This is a beautifully preserved and very detailed example of the rarer species of ray (Asterotrygon maloneyi) from the Green River Formation. Most of the rays that come out of the formation are Heliobatis and the easiest way to distinguish between the two genus is Asterotrygon has a much shorter/fatter tail. It’s been estimated that there there is only one Asterotrygon found for every forty Heliobatis.
Barsboldia is our first Saurolophine! It was found in the Nemegt Formation in Mongolia, living 70 million years ago in the Maastrichtian age of the Late Cretaceous. It is known from a partial skeleton including vertebrae and limb bones, and it had particularly tall neural spines. Some near the tail were even club shaped, which may have been a sign that the animal was nearing old age. Though it can be presumed to be large, its exact size is still fairly uncertain. It was a fairly early derived Saurolophine, only somewhat moreso than the Brachylophosaurins (such as Maiasaura). It would have been a major herbivore of midlevel vegetation, and in the Nemegt Formation it lived alongside many other dinosaurs, such as Ajacingenia, Avimimus, Elmisaurus, Conchoraptor, Nemegtomaia, Nomingia, Rinchenia, Adasaurus, Borogovia, Gurilynia, Judinornis, Teviornis, Tochisaurus, Zanabazar, Alioramus, Anserimimus, Bagaraatan, Deinocheirus, Gallimumus, Mononykus, Raptorex, Tarbosaurus, Therizinosaurs, Homalocephale, Prenocephale, Saichania, Saurolophus, Tarchia, Nemegtosaurus, and Opisthoceolicaudia, so it would have had a lot of competition for food.
Mary Anning was a paleontologist, fossil collector and dealer who lived from 1789 to 1847. The more I read about her the more amazing she seemed! She found the first two mostly complete Plesiosaur skeletons, the first correctly identified ichthyosaur and the first pterosaur outside Germany. She found the fossils in the cliffs near her town of Lyme Regis (part of the setting for Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ incidentally, and Jane Austen met Mary’s father when she visited - he tried to overcharge her to fix a box lid!). Mary had to collect the fossils in between tides, when they would be exposed by one tide and before they were washed away by the next. The best time to do this was winter, but this was also the most dangerous time when landslides were common. Her father was badly injured in one, and Mary’s constant companion in her work, her little dog, was killed in another which almost caught Mary.
Despite a very limited formal education, Mary taught herself until she became an expert in her field. A contemporary wrote “by reading and application she was arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this Kingdom.”
Despite her shop ('Anning’s Fossil Depot’) being patronised by all sorts, including the King of Saxony at one point, a lot of the work Mary had done finding and identifying fossils went unrecognised in her lifetime. Only one piece of her writing was published during her lifetime and a friend of hers wrote that “these men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages.”
We’re all used to the common depiction of sabertoothed cats like the famous Smilodon. A fairly standard-looking feline face with protruding teeth, something like this:
It’s a look so ingrained in paleoart and pop culture that it’s even become visual shorthand for making cartoon creature designs look “prehistoric”.
Except… it might be completely wrong.
We’ve all been assuming that these saberteeth were basically tusks, like those we see in modern animals such as walruses and elephants. But it turns out that tusks have a very different chemical structure to normal teeth so they can withstand constant exposure to the environment – and Smilodon’s fangs don’t show any of those adaptations.
There’s a detailed explanation of this idea and the science behind it over at this blog post. It isn’t an academically published theory yet (although I’d love to see somebody do a proper study), but it’s still very plausible and interesting to think about.
The tl;dr version: it’s actually more likely that Smilodon covered its teeth with big jowly lips to protect them. Which means it probably looked like a feline version of a St. Bernard. Or… sort of like Chester Cheetah.
Lead researcher Dr Steve Brusatte said it was “the single most beautiful fossil I have had the privilege to work on.”
“ …It will blow some people’s minds to realise that those dinosaurs in the movies would have been even weirder, and I think even scarier - like big fluffy birds from hell.”
“So maybe [wings] did not evolve for flight - perhaps they evolved as a display structure, or to protect eggs in the nest. Or maybe this animal was starting to move around in the trees and was able to glide.”
Dr Bill Sellers from the University of Manchester added these details about the origin of birds. “It doesn’t look like [this dinosaur] could fly, although that needs more investigation. "However it does mean that we now know about a huge range of these early bird-like dinosaurs; some species are running around on the ground and some are experimenting with early flight.”
“[This] gives us a snapshot of what life was like at the earliest stages of bird evolution. China is the epicentre of palaeontology right now. There are [museum] storerooms full of new dinosaur fossils that have never been studied before. This is the most exciting time maybe in the history of palaeontology.”
I just read this article in the Smithsonian Magazine and I just
This is a real person who existed. His name was Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felo-Szilvas. He had a castle, Sacel Castle, near Deva, Romania, which is in Transylvania.
He hypothesized that dinosaurs were related to birds in 1906. THIS IS LITERALLY A CENTURY BEFORE JURASSIC PARK CAME OUT. Remember: around the time JP was released, there was STILL a lot of debate as to whether dinosaurs were “really” related to birds. In Nopcsa’s time, everybody was still in the tail-dragging big slow lizard camp.
Did I mention he was hella gay? he was really hella gay. His first lover was Count Louis Draskovic. Later, he’d shack up with his young Albanian secretary, Bajazid Elmaz Doda, who he said was “the only person who has truly loved me.” He named a species of prehistoric turtle after the guy: Kallakobotion bajazidi. They lived together for 30 years.
Poor guy also probably had bipolar disorder–his work was characterized by periods of frenzied fieldwork, and then he’d have to retreat into isolation for weeks due to an illness he’d describe as “shattered nerves.”
So yeah let’s remember this pioneer of paleontology because he’s cool as heck.
My last weird and awesome skull post was really popular, so I decided to do one about something else I’m excessively interested in: Megafauna! This isn’t at all a comprehensive list of the coolest ones, not by a long shot, so you should definitely look up some of the BBC docs on Youtube or google ones from your continent!
The cave bear! (N. America)
‘Hell Pigs’ (N. America) Actually entelodonts, unrelated to pigs at all and more closely tied to hippos and cetaceans! Dat sagittal crest amirite
The Stag Moose @allosauroid brought to my attention that this is the skull of the
Irish elk, Megaloceros, not a stag moose! (Eurasia) Which stood 6 foot at the shoulder/withers
Platybelodon (widespread) Google artist renditions of these guys, you won’t be disappointed
Barbourofelis! (N. America) Like a smaller smilodon, with much cooler teeth. Look at those incisors!
Megatherium (S. America) Primitive sloths the size of elephants!
Titanus Walleri (N. America) Other continents had equally large if not larger ‘terror birds’
Paraceratherium (Eurasia) One of the largest terrestrial mammals we’ve ever discovered. It was actually a species of hornless rhino! Google artist recs of these guys, too
Diprotodon (Australia) The largest known marsupial, which was the size of a hippopotamus and stood 6 feet tall
I saved Glyptodon (S. America) for last, because these things have some of the weirdest skulls I’ve ever seen. They were technically armadillos, but reached the size of a Volkswagen Beetle!
The largest snake fossil ever found is the Titanoboa. It lived over 60 million years ago and reached over 50 feet (over 15 meters) long. It weighed more than 20 people and ate crocodiles and giant tortoises.