The Fossil Record of Evolution - Descent with Modification - Lists of Transitional Fossils & Transitional Forms

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Transitional Fossils – Evidence of Evolution

What is a Transitional Fossil?

A transitional fossil is a fossil of an organism that has traits from multiple evolutionary stages. Proponents of creationism claim that “evolutionists have had over 140 years to find a transitional fossil and nothing approaching a conclusive transitionalform has ever been found”, despite the discovery of Archaeopteryx (a transitional form between maniraptoran dinosaurs and basal (primitive) birds, and among the best examples of evolution) only two years after Darwin published The Origin of Species. Creationists say that we never saw evolution happen, but transitional fossils are the next best thing.

What are Transitional Forms?

“A transitional form is an organism that has features intermediate of its ancestors and progeny. The term is most common in evolution to refer to organisms that show certain features (wings, feathers, gills and so on) partly in development. In theory, every fossil is a transitional form if it has descendants and each living creature is a transition between its parent and its offspring. However, evolution is about the features of populations rather than individuals; the transition at the species level can be too small in fossils; so the list below concentrates on broad transitional features and the genus or larger group.”

Transitions in vertebrates before the Cenozoic

Invertebrate to Vertebrate

  • Unnamed Upper (U.) Pre-Cambrian chordate — First to bear a primitive notochord; archaetypical chordate.
  • Pikaia gracilens — Middle (M.) Cambrian chordate with lancelet-like morphology.
  • Haikouella — Lower (L.) Cambrian chordate, first to bear a skull; archaetypical craniate.
  • Haikouichthys — L. Cambrian quasi-vertebrate, intermediate in developing a vertebral column; archaetypical vertebrate.
  • Conodonts — U. Cambrian to Triassic quasi-vertebrates with spinal cord; "bug-eyed lampreys".
  • Myllokunmingia — L. Cambrian vertebrate with primitive spinal column; oldest true crown-group vertebrate.
  • Arandaspis — L. Ordovician vertebrate, armoured jawless fish (ostracoderm), oldest known vertebrate with hard parts known from (mostly) complete fossils.

Jawless Fish to Jawed Vertebrate

  • Birkenia — Silurian primitive, jawless fish, a typical member of the Anaspida
  • Cephalaspis — Silurian armoured jawless fish, archaetypical member of the "Osteostraca," sister group to all jawed vertebrates.
  • ShuyuSilurian to Devonian, armoured jawless fish belonging to Galeaspida, related to Osteostraca. Internal cranial anatomy very similar to the anatomy seen in basal jawed vertebrates. This similarity is directly implied with the translation of its name, "Dawn Fish," with the implication that it represents the "dawn of jawed vertebrates."

Acanthodian to shark

  • Ptomacanthus — sharklike fish, originally described as an acanthodian fish: brain anatomy demonstrates that it is an intermediate between acanthodians and sharks.
  • Cladoselache — primitive/basal shark.
  • Tristychius — another sharklike fish.
  • Ctenacanthus — primitive/basal shark.
  • Paleospinax — sharklike jaw, primitive teeth.
  • Spathobatis — Ray-like fish.
  • Protospinax — Ancestral to both sharks and skates.

Primitive jawed fish to bony fish

  • Acanthodians — superficially similar to early bony fishes, and some have been identified as being the ancestors of sharks.
  • Palaeoniscoids — primitive bony fishes.
  • Canobius, Aeduella — palaeoniscoids with more advanced jaws.
  • Parasemionotus — combination of modern cheeks with more primitive features, like lungs
  • Oreochima — first teleost fish
  • Leptolepids — vaguely herring-like ancestors of modern teleost fish. Lung modified into swim bladder.
  • Amphistium and Heteronectes — percomorphs that demonstrate the transition of the eye location of flatfishes.

Fish to amphibian

  • Paleoniscoids — both ancestral to modern fish and land vertebrates
  • Osteolepis — modified limb bones, amphibian like skull and teeth
  • Kenichthys — shows the position of exhaling nostrils moving from front to fish to throat in tetrapods in its halfway point, in the teeth
  • Eusthenopteron, Sterropterygion — fin bones similarly structured to amphibian feet, but no toes yet, and still fishlike bodily proportions
  • Panderichthys, Elpistostege — tetrapod-like bodily proportions.
  • Obruchevichthys — fragmented skeleton with intermediate characteristics, possible first tetrapod.
  • Tiktaalik — a fish with developing legs. Also appearance of ribs and neck.
  • Acanthostega gunnari—famous intermediate fossil. most primitive fossil that is known to be a tetrapod or four legged animal from the Upper Devonian of Greenland, which has shed significant light on the derivation and early evolution of tetrapods. It had legs and feet but was aquatic, not an amphibian.
  • Ichthyostega — like Acanthostega, another fishlike amphibian
  • Hynerpeton — A little more advanced then Acanthostega and Ichtyostega
  • Labyrinthodonts — still many fishlike features, but tailfins have disappeared
  • Gars — Fish with vascularized swim bladders that can function as lungs
  • Lungfish and Birchirs — fish that have lungs

Primitive to modern amphibians

  • Temnospondyls
  • Dendrerpeton acadianum
  • Archegosaurus decheni
  • Eryops megacephalus
  • Trematops
  • Amphibamus lyelli
  • Doleserpeton annectens
  • Triadobatrachus — a primitive frog.
  • Vieraella — an early modern frog
  • Karaurus — a primitive salamander

Amphibian to reptile

  • Proterogyrinus
  • Limnoscelis
  • Tseajaia
  • Solenodonsaurus
  • Hylonomus
  • Paleothyris

