Exploring Prehistoric Life

Meet Halszkaraptor, the Strangest New Dinosaur You’ve Ever Seen

Sunday, December 10, 2017

This illustration of the Halszkaraptor escuilliei dinosaur. The creature, about 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall. (Source Image: Lukas Panzarin and Andrea Cau via AP)

It looks like a duck, it walks like a duck, and it swims like a duck—but it’s a predatory dinosaur unlike any scientists have seen before.

A study published this week in the journal Nature has introduced the world to the Halszkaraptor escuilliei, the first amphibious dinosaur ever discovered. It’s believed to have lived some 75 million years ago in the Ukhaa Tolgod area of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, known as a treasure trove of Cretaceous-era dinosaur bones. The unusual creature came to light in recent years after its fossil was purchased by a private French collector named François Escuillié, who contacted paleontologist Pascal Godefroit in 2015 for an expert opinion.

This illustration provided by Lukas Panzarin, with Andrea Cau for scientific supervision, shows a Halszkaraptor escuilliei dinosaur. The creature, about 18 inches 45 centimeters) tall, had a bill like a duck but teeth like a croc’s, a swan-like neck and killer claws.

The creature was clearly a small predator, much like Velociraptor. Its feet even had the distinctive sickle-shaped claws that clinked across the kitchen floor in Jurassic Park. But its long neck and tapering snout resembled those of a swan. Its arms and hands also had unusual proportions—something halfway between the grasping limbs of other raptors and the flattened flippers of modern penguins. It looked like a Velociraptor that had adapted for life in the water—that is, if it was even an actual dinosaur.

Lead author Andrea Cau, a paleontologist at the Geological Museum Capellini in Bologna, Italy, said he was at first highly suspicious about the fossil’s authenticity, both because of its appearance and the fact that the rock containing the skeleton had been smuggled out of Mongolia and left in a private collector’s hands.

“I asked myself, ‘Is this a real, natural skeleton, or an artifact, a chimera? If this is a fake, how could I demonstrate it?'” Cau said in an email. “Assuming it was a fake instead of starting assuming that the fossil is genuine was the most appropriate way to start the investigation of such a bizarre fossil.”

So researchers used the Synchrotron to create three-dimensional images of the fossil, which showed the creature was indeed a single animal and not a concoction built up from several sources. For example, an arm hidden in the rock perfectly matched the visible left arm, and lines indicating growth matched up across the bones.

Even though the creature wasn’t dreamed up by Dr. Seuss, it got a blessing from a Dr. Sues.

Hans Sues, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution who wasn’t part of the research, praised the work and said it “shows again how amazingly diverse dinosaurs were.”

Source: www.history.com / www.theatlantic.com / www.newsobserver.com

Wakaleo schouteni: The Dog-Sized Marsupial Lion that Once Lived in Australia

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reconstruction of Wakaleo schouteni challenging the thylacinid Nimbacinus dicksoni over a kangaroo carcass in the late Oligocene forest at Riversleigh, Australia. Image credit: Peter Schouten.

Paleontologists have discovered a new species of carnivorous marsupial lion that lived 26 to 18 million years ago (late Oligocene to early Miocene) in Australia’s rain forests.

The newly-discovered marsupial lion, named Wakaleo schouteni, was the size of a dog and weighed around 23 kg.

The species was about a 1/5th of the weight of the largest and last surviving marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, that weighed in at 130 kg and which has been extinct for 30,000 years.

“The identification of this species has brought to light a level of marsupial lion diversity that was quite unexpected and suggest even deeper origins for the family Thylacoleonidae,” said Dr. Anna Gillespie, a paleontologist at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

The fossilized remains of Wakaleo schouteni — a near-complete skull, teeth, and humerus (upper arm bone) — were found in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area of remote north-western Queensland.

“With the new find, we believe that two different species of marsupial lions were present in the late Oligocene at least 25 million years ago,” the paleontologists said.

“The other, originally named Priscileo pitikantensis, but renamed Wakaleo pitikantensis, was slightly smaller and was identified from teeth and limb bones discovered near Lake Pitikanta in South Australia in 1961.”

