinarily fortunate because they are aware that many people were not able to escape the fire, or if they did, have nowhere to go.

Benson gets excited with Riley every time a package arrives. She has also been helping him set aside some of his new dinosaur toys for other kids in need.

“He’s bagged up some to give to kids who really don’t have anything,” Benson said, adding there is a local shelter in town where she can bring them. “It’s a good lesson for him to pay it forward.”


Rare Dinosaur Fossil Discovered on Internet After Disappearing for Decades

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Kakuru kujani is the only dinosaur to have left fossils in SA.  Supplied: South Australian Museum

A rare fossil believed to be from South Australia's only known dinosaur is shedding new light on the turkey-sized creature, with the opalised toe bone resurfacing on the internet after disappearing for almost five decades.

The fossil is one of only three dinosaur bones known to have been found in South Australia, all of which are from a species called Kakuru kujani.

The fossilised bones were originally found in South Australia's outback in sediments from the early Cretaceous Period, about 110 million years ago.

A fossil expert at the South Australian Museum said the Kakuru appeared to have been a small carnivorous dinosaur.

"These are the only bones of this dinosaur known anywhere in the world," said Ben McHenry, the museum's senior collections manager for earth sciences.

The fossil will officially be unveiled at the museum later today.

"It's a toe bone, it's about five centimetres long," Mr McHenry said.

"Australia is the only place in the world where you find opalised fossils… the bones of a dinosaur have been replaced by precious opal."

PHOTO: The fossil specimen is barely five centimetres in length. (Supplied: Ashleigh Glynn)

Rediscovered after 45 years

The history behind the state's only known dinosaur dates back to a discovery almost half a century ago in the centre of Adelaide.

An opalised toe bone of the dinosaur was dug up in Andamooka in the early 1970s and was spotted by Neville Pledge — the museum's then-curator of fossils.

He noticed the toe bone in 1973 in an opal shop in Hindley Street in the Adelaide CBD.

Mr Pledge is now an honorary researcher at the South Australian Museum and said he was fortunate to be able to take photos, measurements and make a few plaster casts of the toe bone — but from there, the fossil went missing.

The Kakuru kujani is believed to have been little more than a metre in length.  Supplied: South Australian Museum

But in an intriguing twist, the bone was spotted for sale on the internet by Coober Pedy resident Joy Kloester in April this year.

Ms Kloester immediately purchased the toe bone and offered it to the museum.

Mr McHenry said he acted quickly to acquire the rare specimen and said the find was so special because dinosaur bones were "incredibly rare" in the state.

"The reason why we don't have dinosaur bones is because when the dinosaurs were stomping around on the land, most of South Australia was under water," he said.

"The rocks which now form the Great Artesian Basin were once an inland sea.

"These are the rock formations that host the opal at Andamooka and at Coober Pedy… 110 million years ago we were actually still joined to Antarctica as part of the supercontinent Gondwana and we were right down near the South Pole."

The fossil toe bone will be on display in the South Australian Museum's opal fossil gallery.


Maiabalaena nesbittae: Oligocene-Epoch Whale Had Neither Teeth Nor Hair-Like Baleen

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

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

Maiabalaena nesbittae represents a surprising intermediate stage between modern filter-feeding whales and their toothed ancestors. Instead, the 15-foot (4.6 m) long ancient whale was a suction feeder,” said team leader Dr. Carlos Mauricio Peredo, a paleontologist at George Mason University and the National Museum of Natural History.

“The findings suggest that early whales lost their teeth before the evolutionary origin of comb-like baleen.”

“Baleen works much like a sieve, allowing modern baleen whales to filter huge volumes of small prey from seawater in quantities sufficient to support their massive bodies.”

“Filter feeding in baleen whales represents an innovation without precedent among any other mammals, and its origin has been a long-standing question since Darwin.”

