nandi's blog

Were Dinosaurs Warm-Blooded? Research Team Discovers Arctic Dinosaur Nursery

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Illustration showing a pair of adult tyrannosaurs and their young living in the Arctic during the Cretaceous Period. Credit: James Havens

Images of dinosaurs as cold-blooded creatures needing tropical temperatures could be a relic of the past.

University of Alaska Fairbanks and Florida State University scientists have found that nearly all types of Arctic dinosaurs, from small bird-like animals to giant tyrannosaurs, reproduced in the region and likely remained there year-round.

Their findings are detailed in a new paper published in the journal Current Biology.

“It wasn’t long ago that people were pretty shocked to find out that dinosaurs lived up in the Arctic 70 million years ago,” said Pat Druckenmiller, the paper’s lead author and director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North. “We now have unequivocal evidence they were nesting up there as well. This is the first time that anyone has ever demonstrated that dinosaurs could reproduce at these high latitudes.”

The findings counter previous hypotheses that the animals migrated to lower latitudes for the winter and laid their eggs in those warmer regions. It’s also compelling evidence that they were warm-blooded.

Greg Erickson and Pat Druckenmiller place a plaster jacket on a bone found along the Colville River on Alaska’s North Slope. Credit: Photo by Kevin May

For more than a decade, Druckenmiller and Gregory Erickson, a Florida State University professor of biological science, have conducted fieldwork in the Prince Creek Formation in northern Alaska. They have unearthed many dinosaur species, most of them new to science, from the bluffs above the Colville River.

Their latest discoveries are tiny teeth and bones from seven species of perinatal dinosaurs, a term that describes baby dinosaurs that are either just about to hatch or have just hatched.

“One of the biggest mysteries about Arctic dinosaurs was whether they seasonally migrated up to the North or were year-round denizens,” said Erickson, a co-author of the paper. “We unexpectedly found remains of perinates representing almost every kind of dinosaur in the formation. It was like a prehistoric maternity ward.”

Recovering the bones and teeth, some no larger than the head of a pin, requires perseverance and a sharp eye. In the field, the scientists hauled buckets of sediment from the face of the bluffs down to the river’s edge, where they washed the material through smaller and smaller screens to remove large rocks and soil.

The research team’s camp sits on the banks of the Colville River on Alaska’s North Slope, with the bluffs rising in the background. Credit: Photo by Patrick Druckenmiller

Once back at their labs, Druckenmiller, Erickson and co-author Jaelyn Eberle from the University of Colorado, Boulder, screened the material further. Then, teaspoon by teaspoon, the team, which included graduate and undergraduate students, examined the remaining sandy particles under microscopes to find the bones and teeth.

“Recovering these tiny fossils is like panning for gold,” Druckenmiller said. “It requires a great amount of time and effort to sort through tons of sediment grain-by-grain under a microscope. The fossils we found are rare but are scientifically rich in information.”

Next, the scientists worked with Caleb Brown and Don Brinkman from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada, to compare the fossils to those from other sites at lower latitudes. Those comparisons helped them conclude that the bones and teeth were from perinatal dinosaurs.

Once they knew the dinosaurs were nesting in the Arctic, they realized the animals lived their entire lives in the region.

Erickson’s previous research revealed that the incubation period for these types of dinosaurs ranges from three to six months. Because Arctic summers are short, even if the dinosaurs laid their eggs in the spring, their offspring would be too young to migrate in the fall.

Global temperatures were much warmer during the Cretaceous, but the Arctic winters still would have included four months of darkness, freezing temperatures, snow and little fresh vegetation for food.

“As dark and bleak as the winters would have been, the summers would have had 24-hour sunlight, great conditions for a growing dinosaur if it could grow quickly enough before winter set in,” said Brown, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Year-round Arctic residency provides a natural test of the animals’ physiology, Erickson added.

“We solved several long-standing mysteries about the dinosaur reign, but opened up a new can of worms,” he said. “How did they survive Arctic winters?”

“Perhaps the smaller ones hibernated through the winter,” Druckenmiller said. “Perhaps others lived off poor-quality forage, much like today’s moose, until the spring.”

Scientists have found warm-blooded animal fossils in the region, but no snakes, frogs or turtles, which were common at lower latitudes. That suggests the cold-blooded animals were poorly suited for survival in the cold temperatures of the region.