The new species exhibits many skull and dental features of the genus Wakaleo, but it also shared a number of similarities with Priscileo pitikantensis — particularly the presence of three upper premolars and four molars, previously the diagnostic feature of Priscileo.

Further similarities of the teeth and humerus which are shared with Wakaleo schouteni indicate that Priscileo pitikantensis is a species of Wakaleo.

“These dental similarities distinguish Wakaleo schouteni and Priscileo pitikantensis from later species of this genus, all of which show premolar and molar reduction, and suggest that they are the most primitive members of the genus.”

“This latest finding raises new questions about the evolutionary relationships of marsupial lions,” Dr. Gillespie concluded.

The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.


Anna K. Gillespie et al. A new Oligo–Miocene marsupial lion from Australia and revision of the family Thylacoleonidae. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, published online December 6, 2017; doi: 10.1080/14772019.2017.1391885

Source: sci-news.com

Scientists Shocked by Huge Discovery of 215 Pterosaur Eggs in China

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Hamipterus tianshanensis

An international team of paleontologists has discovered a fossil-rich site with more than 200 fossilized eggs of the Cretaceous pterosaur species Hamipterus tianshanensis in China.


To date, only a small handful of pterosaur eggs with a well-preserved 3D structure and embryo inside have been found and analyzed: three eggs from Argentina and five from China.

This sparse sample size was dramatically increased upon the discovery of 215 fossilized eggs of Hamipterus tianshanensis, a species of pteranodontoid pterosaur that lived about 120 million years ago (Cretaceous period) in what is now northwestern China.

Dr. Xiaolin Wang from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues from China and Brazil used CT scanning to peer inside the eggs, 16 of which contain embryonic remains of varying intactness.

The most complete embryo contained a partial wing and cranial bones, including a complete lower jaw.

“The samples of thigh bones that remain intact are well-developed, suggesting that the species benefited from functional hind legs shortly after hatching,” the paleontologists said.

“However, the structure supporting the pectoral muscle appears to be underdeveloped during the embryonic stage, suggesting that newborns were likely not able to fly.”

“Therefore, we propose that newborns likely needed some parental care.”

“Based on growth marks, we estimate one of the individuals to be at least 2 years old and still growing at the time of its death, supporting the growing body of evidence that pterosaurs had long incubation periods.”

“Lastly, the fact that a single collection of embryos exhibits a range of developmental stages hints that pterosaurs participated in colonial nesting behavior.”

The discovery is reported in the journal Science.


Xiaolin Wang et al. 2017. Egg accumulation with 3D embryos provides insight into the life history of a pterosaur. Science 358 (6367): 1197-1201; doi: 10.1126/science.aan2329

Source: babwnews.com

‘Evolutionary Dead End’: Extinct ‘Stilt’ Horse Named for Canadian

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Haringtonhippus francisci

A newly-discovered branch of the horse family has been named after the Canadian who first studied its remains in the Yukon, where it lived until the end of the last ice age.

Close study of the North American stilt-legged horse has revealed that the ice age-era mammal was an “evolutionary dead end” in the horse family, which developed through the Equus genus to spawn modern-day horses, asses and zebras. The taller, thinner stilt-legged horse lived up until approximately 17,000 years ago and died out entirely after the last ice age, according to the new study published in the journal eLife.

The study authors have officially classified the stilt-legged horse as a separate genus from the Equus, based on differences observed at the DNA level. The stilt-legged horse was first described in the 1970s by Canadian paleontologist Richard Harington, but was thought at the time to be related to the Asiatic wild ass or onager.

The new genus has been dubbed Haringtonhippus francisci, after Harington. Harington did not work on the new study, but the study’s authors say they named the new genus after him as a tribute to his groundbreaking work on the ancient animal.

“I am delighted to have this new genus named after me,” Harington, emeritus curator of quaternary paleontology at the Canadian Museum of Nature, said in a news release from the study authors.

Co-author Grant Zazula said the discovery would not have been possible without Harington’s “life-long dedication” to studying the stilt-legged horse in Canada’s North.