Cranial elements of the holotype of Maiabalaena nesbittae: (A-G) dorsal (A) and ventral (B) views of the holotype skull; lateral (C) view of the right mandible; dorsal (D), lateral (E), medial (F), and ventral (G) views of left tympanic bulla. Image credit: Peredo et al, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.10.047.

At 33 million years oldMaiabalaena nesbittae dates back to a period of massive geological change.

The age and geographic location of Maiabalaena nesbittae suggested to the scientists that it would shed new light on whale evolutionary history.

Their first surprise was the discovery that the species lacked teeth, making it the oldest toothless whale known to science.

But, the real surprise came when they realized that the fossilized specimen showed no evidence for baleen either.

“A living baleen whale has a big, broad roof in its mouth, and it’s also thickened to create attachment sites for the baleen,” Dr. Peredo said.

Maiabalaena nesbittae does not. We can pretty conclusively tell you this fossil species didn’t have teeth, and it is more likely than not that it didn’t have baleen either.”

Based on Maiabalaena nesbittae’s relationship to other whales, the findings suggest that whales lost teeth first. Baleen only came later.

The results also help to shape paleontologists’ understanding of the evolutionary origin of baleen, which remains one of the most enigmatic and unique structures in mammals.

Phylogenetic relationships of stem mysticetes illustrating the evolutionary loss of teeth and subsequent origin of baleen: (A) time calibrated simplified phylogeny, with collapsed clade resolution for Mammalodontidae, Aetiocetidae and Eomysticetidae, and crown Mysticeti; (B-E) colored bars indicate groups figured; gray bars indicate groups not figured; panels represent 3D models of select specimens in lateral view with artistic reconstructions of their feeding modes: (B) Basilosaurus isis, (C) Coronodon havensteini, (D) Maiabalaena nesbittae, and (E) Balaenoptera musculus; these panels illustrate the loss of a functional dentition, the intermediate phase with neither teeth nor baleen, and the subsequent origin of baleen. Image credit: Alex Boersma, / Peredo et al, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.10.047.

“While Maiabalaena nesbittae would not have been able to chew or to filter feed, muscle attachments on the bones of its throat indicate it likely had strong cheeks and a retractable tongue. These traits would have enabled it to suck water into its mouth, taking up fish and small squid in the process,” the researchers said.

“The ability to suction feed would have rendered teeth, whose development requires a lot of energy to grow, unnecessary.”

“The loss of teeth, then, appears to have set the evolutionary stage for the baleen, which we estimate arose about 5 to 7 million years later.”

The research is published in the journal Current Biology.


Carlos Mauricio Peredo et al. Tooth Loss Precedes the Origin of Baleen in Whales.Current Biology, published online November 29, 2018; doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.10.047


Discovery of Lystrosaurus and a Scientific Revolution

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Lystrosaurus hedini skeleton at the Museum of Paleontology, Tübingen

Fifty years ago, as astronauts trained for the Apollo 11 moon mission, Earth-bound geologists at the Museum of Northern Arizona trained for an expedition that would rock the world of paleontology.

Geology was in the throes of a revolution — from fixed continents and fixed oceans to continents that split apart in slow motion, drifted, collided, fragmented, and realigned. As they drifted, these landmasses uplifted mountains, opened new oceans and destroyed older oceans, isolated animals and plants, then reunited in different continental configurations. This concept was so revolutionary many scientists refused to accept the mounting evidence for the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift. Many paleontologists were among the Resistance.

In December of 1967, New Zealand geologists mapping 240-million-year-old Triassic rocks in the desolate interior of Antarctica stumbled upon some fragmentary bones. A few months later they brought the fragments to paleontologist Edwin H. Colbert for identification. Colbert was in the process of retiring after 40 years as Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and relocating to the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. He wasn’t ready for this surprise.

Colbert recognized the bones as an extinct labyrinthodont amphibian, so named for details in their characteristic teeth. Like modern frogs and salamanders, these distant relatives from the Permian and Triassic Periods could never have swum across the cold, salty water of the Antarctic Sea from other southern continents, nor survived the frozen landscape of Antarctica.