Early reptile to diapsid

  • Hylonomus
  • Paleothyris
  • Petrolacosaurus
  • Araeoscelis
  • Apsisaurus
  • Claudiosaurus
  • Planocephalosaurus
  • Protorosaurus
  • Prolacerta
  • Proterosuchus
  • Hyperodapedon
  • Trilophosaurus

Early diapsid to turtle

  • Pappochelys rosinae — diapsid skull with expanded ribs and fused gastralia
  • Odontochelys semitestacea — secondary loss of temporal fenestrae, partial formation of a turtle shell, showing how the hard underbelly, or plastron, formed first.
  • Deltavjatia vjatkensis
  • Proganochelys

Early synapsid to mammal

  • Paleothyris
  • Protoclepsydrops haplous
  • Clepsydrops
  • Archaeothyris
  • Varanops
  • Haptodus
  • Dimetrodon
  • Sphenacodon
  • Biarmosuchia
  • Procynosuchus
  • Dvinia
  • Thrinaxodon
  • Cynognathus
  • Diademodon
  • Probelesodon
  • Probainognathus
  • Exaeretodon
  • Oligokyphus
  • Kayentatherium
  • Pachygenelus
  • Diarthrognathus
  • Adelobasileus cromptoni
  • Sinoconodon
  • Kuehneotherium
  • Eozostrodon
  • Morganucodon -- a transition between "proto mammals" and "true mammals".
  • Haldanodon
  • Peramus
  • Endotherium
  • Kielantherium
  • Aegialodon
  • Steropodon galmani
  • Vincelestes neuquenianus
  • Pariadens kirklandi
  • Kennalestes
  • Asioryctes
  • Procerberus
  • Gypsonictops
  • Juramaia
  • Eomaia
  • Sinodelphys

Dinosaur to bird

  • Kulindadromeus — A basal neornithischian (Ya know, Triceratops, Iguanodon, Hypsilophodon, and such) with feathers.
  • Allosaurus — A large theropod with a wishbone.
  • Aerosteon — A large theropod of the same lineage as the aforementioned Allosaurus that was discovered to have air sacs supplementing lungs, like modern birds.
  • Compsognathus — A small coeleurosaur with a wishbone.
  • Epidendrosaurus
  • Epidexipteryx
  • Scandoriopteryx
  • Gigantoraptor — A large oviraptorosaur discovered brooding its nests in order to protect and incubate eggs.
  • Gobivenator
  • Mei — A troodont discovered sleeping with its head underneath its wing/
  • Saurornithoides
  • Sinovenator
  • Buitreraptor
  • Pyroraptor
  • Unenlagia
  • Graciliraptor
  • Bambiraptor
  • Balaur — A large flightless bird.
  • Tsaagan
  • Dromaeosaurus
  • Sinosauropteryx — a basal coelurosaur discovered to be covered in feathers. It is also the first dinosaur to have its colour determined, thanks to preserved pigment structures in the feathers.
  • Protarchaeopteryx
  • Caudipteryx
  • Velociraptor — a very famous dromaeosaur discovered to have quill knobs on it's wrists. For SOME odd reason, sadly. everyone sees these things as mutant allosaur-looking... uh... things.
  • Deinonychus
  • Utahraptor
  • Achillobator
  • Oviraptor — the first dinosaur discovered to steal brood nests.
  • Sinovenator
  • Beipiaosaurus
  • Lisboasaurus
  • Sinornithosaurus
  • Microraptor — a feathered bird with distinctly dinosaurian characteristics, such as its tail.
  • Xiaotingia — slightly earlier than Archaeopteryx, slightly more like a dinosaur and less like a bird
  • Archaeopteryx — the famous bird-with-teeth.
  • Anchiornis
  • Baptornis
  • Rahonavis
  • Confuciusornis
  • Sinornis
  • Iberomesornis
  • Therizinosaurus
  • Nothronychus
  • Citipati
  • Falcarius
  • Alxasaurus
  • Chirostenotes
  • Avimimus
  • Khaan
  • Incisivosaurus
  • Caenagnathus
  • Troodon
  • Byronosaurus
  • Ingenia
  • Hesperonychus
  • Conchoraptor
  • Patagopteryx
  • Ambiortus
  • Hesperornis — A diving seabird with prominent teeth. It's also completely flightless.
  • Apsaravis
  • Ichthyornis — A flying seabird with prominent teeth.
  • Columba — One of many typical modern birds.

Transitional mammalian fossils


  • Purgatorius — the earliest primate-like organism
  • Plesiadapis — Mammal closely related to primates.
  • Carpolestes — Mammal closely related to primates
  • Archicebus — First euprimate, or something very similar to it.
  • Omomys — Tarsier-like primate
  • Eosimias — Basal anthropoid
  • Amphipithecus — Another basal anthropoid
  • Apidium — The first, primitive monkey.
  • Propliopithecus — Primitive New World Monkey
  • Darwinius masillae — a link between earlier primates and later ones.
  • Dryopithecus Primitive ape.
  • Proconsul Primate that is closely related to apes.
  • Sivapithecus Primate closely related to the ancestors of Orangutans
  • Djebelemur First lemuriform primate.
  • Cantius Extremely primitive prosimian from the Early Eocene of North America.
  • Teilhardina First North American primate.

