Exploring Prehistoric Life

Unique Imaging of Dinosaur’s Skull Tells Evolutionary Tale

Saturday, November 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: techbriefs.com

Decennatherium rex: Ancient Giraffe Relative, Once Roamed Iberian Peninsula

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Decennatherium rex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Source: sci-news.com

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“But not the Borealopelta specimen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


‘Like really gross balloons’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s the bloat.”

Source: cbc.ca

Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Could Hold the Cure for Cancer

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Could Hold the Cure for Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

Source: bgr.com

Gigantic Dinosaur-Eating Plane-Size Reptile Discovered in Mongolia

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Gigantic Dinosaur-Eating Plane-Size Reptile Discovered in Mongolia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: foxnews.com

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Source: rt.com

Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Impact Cooled Earth’s Climate More Than Previously Thought

Friday, November 3, 2017

Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Impact Cooled Earth’s Climate More Than Previously Thought

The Chicxulub asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs likely released far more climate-altering sulfur gas into the atmosphere than originally thought, according to new research.

A new study makes a more refined estimate of how much sulfur and carbon dioxide gas were ejected into Earth’s atmosphere from vaporized rocks immediately after the Chicxulub event. The study’s authors estimate more than three times as much sulfur may have entered the air compared to what previous models assumed, implying the ensuing period of cool weather may have been colder than previously thought.

The new study lends support to the hypothesis that the impact played a significant role in the Cretaceous - Paleogene extinction event that eradicated nearly three-quarters of Earth’s plant and animal species, according to Joanna Morgan, a geophysicist at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom and co-author of the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

“Many climate models can’t currently capture all of the consequences of the Chicxulub impact due to uncertainty in how much gas was initially released,” Morgan said. “We wanted to revisit this significant event and refine our collision model to better capture its immediate effects on the atmosphere.”

The new findings could ultimately help scientists better understand how Earth’s climate radically changed in the aftermath of the asteroid collision, according to Georg Feulner, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam, Germany who was not involved with the new research. The research could help give new insights into how Earth’s climate and ecosystem can significantly change due to impact events, he said.

“The key finding of the study is that they get a larger amount of sulfur and a smaller amount of carbon dioxide ejected than in other studies,” he said. “These improved estimates have big implications for the climactic consequences of the impact, which could have been even more dramatic than what previous studies have found.”

A titanic collision

The Chicxulub impact occurred 66 million years ago when an asteroid approximately 12 kilometers (7 miles) wide slammed into Earth. The collision took place near what is now the Yucatán peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. The asteroid is often cited as a potential cause of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, a mass extinction that erased up to 75 percent of all plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs.

The asteroid collision had global consequences because it threw massive amounts of dust, sulfur and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The dust and sulfur formed a cloud that reflected sunlight and dramatically reduced Earth’s temperature. Based on earlier estimates of the amount of sulfur and carbon dioxide released by the impact, a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed Earth’s average surface air temperature may have dropped by as much as 26 degrees Celsius (47 degrees Fahrenheit) and that sub-freezing temperatures persisted for at least three years after the impact.

A simulation of the crater and impact plume formed eight seconds after the Chicxulub impact at 45 degrees. Chart A shows the density of different materials created in the impact. The colors show the atmosphere (blue), sediment (yellow), asteroid (gray) and basement (red), with darker colors reflecting higher densities. SW is the shock wave formed by the impact. Chart B shows the temperature in Kelvin at different locations in the impact. Credit: Pierazzo and Artemieva (2012).

In the new research, the authors used a computer code that simulates the pressure of the shock waves created by the impact to estimate the amounts of gases released in different impact scenarios. They changed variables such as the angle of the impact and the composition of the vaporized rocks to reduce the uncertainty of their calculations.

The new results show the impact likely released approximately 325 gigatons of sulfur and 425 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more than 10 times global human emissions of carbon dioxide in 2014. In contrast, the previous study in Geophysical Research Letters that modeled Earth’s climate after the collision had assumed 100 gigatons of sulfur and 1,400 gigatons of carbon dioxide were ejected as a result of the impact.

Improving the impact model

The new study’s methods stand out because they ensured only gases that were ejected upwards with a minimum velocity of 1 kilometer per second (2,200 miles per hour) were included in the calculations. Gases ejected at slower speeds didn’t reach a high enough altitude to stay in the atmosphere and influence the climate, according to Natalia Artemieva, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona and co-author of the new study.

Older models of the impact didn’t have as much computing power and were forced to assume all the ejected gas entered the atmosphere, limiting their accuracy, Artemieva said.

The study authors also based their model on updated estimates of the impact’s angle. An older study assumed the asteroid hit the surface at an angle of 90 degrees, but newer research shows the asteroid hit at an angle of approximately 60 degrees. Using this revised angle of impact led to a larger amount of sulfur being ejected into the atmosphere, Morgan said.

