palentology

This is the skeleton of Dracorex hogwartsia. That’s right, hogwartsia as in… Hogwarts! It’s a fairly new dino having been discovered in the Hell Creek Formation in central South Dakota in the early 2000s and gets it’s name for its fantasy dragon-like appearance that would seem at home in a Harry Potter novel. It is a likely relative of Pachycephalosaurus and like its probable cousin, it is a head-butting herbivore. And of course, it didn’t breathe fire. Probably… 

THE THREE LAYER CAKE

There are thousands upon thousands of layers in the earth’s crust. However, scientists have grouped the layers into major groups. The most recent three layers are the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. These layers represent the last 500 million years of life on earth.

In the Paleozoic, you find fish, amphibian, and reptile fossils (in that order), but never dinosaurs, birds, modern mammals, or even flowering plants.

Think of that: despite the billions of plant fossils in the Paleozoic layer, nobody has ever found one fossil of a flower, including any kind of deciduous tree or even a single blade of grass. Why not? The obvious explaination is flowers had not evolved yet.

The next layer, the Mesozoic, is often called the age of dinosaurs. The Mesozoic has dinosaurs like crazy. Of course, dinosaurs are reptiles and that’s why you won’t find any until after the Paleozoic which contains the first reptiles. The Mesozoic also has the first flowering plants, birds, and mammals, though few if any birds or mammals that we know of today.

On top of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic is the Cenozoic. This is the current layer that is still being deposited in oceans, deserts and swamps all around the earth today. The Cenozoic is the first major layer where we find modern mammal fossils like cats, dogs, monkeys and humans. This layer, or “era” is often referred to as the age of mammals.

These three layers make up a sort of 3-layer cake. Just like a cake, the bottom layer went down first, followed by the middle and the top. Since fossils progress from fish at the bottom to humans at the top, we have clear evidence that life evolved through time.

Credit: prehistoricplanet.com

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A 72,000,000 year old 16 foot long tail of a dinosaur was found in the northern part of Mexico.

The dinosaur, a duckbilled or hadrosaur, is basically the prehistoric form of cattle. They roamed the forest & plains of North America, Europe and Asia in herds of up to a thousand. They communicated by funneling blasts of air through their large, ornate crests on their heads.

With their vast numbers, there are over 32 hadrosaur subspecies.

images courtesy of Reuters.

Another talk on phylogeny by the mighty AronRa 

It gets trying briefly if like me, you’re not wild about taxonomy, but, there’s really cool shit about the controversy leading to dinosaur conceptualizations we’d long carried until relatively recently. 

I’m so glad I got to live during the time we got to see dinosaurs transform from grotesque permutations of giant crocodiles, to, big cuddly plush.

The three letter words of the genetic code are the same in every creature – CGA mean arginine and GCG means alanine in bats, beetles, beech trees, bacteria, even in archaebacteria living in boiling temps in sulphurous springs, or viruses - wherever in the world, whatever animal, plant, bug, you look at, if it is alive it will use the same dictionary and know the same code. All life is one. Seaweed is your distant cousin, and anthrax one of your advanced realtives. The unity of life is an empirical fact.
—  Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Fourth Estate, 2000