Non-human primate to human

  • Sahelanthropus — possible candidate for last human-chimpanzee common ancestor; from placement of skull possibly walked upright.
  • Orrorin — possible human ancestor, may have walked upright as shown by shape of femur.
  • Ardipithecus
  • Australopithecus — a genus of bipedal apes
    • Australopithecus sediba — advanced Australopithecus showing more human features
  • Homo habilis — a transitional form from Australopithecus to later Homo
  • Homo rudolfensis — a type of Homo habilis or a different species
  • Homo ergaster — a form of Homo erectus or a distinct species
  • Homo erectus — a transitional form from Australopithecus to later Homo (Latin for "human") species
  • Homo heidelbergensis — a possible common ancestor of modern man and Homo neanderthalensis
  • Homo neanderthalensis — Neanderthals likely interbred with modern humans.
  • Homo sapiens idaltu archaic subspecies of modern human, possibly ancestral to Homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans).


  • Indohyus — a vaguely chevrotain-like or raccoon-like aquatic artiodactyl ungulate with an inner ear identical to that of whales.
  • Ambulocetus— an early whale that looks like a mammalian version of a crocodile
  • Pakicetus — an early, semi-aquatic whale, a superficially wolf-like animal believed to be a direct ancestor of modern whales.
  • Rhodocetus — An early whale with comparatively large hindlegs: not only represents a transition between semi-aquatic whales, like Ambulocetus, and obligately aquatic whales, like Basilosaurus.
  • Basilosaurus — A large, elongated whale with vestigial hind flippers: transition from early marine whales (like Rhodocetus) to modern whales
  • Dorudon — A small whale with vestigial hind flippers, close relative of Basilosaurus.

    READ MORE: Whale Evolution


  • Eritherium
  • Phosphatherium
  • Numidotherium
  • Barytherium
  • Phiomia
  • Prodeinotherium
  • Stegodon

Transitional plant fossils

  • Cooksonia — early vascular plant
  • Archaeopteris — early tree
  • Williamsonia — an early flowering plant ("stem angiosperm")

Transitional Fossils & Transitional Forms

Misconception: “Gaps in the fossil record disprove evolution.”

Response: The fact that some transitional fossils are not preserved does not disprove evolution. Evolutionary biologists do not expect that all transitional forms will be found and realize that many species leave no fossils at all. Lots of organisms don’t fossilize well and the environmental conditions for forming good fossils are not that common. So, science actually predicts that for many evolutionary changes there will be gaps in the record.

READ ALSO: 10 Common Myths About Evolution

Also, scientists have found many transitional fossils. For example, there are fossils of transitional organisms between modern birds and their theropod dinosaur ancestors, and between whales and their terrestrial mammal ancestors.


STUDY: Sharks, humans shared common ancestor 440 million years ago

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Acanthodes bronni

"These different experiments in shark-like conditions give a picture of inevitability of the evolution of modern sharks," researcher Michael Coates said.

A basking shark-like fish -- only the size of a sardine -- is helping paleontologists better understand the earliest branches of the vertebrate family tree. The fish's 385 million-year-old remains suggest sharks and humans shared a common ancestor 440 million years ago.

The shark, named Gladbachus adentatus, was first discovered in Germany in 2001. But it wasn't until recently that, with the help of modern technology, scientists began to understand what they were looking at.

The specimen was found flattened and preserved in resin. The shark's exoskeleton, including its cranium, cartilage and gill details, were all neatly preserved, but its compressed state made it difficult to decipher what exactly the shark looked like.

Improved CT scanning technologies helped researchers recreate the shark in 3D.

3-D reconstruction of the jaws, gill arches and braincase of Gladbachus adentatus.  Credit: Michael Coates and Kristen Tietjen, University of Chicago.

"Gladbachus was not your typical shark," Katharine Criswell, a zoologist and research fellow at the University of Cambridge, told UPI. "It was almost a meter long and had a large and broad head with very tiny teeth, suggesting it was a suspension feeder similar to modern basking sharks."

Criswell and her colleagues were drawn to Gladbachus because of the potential insights it offered -- insights into a period of shark evolution of which little is understood.

Gladbachus lived during the Devonian period, between 416 million to 358 million years ago.

"We know of only a handful of completely preserved early shark fossils from this time period, and Gladbachus is one of the oldest," Criswell said.

The lack of shark remains from the period has long puzzled scientists.

"Sharks are thought of as a very conservative, primitive group and one of the best available early primitive models for vertebrates as a whole," said Michael Coates, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. "But they also present a paradox."

The fossil evidence -- or lack there of -- doesn't support the conception of sharks as a slowly evolving, primitive group.

"Bony fishes goes back deep into the fossil record, as far back 420 million years," Coates said. "There is a better record of bony fishes than there is of anything shark-like."

The vertebrate lineage that began with bony fishes eventually spawned mammals, including humans. Sharks, which utilize more cartilage than bone, split off and formed a separate branch. But with few fossils of early sharks or shark-like fish, scientists have struggled to pinpoint the split.

 New analysis of the Gladbachus adentatus fossil both widens and complicates the shark family tree. Photo byJason Smith

Thanks to Gladbachus, scientists are starting to nail down the timing of early vertebrate evolution.

Even if the shark offers some clarity, evolution is never straightforward. The transition from primitive shark-like fish to advanced or specialized shark species wasn't smooth.

Coates likens early species like Gladbachus to an evolutionary experiment. Other shark-like species represent separate but similar experiments, each trying out a variety of evolutionary adaptations.

"These different experiments in shark-like conditions give a picture of inevitability of the evolution of modern sharks," Coates said.

But a species isn't just a single experiment. Each species -- each specimen, even -- is a thousand different anatomical experiments at once. Some of those experiments prove successful enough that they become standard.