The study’s authors did not model how much cooler Earth would have been as a result of their revised estimates of how much gas was ejected. Judging from the cooling seen in the previous study, which assumed a smaller amount of sulfur was released by the impact, the release of so much sulfur gas likely played a key role in the extinction event. The sulfur gas would have blocked out a significant amount of sunlight, likely leading to years of extremely cold weather potentially colder than the previous study found. The lack of sunlight and changes in ocean circulation would have devastated Earth’s plant life and marine biosphere, according to Feulner.

The release of carbon dioxide likely led to some long-term climate warming, but its influence was minor compared to the cooling effect of the sulfur cloud, Feulner said.

Along with gaining a better understand of the Chicxulub impact, researchers can also use the new study’s methods to estimate the amount of gas released during other large impacts in Earth’s history. For example, the authors calculated the Ries crater located in Bavaria, Germany was formed by an impact that ejected 1.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This amount of gas likely had little effect on Earth’s climate, but the idea could be applied to help understand the climactic effects of larger impacts.

More information: Natalia Artemieva et al, Quantifying the Release of Climate-Active Gases by Large Meteorite Impacts With a Case Study of Chicxulub, Geophysical Research Letters (2017). DOI: 10.1002/2017GL074879

Journal reference: Geophysical Research Letters

Provided by: American Geophysical Union

Source: phys.org

Mongolian Microfossils Point to the Rise of Animals on Earth

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mongolian Microfossils Point to the Rise of Animals on Earth


Scientists Discover Jurassic-Era Fossil of ‘Fish Lizard’ in Gujarat’s Kutch Desert

Friday, October 27, 2017

The skull and tail bones of the 152 million-year-old fossilized skeleton of the ichthyosaur, found for the first time in India, are missing.

Scientists have discovered a 152 million-year-old fossil of an ichthyosaur – an extinct marine reptile from the Jurassic era – in Gujarat, BBC reported. This is the first time the fossil has been found in India.

The finds were published in the PLOS One science journal. It was found inside the rocks in the Kutch desert.

The fossilised skeleton of the ichthyosaur, which means ‘fish lizard’ in Greek, is in almost pristine state, PTI reported. Only parts of the skull and tail bones were found to be missing. According to the team that discovered this fossil, the specimen can be identified with Ophthalmosauridae, a family of ichthyosaurs that lived in the oceans between 165 and 90 million years ago.

“It throws light on the evolution and diversity of ichthyosaurs in the Indo-Madagascan region of the former Gondwanaland and India’s biological connectivity with other continents in the Jurassic,” said Professor Guntupalli Prasad from Delhi university’s Department of Geology, who led the study.

An examination of the teeth suggests that the reptile was a top-tier predator in its ecosystem, the geologists added. According to the Encyclopaedia of Paleontology, the ichthyosaur could grow anywhere between 1 m and 14 m, and was known for its sharp teeth.

Fossils From Cat With ‘Steak Knife’ Fangs, Found in Yukon

Friday, October 27, 2017

Two fossils help provide new insight into the mysterious, and extinct, scimitar cat.

A couple of rare fossils found in Yukon have scientists sinking their teeth into the mysterious history of a once-formidable predator  — the scimitar cat.

And according to new research published in the journal Current Biology, the fossils suggest the now-extinct animal once ranged across the Northern Hemisphere.

“There’s only about 20 fossils that have ever been found of this cat in Alaska or Yukon, and that’s in over 100 years of fossil collecting,” said Yukon government paleontologist Grant Zazula.

“It’s kind of an enigma … we don’t know a lot about this animal.”


Teeth like steak knives. (Binia de Cahsan)

What researchers do know is that scimitar cats were the stuff of nightmares — built to kill, with long front limbs and short back limbs. “Good for pouncing,” Zazula said. That combined with large, serrated fangs.

“Imagine your house cat with steak knives coming out of its mouth, but it’s about 400 pounds,” Zazula said.

“This is a branch of the cat family tree that basically diverged — it went off on its own path on the family tree about 20 million years ago — and they’re completely unrelated to all living cats today.”


Mining for fossils

The two Yukon fossils that became the focus of the latest research were found decades apart, on mining claims on the Sixty Mile River, and Dominion Creek. Studied alongside other scimitar cat fossils, researchers now believe North American scimitar cats were the same species as the European ones.

Previously, scientists believed there were separate species on the two continents.


‘These fossils that we find in the Yukon … have global significance. They’re not just things that end up on dusty shelves,’ said Yukon government paleontologist Grant Zazula. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

“We now know, genetically, this was one wide-ranging species that lived all the way, basically, from England to Texas,” Zazula said.

The new research is just another example of how Yukon, rich in ice age fossils, is playing an outsized role in paleontological research, Zazula says.

“These fossils that we find in the Yukon … have global significance. They’re not just things that end up on dusty shelves,” he said.

“For me, it’s a real honour to be part of that, and be a little guy from the Yukon getting a chance to kind of engage in the international scientific world because of the cool things that we have in the ground here.”

Source: cbc.ca