“This study goes to the heart of one of the longest-standing questions among paleontologists: Were dinosaurs warm-blooded?” Druckenmiller said. “We think that endothermy was probably an important part of their survival.”

Reference: “Nesting at Extreme Polar Latitudes by Non-Avian Dinosaurs” by Patrick S. Druckenmiller, Gregory M. Erickson, Donald Brinkman, Caleb M. Brown and Jaelyn J. Eberle, 24 June 2021, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.05.041

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation.


Why Jurassic World 3's 65 Million Years Flashback Is So Dark

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Jurassic World: Dominion just showed off a prehistoric flashback scene, but it was rather gloomy. Here's the reason why the sequence is so dark.

Jurassic World: Dominion has just released an extended first look at the film's opening prehistoric flashback sequence, and fans are wondering why the scene is so dark and hard to see. The scene is currently included as a special preview during IMAX showings of F9, and is the first big look audiences have gotten at the highly anticipated blockbuster film. The third entry in the Jurassic World trilogy and the sixth overall Jurassic film is set to open in the summer of 2022, and this exhilarating sneak peek offers a glimpse into the new directions this climactic finale to the story will be going.

For those who've been lucky enough to see it, the sequence is a bold departure for the franchise up to this point. Instead of focusing on the modern cloned dinosaurs that have starred in the previous five Jurassic films, this sequence takes viewers 65 million years into the past to show dinosaurs as they really existed, feathers and all. Dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures of various sizes and descriptions are seen, including several sauropods, some pterosaurs, and two giant predators: the legendary T-Rex and the massive Giganotosaurus. The sequence concludes with one of these mighty creatures slaughtering the other, and the corpse of the losing dinosaur being visited by a mosquito that drinks its blood.

Aside from the epic scale, exciting dino fight, and unprecedented setting, the biggest takeaway from this new footage online seems to be how dark it is. While the scene isn't too murky to properly make out, most of the action is surprisingly gloomy and shrouded in shadow. Even the big confrontation between Jurrasic World 3's T-Rex and the Giganotosaurus is largely in silhouette and lacking in up-close, well-lit detail. For a sequence playing on a huge, high-definition IMAX screen, the darkness is a bit unexpected. Thankfully, all it takes to understand why the scene is so dark is a brief look behind the scenes. The likely culprit? CGI masking.


It's no secret that creating the photorealistic, highly detailed animation seen in modern blockbuster movies is both time-consuming and expensive, requiring huge budgets and a talented crew to properly create. Crafting the amazing visuals seen in everything from the MCU films to Jurassic World and its sequels can take months of hard work and a great deal of money, and given the turnaround time required to finish the visual effects for so many movies, shortcuts are a common and often necessary part of the job. This is where CGI masking comes into play. One of the main reasons why so many films with computer-generated characters include darker scenes that take place in low light is because these dark environments can easily mask less detailed CGI. If a character model is less believable or features rougher animation, these issues can more easily be hidden by environmental factors like darkness, rain, or smoke. When done correctly, this approach is barely noticeable by the audience, and can cut back on both time and money for the production.

CGI masking is definitely a part of many big movies like the Jurassic World series, but it's also fairly common in movie trailers. Sometimes, in order to have a trailer ready to debut to the public, the visual effects team will use masking and other visual shortcuts to create passable visuals that might not represent what the finished product will look like. In many cases, CGI-heavy trailer scenes that feature darker or less-detailed imagery are dramatically improved for the finished film This may very well be the case for Jurassic World: Dominion and its dinosaur stars; when the film opens in 2022, it's entirely possible that the 65-million-year flashback sequence will be brighter and more detailed. With the new teaser having done its job and created a new surge of hype for the Jurassic World sequel, the visual effects team can now spend the next year working hard to make the scene even better for its final release.


Jurassic World 3's Drive-In Scene Is A Throwback Moment To Classic Horror

Friday, June 25, 2021

The new extended look at Jurassic World 3 includes a bizarre sequence involving a T-Rex and a drive-in theater that references classic horror.

Jurassic World: Dominion's new extended preview has revealed a bizarre scene involving a T-Rex and a drive-in theater that references classic horror. The preview was recently released as a special event during IMAX screenings of F9 and provided dino-loving audiences with a first extensive look at the Jurassic World sequel. While much of the hype surrounding the preview is focused on its unprecedented 65-million-year dinosaur flashback sequence and its first glimpses of the human characters, the sneak peek at the film's drive-in theater scene provides a look at what will likely be one of the film's most fun and memorable moments.