“There is no other scientist who has had greater impact in the field of ice age paleontology in Canada than Dick,” Zazula, a paleontologist with the Yukon government, said in the news release.

A connection that goes way, way back

The discovery is expected to shake up long-held theories that horse evolution was fairly straightforward, by demonstrating that a divergent branch of the family tree emerged some 4-6 million years ago before dying out.

“The horse family, thanks to its rich and deep fossil record, has been a model system for understanding and teaching evolution,” first study author Peter Heintzman, of UC Santa Cruz, said in the news release. “Now, ancient DNA has rewritten the evolutionary history of this iconic group.”

The study authors say the Equus and Haringtonhippus genuses thrived alongside one another in North America, although they did not interbreed. They co-existed with such large ice-age mammals as the woolly mammoth and the sabre-toothed cat, which also died out when the glaciers receded. The North American Equus and Haringtonhippus died out around the same time, but the Equus survived though a number of ancient horses that remained in Eurasia.

The stilt-legged horse discovery was made based on DNA taken from fossils in the Yukon’s Klondike gold fields, as well as from Natural Trap Cave in Wyoming and Gypsum Cave in Nevada.

Source: en.brinkwire.com

Fluffy Four-Winged Creature Resembling a Muppet Is Actually a Dinosaur

Saturday, December 2, 2017


anchiornis fAnchiornis had feathers whose barbs didn’t zip together like modern birds’ feathers.

The researchers got lucky with their Anchiornis specimen, which died under conditions that left its feathers separated from the body before they were fossilized. Using high-resolution imaging equipment to examine it, they were able to determine what function the strange feathers served.

They certainly weren’t good for flying. The researchers write that the fluffy feathers probably didn’t afford Anchiornis much protection from water or cold temperatures and furthermore, may have increased aerodynamic drag as it glided through the air. Additionally, since the barbs on the feathers didn’t zip together, they couldn’t have been used for flying anyway.

To compensate, Anchiornis had four wings as well as multiple rows of feathers that could have helped provide some aerodynamic lift.


Anchiornis and its previously undescribed contour feather.

The new paper, which presents a new illustration of how Anchiornis may have behaved in its habitat, builds on previous research that identified the color of this dinosaur, as well as the fact that its wings had multiple layers of feathers. The illustration, drawn by scientific illustrator Rebecca Gelernter depicts Anchiornisclimbing a branch — not perching like a bird, as past illustrations have. This illustration represents not just a culmination of multiple studies on the dinosaur, but also a little bit of imagination.

“Paleoart is a weird blend of strict anatomical drawing, wildlife art, and speculative biology. The goal is to depict extinct animals and plants as accurately as possible given the available data and knowledge of the subject’s closest living relatives,” said Gelernter in a statement.

“As a result of this study and other recent work, this is now possible to an unprecedented degree for Anchiornis. It’s easy to see it as a living animal with complex behaviours, not just a flattened fossil.”

Source: inverse.com

Scientist Finds Microfossils In India That Are 2 Billion Years Old

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Scientist Finds Microfossils In India That Are 2 Billion Years Old

A geologist in India found “prokaryotic” microfossils that are considered to be 2 billion years old. Microfossils are a group of small fossil remains that can only be studied microscopically. It can either be a part of a larger organism or a whole minute organism. Microfossils are said to be the most important group of fossils.

Naresh Ghose, a Bengaluru-based geologist, first discovered the microfossils in a carbonaceous shale in central India. Ghose, who is also a former geology professor at Patna University, reported his findings at the Indian Geological Congress in Nagpur, an annual convention for Indian scientific discoveries.

“The present study reports for the first time the presence of “organogenic” microfossils—derived from living organisms—in black shale immediately underlying the volcanic rock of the Gwalior basin,” Ghose said at the convention, according to Doonwire. “Therefore, the microfossils (Prokaryotic-RNA cell) in the Gwalior basin may be regarded as the confirmed oldest existence of life dated about 2,000 million years ago ever to be recorded from the Indian subcontinent.”