Colbert and other paleontologists had struggled with the new ideas of drifting continents, but he knew instantly this discovery would be a decisive, paleontological blow to the long-held theory of fixed continents. He and two New Zealand paleontologists published an article in Science the following year entitled “Triassic Amphibian from Antarctica.” The paper drew immediate attention, including from the Office of Polar Studies at the National Science Foundation.

At the retirement age of 63 years, Colbert hadn’t considered the possibility that he, himself, would be the one to return to Antarctica – that would be the work of younger, more physically fit geologists. Other paleontologists and officials in the National Science Foundation declared otherwise: if Colbert could pass the physical exams and fitness training, he would be their first choice to lead a return expedition. Simultaneously thrilled and reluctant, he agreed to this ultimate challenge. Astronauts must have felt the same way.

Colbert and his wife, Margaret, completed their move to Flagstaff in the summer of 1968, and then his supreme adventure began. The austral spring in Christchurch, New Zealand, was resplendent with flowers and fresh greenery, as he and his crew made ready for their flight to the all-white, frozen continent. He had invited MNA Curator of Geology Bill Breed, paleontologist James Jensen from Brigham Young University and geologist Jon Powell from the University of Arizona for his own field crew. An international team of 16 scientists and their assistants accompanied them.

Once they reached McMurdo Station, the U.S. headquarters located on Ross Island, they also had support of three Navy helicopters, five pilots, and more than a dozen mechanics and other personnel.

They pushed to the interior of the continent toward the Transantarctic Mountains, with some dramatic side stories, one involving the crash of a companion helicopter and death of two occupants from New Zealand.

Despite this terrifying crash and the ensuing rescue of others in the field party, Colbert’s team continued. First they discovered the fernlike plant, Dicroidium, widely known from Triassic sediments of other continents, stimulating considerable excitement again for the implications related to continental drift (Colbert simply wrote “Drift” in his notes). Soon thereafter, others in their field party explored the slopes of a remote exposure called Coalsack Bluff and found bone fragments.

Colbert’s team followed and discovered another animal, which became the centerpiece of this epic expedition. It was Lystrosaurus, a rather squat, dog-sized primitive reptile with very characteristic skull and jaws, furnished only with two tusk-like teeth and no other dentition. Lystrosaurus was strictly terrestrial, known from many sites in Triassic rocks in southern Africa, and in peninsular India. Relatives were known from other continents as well, including in North America a large oxen-sized form from the Chinle Formation of northern Arizona.

Coalsack Bluff, one of the most remote fossil sites ever encountered on our planet, had yielded a direct link to the supercontinent called Gondwana (also “Gondwanaland”). This was the southern supercontinent, containing Africa, peninsular India, Australia, South America and Antarctica before they split apart and separated.

Those land connections were the routes taken by populations of Lystrosaurus, the labyrinthodont amphibians, and the fernlike Dicroidium before Gondwana fragmented in the Triassic, soon to be separated by the deep, cold, southern ocean and rendered utterly impassable to land-bound animals and plants. This was remarkable evidence of continental drift, even to those paleontologists who resisted all previous discoveries.

The Resistance crumbled, and the world of geology became united in this revolution-in-slow-motion, not as spectacular as the moon, perhaps, but every bit as arresting for the utter joy of discovery.

Colbert and Breed returned to Flagstaff and the Museum of Northern Arizona, and other members went their respective ways, but the fundamental importance of their work continues today. Fifty years later, Flagstaff can celebrate two anniversaries during the year we recognize here as Lunar Legacy.


China's Star Dinosaur Hunter Has Rapid Urbanisation To Thank For Record Haul

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Dinosaur hunter Xing Xu (L) briefs the media on the fossilized bones of a gigantic theropod dinosaur, Gigantorraptor Erlianensis, on display for the media in Beijing CREDIT: AFP


Chinese paleontologist Xu Xing is on a roll. This year alone he has discovered seven new species of dinosaur, including one that is 200 million years old - the most ancient specimen he has unearthed so far.