By better understanding the relationship between early sharks and bony fish, scientists can trace the origins of anatomical structures shared by all vertebrates.

"The body plan of jawed vertebrates, the group that includes humans, fish with bony skeletons, and sharks, is distinguished by features like jaws, teeth, and two sets of paired fins," Criswell said. "This body plan can be traced back to the evolutionary origin of sharks and bony fishes."

By comparing the anatomical makeup of Gladbachus with data from other early shark and fish fossils, researchers showed the first jawed vertebrates emerged nearly 10 million years earlier than was previously thought. They detailed the revelation in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Researchers believe remains of more shark-like and bony fish experiments are out there waiting to be discovered.

"Each one will help us calibrate the timescale of our shared evolutionary traits," Coates said.



Vulcanops jennyworthyae: Giant New Species of Burrowing Bat

Saturday, January 13, 2018

An artist’s impression of the New Zealand greater short-tailed, or burrowing, bat (Mystacina robusta) that went extinct last century. Vulcanops jennyworthyae is the biggest burrowing bat yet known. It also represents the first new bat genus to be added to New Zealand’s fauna in more than 150 years. Image credit: Gavin Mouldey.

Burrowing bats (family Mystacinidae) are only found now in New Zealand, but they once also lived in Australia.

They are peculiar because they not only fly; they also scurry about on all fours, over the forest floor, under leaf litter and along tree branches, while foraging for both animal and plant food.

“Burrowing bats are more closely related to bats living in South America than to others in the southwest Pacific,” said Professor Sue Hand, from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“They are related to vampire bats, ghost-faced bats, fishing and frog-eating bats, and nectar-feeding bats, and belong to a bat superfamily that once spanned the southern landmasses of Australia, New Zealand, South America and possibly Antarctica.”

The newly found fossil bat, named Vulcanops jennyworthyae, was relatively large, with an estimated body mass of 40 g.

It fossilized remains (teeth and bones) were recovered from freshwater lake sediments (16-19 million years old) near St Bathans, Central Otago, South Island.

“New Zealand’s burrowing bats are renowned for their extremely broad diet. They eat insects and other invertebrates such as weta and spiders, which they catch on the wing or chase by foot. And they also regularly consume fruit, flowers and nectar,” Professor Hand said.

“However, Vulcanops jennyworthyae’s specialized teeth and large size suggest it had a different diet, capable of eating even more plant food as well as small vertebrates — a diet more like some of its South American cousins. We don’t see this in Australasian bats today.”

“The fossils of this spectacular bat and several others in the St Bathans Fauna show that the prehistoric aviary that was New Zealand also included a surprising diversity of furry critters alongside the birds,” said Dr. Trevor Worthy of Flinders University.

“These bats, along with land turtles and crocodiles, show that major groups of animals have been lost from New Zealand,” added Professor Paul Scofield of Canterbury Museum.

“They show that the iconic survivors of this lost fauna — the tuataras, moas, kiwi, acanthisittid wrens, and leiopelmatid frogs — evolved in a far more complex community that hitherto thought.”

This diverse fauna lived in or around a 5,600-km2 prehistoric Lake Manuherikia that once covered much of the Maniototo region of the South Island. When they lived, temperatures in New Zealand were warmer than today and semitropical to warm temperate forests and ferns edged the vast paleolake.

Vulcanops jennyworthyae provides new insight into the original diversity of bats in Australasia,” the paleontologists said.

“Its lineage became extinct sometime after the Early Miocene, as did a number of other lineages present in the St Bathans assemblage.”

“These include crocodiles, terrestrial turtles, flamingo-like palaelodids, swiftlets, several pigeon, parrot and shorebird lineages and non-flying mammals. Most of these were probably warm-adapted species.”

“After the middle Miocene, global climate change brought colder and drier conditions to New Zealand, with significant changes to vegetation and environments.”

“It is likely that this general cooling and drying trend drove overall loss in bat diversity in New Zealand, where just two bat species today comprise the entire native land mammal fauna.”

The team’s findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Suzanne J. Hand et al. 2018. A new, large-bodied omnivorous bat (Noctilionoidea: Mystacinidae) reveals lost morphological and ecological diversity since the Miocene in New Zealand. Scientific Reports 8, article number: 235; doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-18403-w


World’s oldest Moths also Roamed Jurassic Period, says Research

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Examples of the oldest wing and body scales of primitive moths from the Schandelah-1 core photographed with transmitted light (magnification 630x). The scales are part of palynological preparations and occur together with fossil pollen grains and other organic plant remains. Size of the images (h) approx. 85 micrometer (w) approx. 65 micrometer.  CREDIT Bas van de Schootbrugge, Utrecht University

An international team of scientists led by researchers from Utrecht University have found the oldest fossil remains of moths and butterflies known to date.

The fossil remains are more than 70 million years older than the oldest fossils of flowering plants and shed new light on the co-evolution between flowering plants and pollinating insects, researchers Timo van Eldijk and Bas van de Schootbrugge claim.

The fossil remains – wing and body scales – were isolated from a core of sediment drilled in northern Germany which straddles the mass-extinction event.

The researchers say the butterflies and moths seemed to have avoided the impact of the mass extinction event at the end of the Triassic era.

‘As the super continent Pangea started to break apart, biodiversity on land and in the oceans suffered a setback with many key species becoming extinct,’ says Master’s student Van Eldijk.

‘However, one major group of insects, the Lepidoptera moths and butterflies, appeared unaffected. Instead, this group diversified during a period of ecological turnover.’