Prokaryotic microfossils consist of the remains of bacteria, fungi, plants, planktons and animals. They are considered to be the earliest indicator of life’s existence on the planet. The small fossil, which is smaller than one millimeter in length, are comprised of carbonates and a combination of iron-bearing material.

“This important discovery was made using a simple and inexpensive device like a microscope without the aid of any sophisticated instrument,” Ghose said, according to the New Indian Express. “The USA is utilizing black shale as an alternative source for hydrocarbons and is a leading exporter due to its technological advancement.”

Microfossils have also proven to be very crucial in the fields of geology, biology and paleontology.

“Billions of dollars have been made on the basis of microfossil studies,” an article published to the University of California Museum of Paleontology’s website claimed. “Because they usually occur in huge numbers in all kinds of sedimentary rocks, they are the most abundant and most easily accessible fossils.”

In May, the world’s oldest microfossil was previously found in Quebec, Canada, by a group of researchers from the University College London. The research team initially considered the microfossils to be about 4.3 billion years old. The microfossil would have emerged more than 200 millions years ahead of when the earth first formed.

An Indian geologist discovered a microfossil that is said to be 2 billion years old. A paleontologist is pictured uncovering a fossil in central Bulgaria on June 07, 2017. Photo: Getty Images


Source: www.ibtimes.com

Reptiles Who Ruled the Earth Before Dinosaurs Expected to Bring More Tourists to Russia

Friday, December 1, 2017

Reptiles Who Ruled the Earth Before Dinosaurs Expected to Bring More Tourists to Russia

The first two skeletons of the ancient reptiles were unearthed near Kotelnich in 1933


The Kirov Region, central Russia, is planning to create a new tourist route to tell its visitors about the history of Pareiasaurs, fossil reptiles who roamed the Earth some 260 million years ago, long before dinosaurs emerged.

Archaeologists have been founding Pareiasaur fossils near the town of Kotelnich, on the clay bank of the Vyatka River, for several decades.

“They flourished in the Permian period in just two regions, Kotelnich and Karoo plateau in South Africa,” said Natalia Spitsyna, the head of the local museum of paleontology.

According to Spitsyna, most paleontologists travel to the Kirov Region as the fossils here are better preserved than in South Africa.

Tourists will be offered to visit excavation sites as part of a two-day trip to Kirov and Kotelnich.

“On the first day they will visit Kotelnich, the sites where fossils were found, its museum with a unique collection of fossils and the local Dino Park,” said Irina Bazhina of the regional tourism development center. “On the second day they will travel to Kirov and visit the modern paleontological museum and a park featuring life-size sculptures of dinosaurs.”

The Kotelnich museum has no replicas. Therocephalians, cynodonts, gorgonopsians, anomodonts, dicynodonts, a Mastodonsaurus, Tarbosaurus and Ankylosaurus – all of these fossils were discovered near Kotelnich.

The Kotelnich museum also boasts a unique item, a skeleton of a baby Pareiasaur.

The first two skeletons of the ancient reptiles were unearthed near Kotelnich in 1933 by a local hydrogeologist who was drilling for water wells.

An expedition led by prominent paleontologist Alexandra Gartman-Veinberg arrived in the Kirov Region next year.

“The South African plateau was considered the only place on Earth where Pareiasaur fossils had been found but Gartman-Veinberg found two skulls and took them to Moscow. She thought that the reptiles migrated to the Kirov Region from South Africa,” Spitsyna said.

Eleven full Pareiasaur skeletons were unearthed in the region by Moscow paleontologists in the next 14 years but none of them was preserved.

Pareiasaurs were large and awkward herbivores who measured to 2.5 meters in length, who most likely lived in damp lowlands. Sometimes they got trapped in mud and slowly died.

According to Spitsyna, the fossils are so well-preserved due to these mud traps.

Most fossils were found at the so-called Sokolya Gora, a site on the steep bank of the Vyatka River. All excavation work is carried out here from May to October when the water level declines.

Archeologists are also planning to come to Sokolya Gora, which was inhabited from the 5th century BC.