In all, Mr Xu has named over 70 dinosaurs, more than any other living paleontologist. But his discoveries aren't just down to long hours at dusty archaeological digs. His success is owed to China's construction boom churning up soil and fossils as vast cities continue to rise from the ground.

While bulldozers have unearthed prehistoric sites in many countries, the scale and speed of China's urbanisation is unprecedented, according to the United Nations Development Program.

Mr Xu, 49, spends his time racing all over the country following leads from the building boom, earning him the moniker of 'China's Indiana Jones'.

"Basically we are reconstructing the evolutionary tree of life," he says. "If you have more species to study, you have more branches on that tree, more information about the history of life on Earth."

Chinese paleontologist Xu Xing has discovered seven new species of dinosaur this year alone CREDIT: SOPHIA YAN FOR THE TELEGRAPH

The population of Chinese cities has quintupled in 40 years, to nearly 900 million. By the year 2030, one in five of every city-dweller in the world will be Chinese.

Whole new cities are being planned to alleviate pressure in some of China's biggest metropolises, as urban sprawl continues to spread in major city clusters in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, and the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions.

This is all music to Mr Xu's ears, whose celebrity as a world-leading scientist continues to grow. One of his latest finds, from a construction site in Jiangxi province, will shed light on how modern birds' reproductive systems evolved from dinosaurs.

His work has attracted attention from schoolchildren in multiple countries who mail him handwritten notes and crayon drawings of dinosaurs, several of which hang in his Beijing office.

Mr Xu, 49, spends his time racing all over the country following leads from the building boom, earning him the moniker of 'China's Indiana Jones'. CREDIT: SOPHIA YAN FOR THE TELEGRAPH

Toru Sekiyu, a paleontologist from the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Japan who assisted on the Yanji dig, called his Chinese colleague "a superstar paleontologist".

Embracing new technology, his team also uses CT scanners to study the interior of fossils and builds 3-D computer simulations to make inferences about what range of motions a dinosaur may have had.

Mr Xu's previous discoveries have included the eight-metre long gigantoraptor, which would have towered over humans today, and the microraptor, a tiny, four-winged dinosaur weighing in at about a kilogram.

His most revolutionary work has been in excavating fossils of feathered dinosaurs, providing evidence to back the once-controversial theory that today’s birds evolved from the prehistoric creatures.

A dinosaur model stands near the site of a future dinosaur museum in Yanji, China CREDIT: AP

Experts had kicked the idea around for more than a century, but it remained a theory until 1996, when farmers stumbled upon the first feathered dinosaur in northeast China. The 125-million-year-old Sinosauropteryx, the Chinese lizard bird, had bristle-like structures running down its back and tail.

Mr Xu, 49, and his colleagues rushed to search for more feathered specimens, finding the beipiaosaurus by the city of Beipiao the following year.

Evidence of rainbow plumage on these ancient creatures was a departure from the typical Hollywood depiction of dinosaurs as cold-blooded and scary.

“It totally changed your idea about dinosaurs,” he told The Telegraph. “Dinosaurs are really colourful animals…they are so beautiful.”

New finds give Mr Xu the opportunity to be creative, he says, coming up species names inspired by Chinese culture, such as the Mei Long (“sleeping dragon”), the Dilong paradoxus (“emperor dragon”), and the Nanyangosaurus, named after a city close to its origins that is also the hometown of a famous military strategist in Chinese history.

When Xu discovered fossils in Yanji, an hour from the North Korea border, in 2016, city authorities halted construction on adjacent high-rise buildings, in accordance with a national law.

"The developer was really not happy with me," he said, but the local government has since embraced its newfound claim to fame.

The city is now facilitating Xu's work, and even built an on-site police station to guard the fossils from theft. Once the excavation is complete, a museum is planned, to display recovered fossils and photos of Xu's team at work.


What's Behind The Scenes Of The Carnegie Museum Of Natural History?