In the sequence, the camera pans over an outdoor gathering of cars in front of a giant movie screen. As the screen plays a classic ad for theater concessions, the ground begins to shake. The familiar shadow of a gigantic beast falls over the interior of an empty car, and the sounds of panic and fear begin to drown out the song playing on the screen. Finally, the projector's light illuminates the body of the iconic T-Rex from the original Jurassic Park. As the creature makes its way through the drive-in lot, chaos ensues. Cars are flipped over and crushed, the projector is destroyed, and people flee for their lives as the T-Rex lets loose a powerful roar.

Despite only being a brief glimpse at what will surely be a longer sequence, this sneak peek at the film's drive-in scene is both thrilling and exciting—however, it's also a bit unusual. The idea of a massive T-Rex managing to sneak right in front of a movie screen without being noticed by anyone doesn't make a lot of sense, and the setting of a drive-in movie theater is also unusual. So what's the story behind this scene, and what purpose does it serve in the movie? The answer to those questions is simple: the scene is a fun throwback moment to the classic horror films of yesteryear.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, drive-in movie theaters were incredibly popular. Many sci-fi and horror films of the time were made specifically to be shown at these outdoor venues, and even films that played in traditional indoor theaters placed extra emphasis on interactivity and emersion. Films like 1965's Monsters Crash the Pajama Party featured moments where the film's mutant monster would seem to emerge from the theater screen before running past audience members in an attempt to frighten them. The effect involved little more than actors in cheap gorilla costumes grabbing people's shoulders, but the results were still memorable. The idea of a monster emerging from or through a theater screen soon became a trope, and before too long, it was being referenced in later films. 1993's The Sandlot famously features the film's antagonist, a giant dog known as "the Beast," crashing through a theater screen showing the 1941 horror classic The Wolf Man. Even 1996's Twister featured the film's titular force of nature ripping through a drive-in screen showing The Shining.

It's no secret that the Jurassic Park franchise owes a lot to classic creature features. Steven Spielberg has openly cited the old-school Godzilla films and the dinosaur movies of Ray Harryhausen as influences on the series, while Michael Crichton admitted that two drive-in dinosaur films were inspirations for the original Jurassic Park books. With all of this taken into account, it's easy to see the bizarre drive-in theater scene from the new Jurassic World: Dominion preview is actually a loving homage to the genres that inspired the franchise.

Even the two movies featured at the drive-in's double-bill are proof of this: Flash Gordon is a cult classic with all the hallmarks of a drive-in film, and American Graffiti was the first mainstream success from longtime Spielberg friend/collaborator, George Lucas. It's obvious that a great deal of thought went into this sequence, and if the rest of Jurassic World: Dominion features this same amount of care and fun, audiences will be in for a highly entertaining ride when the film hits theaters next year.


How Jurassic World 3 Can Have Feathered Dinosaurs Without Creating A Plot Hole

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Jurassic World 3 shows dinosaurs with feathers; however, this isn't a plot hole since Jurassic Park established that frog DNA was used to clone them.

A flashback sequence in Jurassic World: Dominion shows dinosaurs with distinct feathers, which contradicts their appearance in the rest of the franchise; however, this isn't a plot hole: the explanation was provided in the original movie, Jurassic Park. Director Colin Trevorrow's film nods to Jurassic Park with a scene that takes place back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, showing a mosquito landing on a T-rex before getting trapped in amber. It's a moment that references where it all started — but with one major change: the feathers.

The first preview for Jurassic World: Dominion appears as an exclusive before IMAX showings of Fast & Furious 9. The extended clip features a flashback to the dinosaurs' origins, 65 000 000 years ago. Fans of the Jurassic franchise will have noticed one significant difference: some of these dinosaurs are covered in feathers, unlike the more lizard-like versions first introduced by Jurassic Park. It's a stylistic choice that fits the established scientific beliefs regarding what some dinosaurs looked like, and serves as a reminder that these ancient creatures were the predecessors of modern-day birds.

Although this may appear to be a plot hole, the feathered dinosaurs in the Jurassic World 3 preview can be explained through the franchise's established history. In Jurassic Park, John Hammond shows the park visitors an informational video that explains how the dinosaurs were cloned using blood preserved in amber. The genetic information isn't complete, however, so InGen's scientists used frog DNA to fill in the gaps.