An environment-friendly tourist center is currently under construction near Sokolya Gora.

“The visitors will be able to see the scientists at work and even take part in the process,” said Irina Bazhina.


Source: tass.com

Russian Scientists Hope to ‘Bring Back’ 50,000-Year-Old Cave Lion in Jurassic Park-style Experiment

Friday, December 1, 2017

Cub from extinct specie was found ‘perfectly preserved’ in freezing conditions in Siberia.

The discovery of an extinct cave lion cub from the Ice Age has raised hopes that it could be cloned and its species brought back to life some 50,000 years after it disappeared.
The tiny animal was found “perfectly preserved” with its paw resting on its head on the bank of Tirekhtykh River in the Abyisky district of Yakutia in Siberia in Russia.
Investigators says the small creature was about eight weeks old but cannot say how it died in the area that is permanently frozen – in conditions that helped keep its remains from decaying.
Cave lions were native to regions in the northern hemisphere before they became extinct, and the only knowledge of the animals that hunted in packs is from cave paintings left by early man.
Dr Albert Protopopov, of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha, in Yakutia, unveiled the discovery.
“It is a perfectly preserved lion cub, all the limbs have survived. There are no traces of external injuries on the skin,” he told The Siberian Times.
“The preservation is so good that it raises hopes of cloning the species back to life,” he added.
Tests so far have found that the cub is 45 centimetres long and weighed almost 9lbs. It is not known whether it is male of female because newborn lions do not have noticeable sex characteristics.
Studies of its teeth are underway to find out its exact age – but could take up to three years.
Siberian resident Boris Berezhnov discovered the remains of the “unrecognisable animal” when the level of the Tirekhtykh River dropped to reveal the carcass lying on the bank of the water.
It comes after a similar discovery of two newborn cave lion cubs – named Uyan and Dina – found in the same region in 2015. Research found they were up to 55,000 years old.
“Everyone was amazed then and did not believe that such a thing is possible, and now, two years later, another cave lion has been found in the Abyiski district,” Dr Protopopov said.
“The preservation degree is even better,” he added.
One of the two cubs was found with its mother’s milk in its remains and scientists are hoping that by analysing it they can determine the diet of the adult creatures.
They hope that could shed light on how cave lions became extinct if they discover, for example, that a particular animal it preyed upon itself disappeared from the planet around the same time.
Source: independent.co.uk

A Sub-Desert Savanna Spread Across Madrid 14 Million Years Ago

Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Sub-Desert Savanna Spread Across Madrid 14 Million Years Ago

The current landscape of Madrid city and its vicinity was really different 14 million years ago. A semi-desert savanna has been inferred for the center of the Iberian Peninsula in the middle Miocene. This ecosystem was characterized by a very arid tropical climatic regime with up to ten months of drought per year, according to a recent paper. Scientists reached such conclusions after comparing mammal fauna with Africa and Asia ones.

The Central Iberian Peninsula was characterised by a very arid savanna during the middle Miocene, according to a study led by the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) that compares the mammal assemblages from different localities in Africa and South Asia with those that inhabited the Iberian central area 14 million years ago.

The results of this study, recently published in PLOS ONE, are the product of more than fifteen years of fieldwork and previous paleontological studies of the fossil vertebrate remains found at the Somosaguas paleontological site (Madrid), which allowed paleontologists to infer the type of environment that existed in the middle Miocene in the central part of the Iberian Peninsula. This fossil site is located at the Somosaguas Campus of the UCM, a particular feature as only two paleontological sites have been discovered up to now at university campuses worldwide (the other one being located in the USA).

The body size of every species is largely influenced by the environmental conditions of the habitat where each species lives. For example, elephants that inhabit humid places (such as those in Asian jungles) are smaller than elephants that live in dry places (such as those that inhabit in African savannahs).

“Based on this premise, the distribution of sizes within a mammal community can offer us valuable information about its climatic context,” explains Iris Menéndez, a researcher at the Department of Paleontology of the UCM and the Institute of Geosciences (UCM and CSIC).