Saturday, December 1, 2018

In the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Big Bone Room, large bones including vertebrae of Diplodocus carnegii are available for scientists to study. KATIE BLACKLEY / 90.5 WESA

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is expansive — a person could spend hours walking the different exhibitions. But what's on display is only a small portion of what's in the museum's possession.

Some of the off-display materials are viewable in the museum's Paleo Lab, through a thick wall of glass.

"The Paleo Lab is our fossil preparation laboratory that's actually on display," said Matt Lamanna, a dinosaur paleontologist at the museum. "So it's a literal window into scientific activities that happen here at the museum."

Dan Pickering, head of the museum's Paleo Lab, arranges the rib bones of a 12,000-year-old mastodon. The museum's specimens are ordered by number of acquisition. This one is 67. CREDIT KATIE BLACKLEY / 90.5 WESA

Those activities include matching vertebrae to joint pockets and cleaning up dust. On this day, the restoration is on a 12,000-year-old mastodon skeleton. The ancient elephant ancestor was purchased by museum benefactor Andrew Carnegie in 1898, but was taken off display a few years ago for restoration.

The museum's vertebrate paleontology specimens are ordered in the number of acquisition. The mastodon is number 67.

These are filled with fossils of dinosaurs, amphibians and other types of reptiles. Lamanna calls the Big Bone Room a library for fossils.

"Being on display for over 100 years, even people walking by, like the subtle vibrations, add up over the course of hundreds of thousands of visitors a year," Lamanna said. "So the fossil was starting to degrade."

The rest of the museum's off display collection is down a hidden hallway, behind some curiously labeled doors. Most of the paleontology specimens are kept in the Big Bone Room.

"This is where we keep roughly 90 percent of our dinosaur fossils," Lamanna said. "Along with fossils of fishes, amphibians, other types of reptiles and birds."

The room is enormous, and filled floor to ceiling with organized bones. Some are large, like pelvises that are several feet wide. The majority, however, are small -- the room has vials upon vials of teeth.

These specimens, many of them teeth, are labeled by order of acquisition. CREDIT KATIE BLACKLEY / 90.5 WESA

"There's even some mammal fossils in here, but the bulk are across the hall in the Little Bone Room," Lamanna said. The rooms get their names from their square footage, not the contents -- though Lamanna said the Big Bone Room actually does have some of the biggest bones.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History keeps lots of  items in storage because they have a lot of duplicates, and some are too fragile for display. But many fossils are simply better used for research, and less visually interesting to the public. Scientists fly in from around the world to study pieces in the collections archives, which Lamanna describes as a kind of library system.

There's a lot for them to sift through, because the archives go beyond paleontology. The museum's invertebrate zoology collection — meaning insects and crustaceans — has about 11 million specimens. This is the largest of the museum's sections, and is thought to be one of the most comprehensive in the world.

The museum has nearly 1.5 million artifacts from Native American, pre-European cultures, including artwork and traditional garments. They also have hundreds of thousands of birds and botany specimens. Altogether, the museum says it has an estimated 22 million specimens and artifacts.

Lamanna digs through the archives and pulls out an important piece — an abdominal rib bone from the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found. Its discovery was a big deal at the time, and because it's the first, every subsequent T. rex skeleton that's uncovered is compared to it.

Lamanna holds an abdominal rib bone of the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton discovered. The rest of the body is on display in the musuem. CREDIT KATHLEEN J. DAVIS / 90.5 WESA

That skeleton, unearthed in 1902, was sold to the museum in 1941. Most of the bones are on display.

"This particular one is down here because it actually came to us after we completed the renovated mount back in 2008," Lamanna said. 

Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York realized this bone belonged to Pittsburgh and returned it. Replacing the bone on the rest of its body on display would be expensive, and Lamanna said it's more useful for researchers to have easy access to it. Paleontologists like to view a fossil from all sides, photograph it, measure it, and maybe examine it under a microscope.

That bone, once a part of the body of a T. rex that lived about 66 million years ago, now sits among countless other bones in a basement in Pittsburgh.