Since the dinosaurs in Jurassic World were presumably cloned using the same process seen in Jurassic Park, it stands to reason that having frog DNA would alter their appearance. Perhaps the reason why the dinosaurs don't have visible feathers is because of that amphibian DNA — the very same DNA that allowed the creatures to switch genders in order to reproduce. Showing the original dinosaurs with feathers in the past allows Jurassic World 3 to acknowledge one of the biggest problems in the franchise while maintaining (and honoring) the established mythology.

It was a conscious choice not to give dinosaurs feathers in Jurassic Park. By the time the movie debuted in 1993, dinosaurs were known to be evolutionarily linked to birds — Alan Grant even mentions as much in the movie. The reason why the dinosaurs didn't have feathers in Jurassic Park was both practical and narrative. Although Spielberg was aware that the velociraptors, for example, should have feathers, Spielberg chose to go for a more classic look, believing the more lizard-like style was more terrifying. Plus, given the technology of the time, it would have been very difficult to animate the feathers in CGI.

There actually is some precedence for dinosaurs in Jurassic Park: the third movie in the franchise, Jurassic Park III experimented with the concept by giving the velociraptors quill-like feathers on the top of their heads. Jurassic World reverting to the classic design, however — a smart choice given how iconic the original designs are. Most likely, the final movie in the Jurassic World trilogy will show the cloned dinosaurs without feathers, but it may confirm that the appearance is different from the creatures that walked the Earth millions of years ago.


Ancient Woodlice Cousins Lived in Ireland 360 Million Years Ago

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Oxyuropoda ligioides in its 365-million-year-old continental environment (Kiltorcan, Kilkenny, Ireland). Image credit: Diane Dabir Moghaddam.

Paleontologists have performed a complete re-analysis of Oxyuropoda ligioides, a land-based peracarid crustacean first reported in 1908 from the Late Devonian floodplains of Ireland and left with unresolved systematic affinities despite a century of attempts at identification.

Woodlice and their relatives form a group of crustaceans named peracarids that are as species-rich as the more famous group comprising krill, crabs and shrimps named eucarids,” said Dr. Ninon Robin, a postdoctoral researcher at University College Cork.

“From their ancestral marine habitat some peracarids have, unlike eucarids, evolved fully terrestrial ground-crawling ecologies, inhabiting even commonly our gardens, for example pillbugs and sowbugs, which are very common in Ireland.”

In the study, Dr. Robin and her colleagues analyzed the anatomy of Oxyuropoda ligioides, which is known from a single specimen preserved in two dimensions, using digital microscopy and multispectral macroimaging to enhance the contrast of morphological structures.

3D rendering of Oxyuropoda ligioides obtained using digital microscopy. Image credit: N. Robin.

“Our work advances science’s understanding of when land-dwelling species of crustaceans roamed the Earth, and what they looked like,” Dr. Robin said.

“Using new modern imaging techniques, we determined that Oxyuropoda ligioides was actually a peracarid crustacean, even the oldest known one; which supports the theory that woodlice cousins were already crawling on Irish lands at that very early time, 360 million years ago.”

“From previous genomic and molecular studies, scientists had suggested that this group of crustaceans must have appeared around 450 million years ago.”

“However, their fossils were very rare in the Paleozoic era, which was 560-250 million years ago, so we had no idea at all how they looked at that time, nor if they were marine or yet terrestrial.”

“Our work is an advance in the field of the evolution of invertebrate animals, especially crustaceans, and in our knowledge of the timing of their colonization of land.”

The new results were published in the journal Biology Letters.


N. Robin et al. 2021. The oldest peracarid crustacean reveals a Late Devonian freshwater colonization by isopod relatives. Biol. Lett 17 (6): 20210226; doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2021.0226



Giant Meteorite Landed in Ukraine 650,000 Years after Dinosaur-Killing Chicxulub Event

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A part of the Boltysh impact structure near the village of Bovtyshka in Kivorohrads’ka oblast, Ukraine. Image credit: Wisetus / CC BY-SA 4.0.

About 66 million years ago, a 10-km- (6.2-mile) wide asteroid crashed into Earth near the site of the small town of Chicxulub in what is now Mexico. While this impact is firmly linked to the end-Cretaceous extinction of non-avian dinosaurs and 75% of life on the planet, the temporal relationship of the lesser-known Boltysh impact structure in Ukraine to these events is uncertain, although it is thought to have occurred 2,000 to 5,000 years before the mass extinction. A new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that the Boltysh impact occurred 650,000 years after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction; at that time, the climate was recovering from the effects of the Chicxulub impact and Deccan Trap volcanism.