In this study paleontologists have been able to infer that the centre of the Iberian Peninsula witnessed a very arid tropical climate with a high precipitation seasonality. After a brief wet period, the annual dry season could last up to 10 months. “These results confirm the previous inferences on the Savannahs environment of Somosaguas in the Miocene, but placing this habitat at their driest estimated, within the limits between the savanna and the desert,” says Menéndez.

This study compiled the information of climatic parameters for more than 60 current localities from Africa and Asia, including information of the body size of the mammalian species that inhabit these localities.

“For this purpose, we made a compilation of information on mammalian fauna lists, their body sizes, and climatic parameters for these localities, such as temperatures and precipitation. Based on this data, we developed statistical models suitable for the inference of different climatic parameters in the past,” says the UCM researcher.

“We included the information on the 26 mammal species found in the Somosaguas site, which allowed us to infer the environment by comparison with the extant assemblages,” she adds.

Somosaguas is a particularly interesting fossil site in the context of paleoecological and paleoclimatic studies because it was located at a turning point during the Miocene. At this time, there was a marked change from warm and relatively humid global conditions to colder and arid environments. This inflection point eventually led to the beginning of the Pleistocene glaciations.

Moreover, the Somosaguas fossil site, due to its location within a university campus, gives to the general public the opportunity to visit it and learn all the details of the investigations that have been carried out from the data collected in the successive excavation campaigns.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Universidad Complutense de MadridNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Iris Menéndez, Ana R. Gómez Cano, Blanca A. García Yelo, Laura Domingo, M. Soledad Domingo, Juan L. Cantalapiedra, Fernando Blanco, Manuel Hernández Fernández. Body-size structure of Central Iberian mammal fauna reveals semidesertic conditions during the middle Miocene Global Cooling EventPLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (10): e0186762 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186762

    Source: sciencedaily.com

World’s Longest Sauropod Trackway Found in France

Thursday, November 30, 2017

World’s Longest Sauropod Trackway Found in France

The dinosaur tracksite is located less a mile (1 km) west of the village of Plagne in the Department of the Ain, southern French Jura Mountains.

It was discovered by members of the ‘Société des Naturalistes d’Oyonnax,’ a group of amateur geologists specializing in the Jurassic, in 2009.

Paleontologists from the Paléoenvironnements et Paléobiosphère research unit at the Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University then confirmed that the Plagne trackway extends over 508 feet in length, which makes this specimen the longest sauropod trackway currently known in the world, a few feet longer than the Middle Jurassic sauropod trackways from Galinha, Portugal.

The trackway is composed of 110 successive paces, and is generally well-preserved. The prints measure between 3.3 and 10 feet (1-3 m) in diameter.

The footprints reveal five elliptical toe marks, while the handprints are characterized by five circular finger marks arranged in an arc.

They were made by a sauropod, or long-necked dinosaur, approximately 150 million years ago, during the Tithonian, the latest age of the Late Jurassic epoch.

“Paleogeographic reconstructions of Western Europe for this stage indicate an archipelago landscape, where the emergent islands were occasionally connected during periods of relatively low sea level, which presumably allowed faunal expansion or migration,” the researchers said.

Artist’s impression of the Plagne sauropod dinosaur superimposed on its tracks. Image credit: A. Bénéteau / Dinojura.

Biometric analysis suggests the Plagne sauropod dinosaur was at least 115 feet (35 m) long, weighted between 35 and 40 tons, had an average stride of 9.2 feet (2.8 m), and traveled at a speed of 2.5 mph (4 km/h).

“This new trackway site, alongside other Early Jurassic Swiss and French tracksites yielding thousands of sauropod and theropod tracks, can be considered as being the largest dinosaur megatracksite in Europe,” the paleontologists said.

They detailed their findings in the August 2017 issue of the journal Geobios.


Jean-Michel Mazin et al. The dinosaur tracksite of Plagne (early Tithonian, Late Jurassic; Jura Mountains, France): The longest known sauropod trackway. Geobios 50 (4): 279-301; doi: 10.1016/j.geobios.2017.06.004

Source: sci-news.com