Lifelike Raptor Scares Mom At Theme Park

Sunday, December 2, 2018


We Can’t Stop Laughing At This Video Of A Mom Getting Scared By A Theme Park Dinosaur

A mom, encouraging her apprehensive daughter to pose for a photo in front of an animatronic dinosaur at a theme park, got the scare of a lifetime—and the video just gets better with every viewing. 

Recently re-posted on Facebook by LADbible, this hilarious video, which originally appeared about a year ago, is enjoying a resurgence.

In the video, Illinois mom Shelby Tuggle and her family are trying to pose for a photo in front of an animatronic raptor in the Jurassic Park section of Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida.

Both Shelby and her husband, Brycin, can be seen encouraging their young daughter to come into the camera’s frame and stand in front of the dinosaur for that perfect family picture. The little girl eventually makes her way over, but just after the photo is taken the raptor, which has been restlessly moving about the whole time, takes things up a notch.

One thing’s for sure—this raptor is certainly not Blue:

And there were those who just couldn’t wait to debate the authenticity of the look of the animatronic beast:


Toothless, 33-Million-Year-Old Whale Could Be an Evolutionary ‘Missing Link’

Friday, November 30, 2018

Carlos Peredo with the fossilized Maiabalaena nesbittae skull(Credit: Ryan Lavery)

A closer examination of a fossil found more than four decades ago has led to the identification of a new species of whale—a 33-million-year-old cetacean featuring neither teeth nor baleen. Its discovery could solve a longstanding mystery about the origin of filter-feeding whales, but some scientists say the new analysis isn’t wholly convincing.

Introducing Maiabalaena nesbittae, an entirely new genus and species of ancient whale. Roughly the size of a modern beluga whale, this 15-foot-long cetacean didn’t have teeth or baleen (rows of hair-like plates that whales use to filter tiny prey from the water), relying instead on suction feeding. As such, Maiabalaena nesbittae, meaning “mother whale,” represents an intermediate stage between ancient toothed whales and modern filter-feeders, according to new research published in Current Biology.

Today, whales can be broadly lumped into two main groups: toothed whales, such as orcas and dolphins, and filter-feeding whales (or mysticeti), such as humpbacks, fin whales, blue whales, and minke whales. Baleen is the remarkable evolutionary invention that makes filter feeding possible, allowing large marine whales to consume several tons of food each day without ever having to chomp or chew.

Whales are the first and only mammals to evolve baleen, but the origin of this feeding strategy isn’t entirely clear. Whales are descended from terrestrial mammals, who retained their teeth after adapting an aquatic lifestyle. With their razor-sharp teeth, ancient whales continued to chew their food. But the environment changed, as did their prey, so these whales had to adopt new feeding strategies. Eventually, this resulted in the emergence of filter feeding whales. As to how whales went from having teeth to having baleen—a substance made of keratin, which is what hair and fingernails and made of—is the subject of much controversy.

Some scientists have speculated that ancient whales used their teeth for sifting water, and that this feeding strategy led directly to baleen. This theory took a direct hit last year by Monash University paleontologists who showed that the sharp teeth employed by ancient whales couldn’t have possibly been used as filters, concluding that ancient whales never passed through a tooth-based filtration phase, and that some kind of intermediary, yet-to-be-found species must have existed.

Artist’s impression of Maiabalaena nesbittae with calf. Illustration: Alex Boersma

Part of the problem is that keratin doesn’t preserve well in the fossil record. For paleontologists who study ancient whales, this mystery is akin to the study of flight in ancient animals, and the seemingly endless quest to discover the “missing link” between gliding birds and those capable of self-powered flight. In the case of whales, paleontologists have been searching for an intermediate species of whale positioned between toothed whales and filter-feeding whales. The discovery of the toothless, baleenless Maiabalaena nesbittae could very well be this missing link.