Palaeontologist Bas van de Schootbrugge says the fossil remains contain distinctive hollow scales, and provide clear evidence that there was a group of moths sucking mouth-parts, as have the vast majority of living moths and butterflies.

Modern day butterflies are well known for their association with flowering plants and the butterfly ‘tongue’ has long been assumed to be an important adaptation for feeding on flowering plants.

‘This evidence has transformed our understanding of the evolutionary history of moths and butterflies as well as their resilience to extinction,’ says Van Eldijk.

‘By studying how insects and their evolution was affected by dramatic greenhouse warming at the start of the Jurassic era, we hope to provide insight into how insects might respond to the human-induced climate change challenges we face today.’


Diluvicursor pickeringi: Turkey-sized dinosaur discovered in Australia

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Artist's impression of two Diluvicursor pickeringi foraging on the bank of a high-energy river within the Australian-Antarctic rift valley. Credit: Peter Trusler.

The partial skeleton of a new species of turkey-sized herbivorous dinosaur has been discovered in 113 million year old rocks in southeastern Australia. As reported in open access journal PeerJ, the fossilized tail and foot bones give new insight into the diversity of the small, bipedal herbivorous dinosaurs called ornithopods that roamed the great rift valley that once existed between Australia and Antarctica. The new dinosaur has been named Diluvicursor pickeringi, which means Pickering's Flood-Running dinosaur.

Lower Cretaceous rocks of the deep sedimentary basins that formed within the Australian-Antarctic rift are now exposed as wave-cut rock platforms and sea-cliffs along the south coast of Victoria. The skeleton of Diluvicursor pickeringi was discovered in 2005 by volunteer prospector George Caspar, eroding from such a rock platform at a locality called Eric the Red West, near Cape Otway.

"Diluvicursor shows for the first time that there were at least two distinct body-types among closely related ornithopods in this part of Australia," Dr Matt Herne, lead author of the new study said.

"One was lightly built with an extraordinarily long tail, while the other, Diluvicursor, was more solidly built, with a far shorter tail. Our preliminary reconstruction of the tail musculature of Diluvicursor suggests this dinosaur was a good runner, with powerful leg retracting muscles," Dr Herne said.

"Understanding the ecology of these dinosaurs—what they ate, how they moved, where they roamed—based on the interplay between anatomy and the environment presents exciting challenges for future research."

The late David Pickering on the coastal shore-platform near the fossil vertebrate locality of Eric the Red West, where Diluvicursor pickeringi was discovered. Credit: Matt Herne

The species name honors the late David Pickering, who was Museums Victoria's Collection Manager, Vertebrate Palaeontology. David contributed significantly to Australian paleontology in the lab and field, and tirelessly assisted countless students of paleontology and researchers to achieve their goals. Sadly, David passed away just over a year ago on Christmas Eve 2016.

The site of Eric the Red West has additional importance as it helps build a picture the ancient rift valley ecosystem. Fossil vertebrate remains at this site were buried in deep scours at the base of a powerful river, along with flood-transported tree stumps, logs and branches.

"The carcass of the Diluvicursor pickeringi holotype appears to have become entangled in a log-jam at the bottom of this river," explained Dr Herne. "The sizes of some of the logs in the deposit and the abundance of wood suggest the river traversed a well-forested floodplain. The logs preserved at the site are likely to represent conifer forests of trees within families still seen in Australia today."

"Much of the fossil vertebrate material from Eric the Red West has yet to be described, so further  and other exciting animals from this site are now anticipated."

The holotype partial skeleton of Diluvicursor pickeringi after it was prepared from several blocks of sandstone by Lesley Kool of Monash University The fossil preserves most of the tail along with the right ankle and foot. Credit: Steve Poropat and Museums Victoria (CC-BY).


Research finds lizard inside fossilised dinosaur to be a new species

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The fossil of Compsognathus longipes dinosaur found in Germany.

The dinosaur is estimated to have lived around 150 to 145 million years ago.

A new research report has concluded that a lizard whose fossils were found inside a dinosaur skeleton in 1859 is indeed a new species, putting to rest a puzzle that has baffled scientists for more than 150 years.

Prior to this finding, the gekho-like creature, which was found inside the gut of a fossilised carnivorous dinosaur Compsognathus longipeswas thought to be an extinct lizard in Germany (Bavarisaurus macrodactylus).

The author of the new report is Dr. Jack L. Conrad of the American Museum of Natural History, whose findings have been published posthumously in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society last month.

The report points to the unique shape of the lizard's skull stitchings and skull bones. Dr. Conrad named the lizard Schoenesmahl dyspepsia, which roughly means ‘beautiful meal that is difficult to digest’.

The dinosaur skeleton was discovered in Bavaria, Germany, by Dr. Joseph Oberndorfer in 1859. The dinosaur is estimated to have lived in the Late Jurassic era—around 150 to 145 million years ago.

This is not the first time a fossil has been found within a fossil. In 2016, there was a report in Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments about an insect inside a lizard inside a snake fossil. There have been several reports of fish inside fish fossils. These findings help us know more about their dietary preferences.


170-million year old jawbone of dog-sized crocodile found Isle of Skye

Saturday, January 6, 2018

170-million year old jawbone of dog-sized crocodile found Isle of Skye

A new discovery of fossil has been added to the paleontologists’ knowledge graph by a team from the University of Edinburgh that found a rare 170 million-year-old jawbone.