The Boltysh impact structure is approximately 24 km (15 miles) in diameter with a 6-km- (3.7-mile) diameter central uplift.

Located in Kivorohrads’ka oblast, Ukraine, the structure is now buried beneath over 500 m (1,640 feet) of post-impact sediments.

Previous analysis of samples from Boltysh, undertaken decades ago, suggested that the meteorite may have struck the Earth between 2,000 and 5,000 years before the Chicxulub asteroid.

The Chicxulub impact is widely believed to have caused the mass extinction event which made non-avian dinosaurs extinct, and the climate event which created the geological signature known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary.

However, questions still remained over whether the Boltysh impact might have occurred close enough in time to have had an effect on both.

The new analysis suggests that, in fact, the Boltysh impact happened around 650,000 years after the Chicxulub event.

“The results allow us to place the Boltysh impact more accurately in our timeline of what happened to the Earth in the period after the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event, and better understand our deep geological history,” said Dr. Annemarie Pickersgill, a researcher in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow.

To determine the date of the Boltysh impact more precisely than ever before, Dr. Pickersgill and colleagues selected four samples from two rock cores taken from the Boltysh crater, containing rocks generated during the impact event and lake sediments which accumulated over time after the crater was formed.

They determined the age of the samples using the argon-argon dating facility.

Argon-argon dating measures the radioactive decay of potassium to argon. The level of decay acts as a ‘rock clock’, which ticks down over geological time and allows researchers today to determine when the rocks were created during the Boltysh impact event.

“Our analysis suggests that the impact occurred very close to 65.39 million years ago,” Dr. Pickersgill said.

“That puts it firmly after the Chicxulub impact and the formation of the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, evidence for which is found in geological records around the world.”

The researchers draw links for the first time between the new dating of the Boltysh impact and evidence for a known ‘hyperthermal’ event found in the Earth’s sediment record, a period of extreme global heating called the lower C29N hyperthermal.

At that time in Earth’s history, volcanoes in India known as the Deccan Traps were releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, accelerating a period of global climate change.

“Paleoclimatology aims to help us understand and adapt to today’s changing climate by studying how our atmosphere responded to environmental stresses in the past,” Dr. Pickersgill said.

“Being able to link the Boltysh lake sediments to the lower C29N hyperthermal is another piece of the jigsaw which will form a clearer picture of how our planet has responded to climate change in the past.”


Annemarie E. Pickersgill et al. 2021. The Boltysh impact structure: An early Danian impact event during recovery from the K-Pg mass extinction. Science Advances 7 (25): eabe6530; doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6530


Newly Discovered Species of Pseudo-Horse Lived 37 Million Years Ago

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Credit: University of the Basque Country

Researchers at the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country describe two palaeotheriidae mammals that lived in the subtropical landscape of Alava

The UPV/EHU's Vertebrate Paleontology research group has described two new species of palaeotheriidae mammals that inhabited the subtropical landscape of Zambrana (Álava) about 37 million years ago. Their atypical dental features could point to a difference in environmental conditions between the Iberian and Central European areas.

Although hypomorph mammals (or equids) are currently represented by only one genus ("Equus') and just a handful of species of horses, donkeys and zebras, they were more diverse during the Eocene epoch (between 56 and 33.9 million years ago). One of the most widespread groups in Europe, which was an archipelago at that time, were the palaeotheriidae, named after the genus "Palaeotherium," described in 1804 from fossils originating in the quarries of Montmartre (Paris) by the famous French naturalist George Cuvier.

The international Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology has recently published a paper on a study led by Leire Perales-Gogenola describing two new species of palaeotheriidae mammals that inhabited the subtropical landscape of Zambrana (Álava) 37 million years ago. Together with their collaborators from the UPV/EHU's Vertebrate Paleontology research group, they described the new species Leptolophus cuestai and Leptolophus franzeni, naming them in memory of the paleontologists Miguel Ángel Cuesta from Palencia, and Jens Lorenz Franzen from Bremen, specialists in mammal fauna of the Eocene epoch in Europe.

