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The first four-legged fossil snake ever found is forcing scientists to rethink how snakes evolved from lizards.
Although it has four legs, Tetrapodophis amplectus has other features that clearly mark it as a snake, says Nick Longrich, a palaeontologist at the University of Bath, UK, and one of the authors of a paper describing the animal in Science1.
The creature’s limbs were probably not used for locomotion, the researchers say, but rather for grasping prey, or perhaps for holding on to mating partners. Such speculation inspired the snake’s name, which loosely translates as ‘four-legged hugging snake’.
Tetrapodophis was originally found in the fossil-rich Crato Formation in northeastern Brazil several decades ago. But its legs can be difficult to see at first glance, and it languished in a private collection after its discovery, assumed to be unremarkable.
“I was confident it might be a snake,” says David Martill, a palaeobiologist at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who came across the find in 2012. “It was only after getting the specimen under the microscope and looking at it in detail that my confidence grew. We had gone to see Archaeopteryx, the missing link between birds and dinosaurs, and discovered Tetrapodophis, the missing link between snakes and lizards.”
In the spring of 2015 the Eocene aged Green River Formation near Kemmerer, Wyoming yielded another amazing fossil discovery. A fully articulated primitive horse ancestor, since nicknamed “Olive”, was found by brothers Mark and Mike Oliver. While this locality is known world wide for it’s amazingly preserved fish fossils, they immediately knew they had discovered something very different and special. Read more…
It’s Trilobite Tuesday! One of the things that makes trilobites so fascinating is the amazing diversity of surface ornamentation that these arthropods achieved during their nearly 300 million year existence. Some trilobite possessed shells that were almost totally smooth, while others were housed in shells marked with spines and spikes. This is a dramatic example of advanced ornamentation–a Bufoceraurus bispinosus from the Ordovician of Canada. Some scientists speculate that this impressive and imposing array of spines were used as a form of defensive protection.
Secret structures hidden within the serrated teeth of Tyrannosaurus rex
and other theropods helped the fearsome dinosaurs tear apart their prey
without chipping their pearly whites, a new study finds.
Researchers looked at the teeth of theropods — a group of bipedal, largely carnivorous dinosaurs that includes T. rex and Velociraptor — to study the mysterious structures that looked like cracks within each tooth.
The investigation showed that these structures weren’t cracks at all,
but deep folds within the tooth that strengthened each individual
serration and helped prevent breakage when the dinosaur pierced through
its prey, said study lead researcher Kirstin Brink, a postdoctoral
researcher of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga…
There are more than 23,000 living species of ray-finned fishes, or actinopterygians. The majority of them are teleosts, of which the extinct Xiphactinus is an example. The first teleosts appeared over 200 million years ago, and they rapidly became the most diverse fishes. Xiphactinus and its relatives were large predators with strong jaws and many teeth. It swam in the great inland sea that covered most of North America at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, the Late Cretaceous, about 85 million years ago.
New Fossil Discovery - “Olive” A Primitive Horse Ancestor From The Green River Formation
by Matt Heaton
In the spring of 2015 the Eocene aged Green River Formation near Kemmerer, Wyoming yielded another amazing fossil discovery. A fully articulated primitive horse ancestor, since nicknamed “Olive”, was found by brothers Mark and Mike Oliver. While this locality is known world wide for it’s amazingly preserved fish fossils, they immediately knew they had discovered something very different and special. Their first move was to call in expert help.
Jason Cooper (who recently discovered “Elvis”, the first complete Torvosaurus), along with Brock Sisson of Dinosaur Dynasty were able to lend a hand. They share over 30 years to experience discovering, excavating and preparing a broad range of fossils. While the Olivers knew they had something special they didn’t immediately know what it was. Jason and Brock were able to quickly determine that they had discovered a primitive horse ancestor, only the second one EVER found in the Green River Formation…
(image from walking with dinosaurs; Postosuchus and Coelophysis)
This ancient archosaur lived around 220 million years ago in the Triassic, its name means “after crocodile”. Up to 4.5 metres long and weighing 1500 pounds, this was a tremendous carnivore, a hunter of the earliest forms of dinosaurs, its massive skull could deliver a ferocious bite and would find animals such as Coelophysis (a primitive dinosaur) an easy meal. Similarly to carnivores like Tyrannosaurus, Postosuchus had a skull that was taller than it was wide, which made its bite immensely powerful, paired with serrated teeth that could be up to 8cm long, this was a true terror of the Triassic.
Not only was Postosuchus fearsome in in power, but it was well defended, bony plates ran along its back and head and sharp claws rested on its feet. Postosuchus’ legs were under its body and with flat feet it could run reasonably fast, like a crocodile it was likely to be a solitary ambush hunter taking prey by total surprise. The structure of the legs also indicates that Postosuchus could be quadrupedal or bipedal, depending on the situation. Postosuchus is an archosaur, very distantly related to dinosaurs and thought to be a primitive type of crocodile. However the skull shape and teeth led to people believing it could be an ancestor to dinosaurs, yet the position of the legs makes it more likely of crocodile lineage.
Despite Postosuchus’ incredible power, the species was no match for nature as it disappeared from the fossil record at the end of the Triassic. Yet if Postosuchus is an ancestor to the crocodiles, it left a fearsome legacy behind.
Pictured is Megatapirus augustus, an extinct tapir that lived during the Pleistocene, about 500,000 years ago. This gigantic Asian tapir had the same skull and body proportions as a living tapir: its body was more than 8 feet long. The nasal bones were very short and extended only to the eye sockets, implying that there was a large trunk on the snout. During the Ice Ages, when this animal lived, some mammals that have close living relatives today often developed species of gigantic size. The cause of this trend is not well understood.
Today, tapirs are restricted to the tropics of Asia and South America. But earlier in their evolutionary history they were much more abundant, and were widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. The oldest known tapir fossils come from the ancient plains of western North America, near present-day Wyoming.
GREEN RIVER OIL SHALE: Fossils of the Past, Petroleum of the Future
For all who studied geology in the States and possibly even further afield, I’m sure you’ll smile remembering the samples of squished fish in your early Paleontology course exams – most probably they were from the Green River Formation (present in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming) which includes the world’s best localities for collecting fossils of Eocene-age (~50 million years ago) squished fish.