Interestingly, the tiny bone is from 30-year old dog-sized crocodile-like creature spotted at Isle of Skye, Scotland. Scientists have made some X-ray scans to examine the previously found fossil. While measuring the bone of 3.5cm length found at Duntulm Castle in the north of the island, they have solved several mysteries.

Resulting in the observations, researchers noted that the jawbone is from a crocodile relative. They also believe that neosuchians named creatures were being diverse at the time on shores.

Dialy Mail reported that Dr. Steve Brusatte from the School of GeoSciences of the University has told the website that they have earlier discovered the pieces of the crocodile on Skye, but the recent one is nicer. It is a nearly complete jawbone.

Paleontologists are assuming that this small dog-sized creature was of the time of dinosaurs living in the lagoons of ancient Skye.

Dr. Brusatte further added: “These were very ancient, very primitive relatives of today’s crocodiles. They would have looked more like scaly dogs than big scary alligators. One reason why the new fossil is so important is because it is one of the few crocodile fossils from the middle part of the Jurassic Period from anywhere in the world.”

“Skye is a unique window into the Middle Jurassic, as it is one of the few places globally that preserves fossils from this time.”

He explained: “There are some relatives in North America, Asia, and other parts of Europe, but from later in time.”

“If we had better fossils of Middle Jurassic from other parts of the world, we would probably find more of these small crocs. But Skye is one of the only games in town for Middle Jurassic fossils,” he added.

The Isle of Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period can be found. In 2008, scientists revealed that the earliest turtles that were known to live in water had been discovered on the same island.

Fossils of the 164 million-year-old reptiles were found on a beach on the Strathaird peninsula in the south of the island. The discovery formed a missing link between ancient terrestrial turtles and their modern, aquatic descendants.

Experts say that Skye was covered in lagoons and filled with turtles, crocodiles, pterosaurs and dinosaurs during the Middle Jurassic period.

Recently, geologists got hold of an ‘alien’ mineral while exploring the volcanic rocks of the Skye. They believe that meteorite might have hit our Earth almost 60 million years ago. At first, the researchers thought that the rocks are nothing but volcanic flow deposits called ignimbrite. But when they examined the rock deeply, they found out that rare meteoritic minerals were present beneath a 60million year lava flow that had originated from an ancient volcanic eruption.



Serikornis Sungei Fossil Gives a Glimpse Into the Evolution of Feathers

Friday, January 5, 2018

Silky Serikornis sungei (Credit:

Exquisitely well-preserved feathered dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous of north-eastern China have considerably helped paleontologists to better understand how birds evolved from dinosaurs. It has been previously postulated that the emergence of feathers was driven by their aerodynamic properties but a new species, named Serikornis sungei “the silk bird”, provides new clues about how dinosaurs feathers evolved.

The little pheasant-sized dinosaur, which bears four wings (that is, two forewings and two hindwings) is mainly covered with simple feathers similar to the wispy bundles found in other dinosaurs like Sinornithosaurus. The first four-winged dinosaur, as known as Microraptor, was reported from the Tiaojishan Formation in Liaoning Province in 2000.

This Middle-Late Jurassic Formation has already provided other four-winged species such as Aurornis and Anchiornis, another basal dinosaur close to the transition between dinosaurs and birds. The plumage of Serikornis is well-preserved and the limbs bear short, slender, symmetrical, and poorly differentiated feathers similar to those of Anchiornis. In other words, the limb feathers attached to the arms and the legs of Serikornis are totally different from the flight feathers of modern birds.

Details on the two major plumage traits of Serikornis attesting that it was a ground-dwelling dinosaur: (i) the plumage of the forewing is primitive and not composed of long pennaceous flight feathers covered by short coverts. (ii) Saw under electronic microscope, the macrostructure of its feathers are devoid of barbules, a trait to allow the feather to resist air pressure during the wing beat.

Serikornis wasn’t a flier and its anatomy coupled to the macrostructure of the feathers indicate a terrestrial mode of life. Although the hindlimbs bear feathers, a feature often associated with the evolution of flight, they are not suited to sustain a flight. So the presence of leg feathers on a more archaic and grounded dinosaur imply that long leg feathers evolved in a terrestrial context. The structure of the pennaceous feathers also goes in that direction because of barbules, a structure that hook barbs together and which is essential to resist air pressure during the wing beat, are absent in Serikornis. This absence is corroborated by optical and electronic microscopy.

What does the plumage of Serikornis serve? It is postulated that the feathering of this little dinosaur may have primitively been used as a thermoregulatory system or as a social display even if it could not be ruled out that Serikornis was able to scramble up tree trunks with its sharp and recurved claws and parachute to the ground, using its plumage to slow down its descent.

The next step of the research will bring new information about how the terrestrial context has driven the emergence of flight among basalmost Jurassic paravians and how this emergence has played a major role on the diversification of ecological niches necessary to develop a modern-like type of flight.

These findings are described in the article entitled A new Jurassic theropod from China documents a transitional step in the macrostructure of feathers, published in the journal The Science of Nature. This work was led by Ulysse Lefèvre at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.


Top Fossil Discoveries of 2017

Sunday, January 14, 2018

 Some of the best fossils of 2017. Composite: WILLIAM GRAF, University of Wisconsin – Madison/Erikkson et al 2017/Lukas Panzarin/Andrea Cau/Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

The Lost Worlds Revisited team has been reflecting on a bumper twelve months of palaeontological discoveries. Overwhelmed with choice, we also asked on Twitter for other people’s favourite fossil finds of 2017. So here is a combination of those fossiliferous suggestions, alongside some of our personal favourites. Enjoy!