Palaeotheriidae (or pseudo-horses) were represented across the European archipelago by more than half a dozen genera, more than half of which were endemic to the Iberian island, and became extinct during the climatic-biological crisis of the Eocene-Oligocene transition, also known as Stehlin's Grande Coupure. Palaeotheriidae were mammals similar in terms of body shape to today's horses, but smaller in size. "Can one imagine animals similar to horses with three toes, the size of a fox terrier, a Great Dane and a donkey living in a subtropical landscape in Alava? Many of these pseudo-horses have been described at the Zambrana site," said one of the team members Dr. Ainara Badiola. "Examples of them are the Pachynolophus zambranensis and Iberolophus arabensis species, which were first specified in this palaeontological enclave."

The two new species not only expand the fossil record and the biodiversity of palaeotheriidae fauna, but also display dental features atypical for equids of the Eocene. "Their molars have a very high crown and are covered with a thick layer of cementum. This type of dentition, also present in other endemic Iberian palaeotheriidae, could be indicative of a difference in environmental conditions between the Iberian and Central European areas, with more arid conditions or less dense or closed forests and the presence of more open areas in Iberia," explained Perales-Gogenola.

At the end of the Eocene in Europe, forests of an intertropical type gradually disappeared, giving way to plant communities of a more temperate type with more open areas. Modern horses or equids appeared in Europe later on during the Miocene (23-5.3 Ma). Their dentition, with very high crowns, is adapted for eating vegetation with a high grit content (grasses). The new species Leptolophus cuestai from the Upper Eocene site at Zambrana (Álava) also displays molars with atypically high crowns, similar to those of some of the earliest equids in Europe.

In addition to its palaeobiological interest, the diverse fossil association of mammals from Zambrana, which comprises primates, rodents, marsupials, carnivores, artiodactyla and perissodactyla, provides new information on the climatic and environmental changes that occurred in Europe and in our environment over geological time.

The UPV/EHU's Vertebrate Paleontology group is currently immersed in the description of more palaeotheriidae material, which could facilitate the description of new genera and species with unusual dental features among the equoid perissodactyla.

More information: Leire Perales-Gogenola et al, New Leptolophus (Palaeotheriidae) species from the Iberian Peninsula and early evidence of hypsodonty in an Eocene perissodactyl, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (2021). DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1912061
Journal information: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 


Ancient Fungal Parasite of Ants Found Preserved in Baltic Amber

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Allocordyceps baltica is coming out of the ant’s rectum, and vegetative part of the fungus is emerging from its abdomen and neck. Image credit: George Poinar Jr., Oregon State University.

In a paper published this month in the journal Fungal Biology, a duo of paleontologists from the United States and France described a new genus and species of ancient parasitic fungus found in a piece of 50-million-year-old amber from Europe’s Baltic region.

The newly-described species, named Allocordyceps baltica, is the oldest known fossil fungus of an ant.

“It’s a mushroom growing out of a carpenter ant (tribe Camponotini),” said Professor George Poinar Jr., a researcher in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University.

“Ants are hosts to a number of intriguing parasites, some of which modify the insects’ behavior to benefit the parasites’ development and dispersion.”

“Carpenter ants seem especially susceptible to fungal pathogens of the genus Ophiocordyceps, including one species that compels infected ants to bite into various erect plant parts just before they die.”

Doing so puts the ants in a favorable position for allowing fungal spores to be released from cup-shaped ascomata — the fungi’s fruiting body — protruding from the ants’ head and neck. Carpenter ants usually make their nests in trees, rotting logs and stumps.

Allocordyceps baltica belongs to the fungi order Hypocreales and shares certain features with Ophiocordyceps, but also displays several developmental stages not previously reported.

“We can see a large, orange, cup-shaped ascoma with developing perithecia — flask-shaped structures that let the spores out — emerging from rectum of the ant,” Professor Poinar said.

“The vegetative part of the fungus is coming out of the abdomen and the base of the neck.”

“We see freestanding fungal bodies also bearing what look like perithecia, and in addition we see what look like the sacs where spores develop.”

“All of the stages, those attached to the ant and the freestanding ones, are of the same species.”

Allocordyceps baltica could not be placed in the Ophiocordyceps genus because ascomata in those fungi usually come out the neck or head of an ant and not the rectum.

“There is no doubt that Allocordyceps baltica represents a fungal infection of a carpenter ant,” Professor Poinar said.

“This is the first fossil record of a member of the Hypocreales order emerging from the body of an ant.”

“And as the earliest fossil record of fungal parasitism of ants, it can be used in future studies as a reference point regarding the origin of the fungus-ant association.”