The partial skeleton of Maiabalaena nesbittae, which includes a nearly complete skull, was uncovered in Oregon back in the 1970s, and it has languished at the Smithsonian’s national collection ever since. To this point, a detailed analysis of the fossil wasn’t possible because it’s inundated with rock and other materials. The lead author of the new study, Carlos Mauricio Peredo of George Mason University and the National Museum of Natural History, took a look at this old fossil with new eyes using state-of-the-art CT scanning technology. By peering into the rock, the researchers were able to identify the tell-tale signs of a toothless and baleenless whale—including a thin and narrow upper jaw that had no proper surface from which to suspend baleen.

“A living baleen whale has a big, broad roof in its mouth, and it’s also thickened to create attachment sites for the baleen,” said Peredo in a statement. “Maiabalaena does not. We can pretty conclusively tell you this fossil species didn’t have teeth, and it is more likely than not that it didn’t have baleen either.”

Other evidence points to this animal as a filter feeder. Muscle attachments on the bones of its throat imply the presence of strong cheeks and a retractable tongue—characteristics that would have allowed this whale to suck water into its mouth, sopping up fish and small squid in the process. Equipped with this ability, these whales no longer needed their chompers, so their teeth gradually faded away. The eventual loss of teeth and the origin of baleen, the researchers, argue, where therefore separate evolutionary events.

As to why toothed whales abandoned biting and chewing in favor of sucking, the researchers say it was a transition forced upon them by a changing environment. Maiabalaena lived during the transitional period that divided the Eocene from the Oligocene, which happened some 33 million years ago. This was a critical time for whales, as the continents shifted and separated, and as ocean currents from the Antarctic cooled the oceans. As the planet’s geology changed, so too did the ocean environment—and its animals. The prey of toothed whales changed or disappeared, forcing them to find new prey, which resulted in the transition from toothed to suction feeding, the researchers speculate. Eventually, some 5 million to 7 million years later, around 26 million to 28 million years ago, the toothless whales began to sprout baleen, facilitating yet another transition, this time from suction feeding to filter feeding.

Illustration of the proposed feeding transitions in ancient whales. Graphic: C. M. Peredo et al., 2018 (Current Biology)

“In general, I think this is a good study, and I agree with its general conclusions,” Felix G. Marx, a paleontologist at Monash University not affiliated with this new research, told Gizmodo. “Crucially, though, Maiabalaena seems to be right in the middle of this transition, with no teeth, and possibly no baleen.”

Possibly no baleen.

That’s the the key phrase, here. As noted, baleen, which is made from soft tissue, doesn’t fossilize very well. Typically, scientists can detect the presence of baleen in a fossil by looking for traces of corresponding blood vessels on their bones. And in fact, traces of blood vessels were detected in the Maiabalaena fossil. The question, however, is whether these blood vessels always correlate with baleen.

“The new study says no, and argues that similar structures also existed in ancient toothed whales that clearly did not filter feed,” said Marx. “I agree, but this is still an interpretation, and I suspect not everyone will buy into it. Luckily, there are more things we can do to tackle this question, for example by examining how baleen actually develops in the womb.”

Monash University paleontologist Alistair Evans, a co-author of the aforementioned 2017 study, agrees with Marx’s assessment, saying the absence of teeth in this species is fairly evident, but the absence of baleen, not so much.

“Because baleen is so rarely fossilized, its presence can rarely be seen directly,” Evans told Gizmodo. “As has been suggested before—and [as this new paper] gives more evidence—there are no silver bullets in the bones that can tell us for sure that baleen was present. So unfortunately there is no strong evidence of baleen being absent, but we also may never find such evidence.”

Evans says the conclusions made in the new study are “fairly reasonable,” but he would like to see other specimens of this species and related ones that are better preserved in the region where baleen would be if present.

“I was happy that they found a fossil that we predicted would occur, but the evidence is not a slam dunk that it really did fit in this slot,” added Evans.

So is Maiabalaena nesbittae the missing link we’ve been looking for? Quite possibly yes—but we won’t know for sure until more fossils are recovered.

[Current Biology]