First life on earth

Some of the smallest fossil finds of 2017 were among the most controversial. In March, Matthew Dodd and colleagues described tiny tubes and filamentscomposed of iron oxide in rocks from Quebec, Canada dated between 3.77bn and 4.28bn years old. They interpreted them as the remains of bacteria living around hydrothermal vents, pushing the earliest evidence of biological activity to more than 3.77bn years ago, and conceivably even a staggering 500m years earlier. In September, Takayuki Tashiro and colleagues analysed graphite particles from rocks 3.95bn years old from northern Labrador, Canada. They concluded from isotope ratios that the carbon was biologically produced, although this interpretation was not shared by all researchers.

Finally, in research published mid-December, Bill Schopf and colleagues used the carbon isotope composition of microfossils in the 3.46bn year old Apex Chert, from Western Australia, to confirm their previously-disputed biological origins and even work out which groups of microbes were represented. Two species were primitive bacterial photosynthesizers, one was a methane-producing Archaean microbe, and two others were bacterial methane consumers. This impressive study shows that methane-cycling microbial communities were already established by 3.5bn years ago.


Halszkaraptorthe bird-like bombshell

2017 was a great year for paleontologists, and it was hard to keep up with all the fossil splendor coming at me from various angles. However, one that stood out is the recently described fossil of a theropod dinosaur - studied non-invasively with high-tech 3D scanning - that shows amazing bird-like features. 

The theory that birds descended from dinosaurs is now commonly accepted amongst vertebrate palaeontologist. The discovery of exquisitely well preserved fossils, such as those from Liaoning province in China, has shown us that many features we once reserved for birds, were actually widespread amongst theropod dinosaurs (the group of dinosaurs that ultimately gave rise to birds), including those that were not on the lineage towards birds.

But no one could have predicted Halszkaraptor escuillieia new species of non-avian theropod dinosaur from Mongolia (Cau et al., 2017). Its long neck, constituting 50% of the total snout-to-tail length and the longest for any Mesozoic theropod dinosaur, is reminiscent of that seen in some birds, particularly swans. Halszkaraptor forms a new group of dromaeosaurids, the Halszkaraptorinae, and its unusual morphology suggests a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Its flattened wing bones are also seen in penguins and other aquatic birds, and the large number of teeth indicate that it was a predator. Moreover, Halszkaraptor appears to be the first non-avian dinosaur who was able to move both on land and in the water. As the authors of the research state in their last paragraph, the peculiar looks of Halszkaraptor shows us how much of the diversity of dinosaurs remains to be undiscovered.


Borealopelta markmitchelli

This is a new armoured dinosaur (a relative of the famous ankylosaurus) whose discovery was first reported in these pages back in 2013 because of the exceptional circumstances around its discovery in northern Alberta. Spotted by an excavator crew as a dot on a hillside, this remarkable creature is a real rarity, a land living animal that had floated many miles out to sea before it sank, intact, was buried, and eventually recovery millions of years later. The rock in which it was entombed was exceptionally tough and the bones fragile, so it took museum preparator Mark Mitchell years to prepare. He was rewarded when the animal was finally named as a new species.

However, the fossil itself turned out to be more remarkable still than the circumstances around its death and fossilisation. Borealopelta is one of the best preserved dinosaurs ever discovered: not only is the main skeleton very nearly complete, but the huge number of bony spikes and plates that make up its armour are also preserved. Better yet, they retain their original positions, so it is possible to see how they line up and change along the body. Even better still, much of the armour retains the horny sheathes that covered it. The skin of the animal is brilliantly preserved and in such fidelity that work has already been published on the colours and patterns of Borealopelta, and the likely use of its huge shoulder spines in displays.


Shringasaurus, the ‘horned lizard of India’

Following the biggest mass extinction in Earth’s geological history, at the end of the Permian, evolution in the Triassic period was like a teenager who has just left home for the first time. Finding itself in a new world free of constraints, it became wildly experimental. Many of these wacky, chimeric combinations have never been repeated (similar to most people’s experience of the 1980s). Evolution likes to try everything at least once. 

In 2017, Shringasaurus indicus (‘horned lizard of India’) evidenced the singular nature of these Triassic lifeforms. This newly-found archosauromorph waddled on four sprawled legs across what is now India, around 240m years ago. It had two forward pointing horns on its head, at the end of a long neck and body. With a humped, powerful shoulder at the front and sinuous back-end with long tail, it was like the love-child of a rhino and a komodo dragon. At around three-and-a-half metres long, this chunky, odd-ball herbivore would have been analogous to the large bovid species of the modern world (cows). It has been suggested that the horns of Shringasaurus were used for sexual selection, as in cattle. Having found the partial remains of several Shringasaurus individuals of different ages and genders, researchers were able to say a lot about how this animal grew, and that the horns were sexually dimorphic – meaning that only male animals possessed them.

Triassic animals like Shringasaurus are vital to helping us understand the bigger evolutionary picture. They were part of the first ecosystems established after the end-Permian mass-extinction, giving us information about how life on earth recovers from disaster. They were also the predecessors of the major radiations of crocodiles, turtles, dinosaurs, and multiple now-extinct reptilian lineages that would succeed them. They were also fantastically weird; which is why at least one of them deserves to be in the top fossil discoveries of the year.


The giant fossil Bobbit worm

If you have read Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel Dune, you are aware of sandworms: the colossal worm-like creatures that inhabit the desert planet Arrakis. Thankfully, us earthlings do not have to worry about being swallowed by giant worms, but jaw fossils found in the Devonian of Ontaria, Canada, show that giant worms did once exist on earth.