George Poinar & Yves-MarieMaltier. Allocordyceps baltica gen. et sp. nov. (Hypocreales: Clavicipitaceae), an ancient fungal parasite of an ant in Baltic amber. Fungal Biology, published online June 5, 2021; doi: 10.1016/j.funbio.2021.06.002


Siberian Volcanic Eruptions Triggered End-Permian Mass Extinction, New Study Confirms

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The end-Permian mass extinction — the most severe extinction event in the past 540 million years — was caused by massive volcanic eruptions in what is now Siberia, according to new research.

“The end-Permian mass extinction, which occurred about 252 million years ago, was the most severe biotic crisis in the Phanerozoic Eon, eliminating more than 90% of marine and 75% of terrestrial species,” said senior author Dr. Yanan Shen from the University of Science and Technology of China and colleagues.

“The Siberian Traps large igneous province is widely hypothesized to have been the primary trigger for the catastrophic environmental deterioration driving the extinction event.”

“Potential kill mechanisms triggered by emplacement of the Siberian Traps magmas include global warming, ultraviolet radiation exposure, hypercapnia, ocean acidification and anoxia, and toxic metal release.”

In the study, the researchers analyzed the Permian-Triassic sedimentary rocks from the Buchanan Lake section in the Sverdrup Basin, Canadian High Arctic.

They found that the samples have the lightest nickel isotope ratios ever measured in sedimentary rocks.

The only plausible explanation is that the nickel was sourced from the volcanic terrain, very likely carried by aerosol particles and deposited in the ocean, where it dramatically changed the chemistry of seawater and severely disrupted the marine ecosystem.

“The study results provide strong evidence that nickel-rich particles were aerosolized and dispersed widely, both through the atmosphere and into the ocean,” said co-author Dr. Laura Wasylenki, a researcher at Northern Arizona University.

“Nickel is an essential trace metal for many organisms, but an increase in nickel abundance would have driven an unusual surge in productivity of methanogens, microorganisms that produce methane gas. Increased methane would have been tremendously harmful to all oxygen-dependent life.”

“Our data provide a direct link between global dispersion of nickel-rich aerosols, ocean chemistry changes and the mass extinction event,” she added.

“The data also demonstrate that environmental degradation likely began well before the extinction event — perhaps starting as early as 300,000 years before then.”

“Prior to this study, the connection between Siberian Traps flood basalt volcanism, marine anoxia and mass extinction was rather vague, but now we have evidence of a specific kill mechanism.”

“This finding demonstrates the power of nickel isotope analyses, which are relatively new, to solve long-standing problems in the geosciences.”

The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.


M. Li et al. 2021. Nickel isotopes link Siberian Traps aerosol particles to the end-Permian mass extinction. Nat Commun 12, 2024; doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-22066-7


Jurassic World Dominion First Look Promises a Visual Extravaganza

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Jurassic World: Dominion is set to release on June 10, 2022. (Photo: Jurassic World/YouTube)

The Colin Trevorrow directorial Jurassic World: Dominion will pick up from the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that concluded with dinosaurs escaping into the world after being freed.

The makers of Jurassic World 3, officially titled Jurassic World: Dominion, have teased fans of the franchise with the first look of the film. But, the five-minute preview of the movie can only be watched during the IMAX screenings of F9, the ninth Fast and Furious movie.

The clip gives a sneak peek into the new species of dinosaurs which will be introduced in the film which is set 65 million years ago. It also gives a brief glimpse into a clash between a T-rex and the Giganotosaurus, a new addition to the franchise. From the short clip which is being called the extended look tease, Jurassic World 3 seems to be a visual extravaganza.

The Colin Trevorrow directorial will pick up from the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that concluded with dinosaurs escaping into the world after being freed. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard will reprise their roles of Owen Grady and Claire Dearing, respectively. The others who have joined the film’s cast include Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Isabella Sermon, Mamoudou Athie, DeWanda Wise, Dichen Lachman, and Scott Haze.

Last year, Chris Pratt had called the film’s script ‘unbelievable’ on Ellen DeGeneres’ show. “It’s got everybody. It’s got pretty much everybody in it. Maybe I just blew it, but I don’t care. All of the cast from the original Jurassic Park is coming back, so it’s going to feel very much like how Endgame brought everything together at Marvel,” the actor said.

Jurassic World: Dominion started filming in 2020, but the shoot had to be stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is scheduled to hit screens on June 10, 2022.