Websteroprion armstrongi (partially named after death metal bass player Alex Webster) is a new species of giant bristle worm (polychaete) described based on these partial jaw fossils. Despite being long and squishy, bristle worms have a decent fossil record. They have been present since the Paleozoic (541-251 million years ago) and extinct forms show a diversity of body plans. The specimens were collected back in 1994, by Derek K Armstrong of the Ontario Geological Survey at a remote location in Ontario, and had been stored at the Royal Ontario Museum. 

Of this new fossil bristle worm, only the jaws (the only hard part in these animals) are preserved. The fossil jaws may have measured over 1 cm in length. Granted, this does not sound particularly awe-inspiring, but in the world of worms, Websteroprion’s jaws are truly colossal, as fossil polychaete jaws generally measure 0.1-2mm. By extrapolating from the size of the jaw fossils, the authors of the study estimate that Websteroprion armstrongi could have been 1-2 meters in length, comparable to living ‘giant eunicid’ species, colloquially referred to as ‘Bobbit worms’. The jaw fragments indicate that the animal was adult, and as some polychaetes continue to grow as adults, W. armstrongi could have attained larger lengths. W. armstrongi has the largest known jaws from the worm fossil record, and demonstrates that gigantism, an ecologically important trait, was already present in worms by 400 million years ago. Furthermore, they show the importance of existing museum collections, as they may contain overlooked gems.


Antarcticeras nordenskjoeldi


2017 was a bumper year for palaeontological discoveries and I don’t think a week went by when the Lost Worlds Revisited team didn’t have plenty of options to write about. However, in addition to the glitzy and glamorous headline-making discoveries, 2017 was also a good year for the more humble additions to species lists, taxonomic clean-ups and the palaeontological quiet work that happens away from the exceptionally preserved fossils and dino discoveries. This time of year I love looking through Wikipedia’s summaries of the year in palaeontology for the discoveries big and small and I must confess that my top fossil this year one I didn’t hear about when it was published back in March this year.

My pick for this year is a new species of Eocene cephalopod (the group containing octopuses, cuttlefish, nautiloids and ammonoids) from Antarctica, Antarcticeras nordenskjoeldi. The fossils themselves aren’t especially eye-catching and there isn’t a beautiful artistic reconstruction of the species accompanying the paper, however, it’s the interpretation of the fossils by colleagues in Sweden and Argentina that is noteworthy (Doguzhaeva et al. 2017). From details of the shell structure and position of the siphuncle (the tube that exchanges gases and fluids through shell chambers), A.nordenskjoeldi has been interpreted as a new species, in a new family, in a new order and amazingly the sole known member in a new cephalopod subclass, the Paracoleoidea.

This is a potentially huge new finding, adding a major new group of cephalopods alongside the four major and stable divisions, and the authors suggest that fossils of A.nordenskjoeldi represent a third way that soft bodied cephalopods evolved an internal shell in parallel with cuttlefish and ram’s horn squid. Fortunately, the paper itself is open access so you can take a look yourself, but the implication here, to borrow Internet parlance, is HUGE if true. It’s a bold interpretation, which is sometimes needed in science and time will tell if the Paracoleoidea will be accepted or rejected. So far the findings don’t seem to have created that many ripples in cephalopod palaeontology. Were this an equivalent suggestion in mammals or dinosaurs the paper would have garnered a huge amount of attention (as we saw with the ‘lower level’ saurischian/ornithischian research this year) but as it’s a relatively obscure group in the humble cephalopods this research risks fading into obscurity rather than cause a re-evaluation of cephalopod evolution.




Brown CM, Henderson DM, Vinther J, Fletcher I, Sistiaga A, Herrera J, Summons R. 2017. An exceptionally preserved three-dimensional, armored dinosaur reveals insights into coloration and Cretaceous predator-prey dynamics. Current Biology 27(16):2514-2521.

Cau A, Beyrand V, Voeten DFAE, Fernandez V, Tafforeau P, Stein K, Barsbold R, Tsogtbaatar K, Currie PJ, Godefroit P. 2017. Synchrotron scanning reveals amphibious ecomorphology in a new clade of bird-like dinosaur. Nature 552: 395–399.

Doguzhaeva LA, Bengtson S, Reguero MA, Mörs T (2017) An Eocene orthocone from Antarctica shows convergent evolution of internally shelled cephalopods.PLoS ONE 12(3).

Eriksson, M., et al., 2017. Earth’s oldest ‘Bobbit worm’ – gigantism in a Devonian eunicidan polychaete. Scientific Reports 7:43061.

Sengupta S, Ezcurra MD, Bandyopadhyay S. 2017. A new horned and long-necked herbivorous stem-archosaur from the Middle Triassic of India. Scientific Reports. 7: 8366



130 Million-year-old Dinosaur Eggs Found in East China

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fossils of more than 20 dinosaur eggs were discovered at a middle school construction site in Dayu County in the southeast Chinese province of Jiangxi on December 25.

The construction team found the oval-shaped stones while preparing to break up boulders after blasting work, China News Service reports.

According to experts from the local conservation museum, the fossils belong to the same batch of eggs and the two-millimetre-thick black fragments are shells.

Dating back to the Cretaceous period (145-66 million years ago), experts estimate that these eggs are 130 million years old. They add that Dayu County was once moors and lakes which were fit for reptiles like dinosaurs to live and breed.

Researches show that as of 2016, more than 20 distinctive kinds of dinosaur eggs have been unearthed in Jiangxi. It means that the province was once home to at least 20 dinosaur species in the late Cretaceous period.