science paleontology

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Scientists discover a new nodosaur dinosaur species, and the specimen has perfectly preserved skin

  • An equipment operator at an oil mine in Alberta, Canada, found some unusual buried treasure in 2011 — a roughly 110 million-year-old, dragon-like dinosaur with its armored, spiky skin still intact.
  • Now, scientists understand the true weight of that discovery — the specimen, called a nodosaur, makes way in the encyclopedia for an all-new genus and species.
  • It’s a type of ankylosaur that lived during the Cretaceous period, and this specimen is about 18 feet long and about 3,000 pounds, according to National Geographic. Plus, it’s extremely rare for scientists to have more than the bones of a specimen to work with.
  • “We don’t just have a skeleton,” Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at Royal Tyrrell Museum, told National Geographic. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.” Read more (5/16/17)

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 Meet the nodosaur — the plant-eating armored dinosaur! Discovered by miners in Alberta, it is the best-preserved fossil of its kind.

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politicians: your “”””science”””” is fake

scientists: yeah ok sure

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Scientists find mind blowing feathered dinosaur tail suspended in amber

  • Scientists have discovered a 99-million-year-old fragment of a dinosaur tail suspended in amber.
  • It’s “a once in a lifetime find,” as paleontologist Ryan McKellar told CNN, because it provides rare insight into the way dinos actually looked.
  • These are “the first non-avialan theropod fragments preserved in amber.”
  • he segment is believed to have come from a juvenile dinosaur, possibly a coelurosaurian.
  • The tail is covered in brown and white feathers, with bones and tissues and even some blood mummified in its amber tomb. Read more

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A hunter in Montana accidentally discovered a prehistoric sea monster

  • Seven years after an elk hunter accidentally stumbled on a fossil in Montana’s Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, the new species he found by mistake has a name — Nakonanectes bradti.
  • “Nakonanectes” is to honor the native Nakona people of Montana, and “bradti” is after David Bradt, the hunter who discovered the fossil, according to a statement from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
  • When Bradt first discovered the fossil in a stream in 2010, he believed it was from a dinosaur. “It’s about the size of a cow, and I’m thinking it’s a triceratops,” he told the Associated Press.
  • But when paleontologists excavated and studied the fossil, it turned out it belonged to a prehistoric sea creature that lived in an inland sea east of the Rocky Mountains some 70 million years ago, according to the AP. Read more (4/14/17 10:24 AM)

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branches of biology → paleontology

the scientific study of life that existed prior to, and sometimes including, the start of the Holocene Epoch (roughly 11,700 years before present). It includes the study of fossils to determine organisms’ evolution and interactions with each other and their environments (their paleoecology). Paleontological observations have been documented as far back as the 5th century BC.

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The secrets behind T. rex’s bone crushing bites: Researchers find T. rex could crush 8,000 pounds

The giant Tyrannosaurus rex pulverized bones by biting down with forces equaling the weight of three small cars while simultaneously generating world record tooth pressures, according to a new study by a Florida State University-Oklahoma State University research team.

In a study published today in Scientific Reports, Florida State University Professor of Biological Science Gregory Erickson and Paul Gignac, assistant professor of Anatomy and Vertebrate Paleontology at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, explain how T. rex could pulverize bones – a capacity known as extreme osteophagy that is typically seen in living carnivorous mammals such as wolves and hyenas, but not reptiles whose teeth do not allow for chewing up bones.

Erickson and Gignac found that this prehistoric reptile could chow down with nearly 8,000 pounds of force, which is more than two times greater than the bite force of the largest living crocodiles – today’s bite force champions. At the same time, their long, conical teeth generated an astounding 431,000 pounds per square inch of bone-failing tooth pressures.

This allowed T. rex to drive open cracks in bone during repetitive, mammal-like biting and produce high-pressure fracture arcades, leading to a catastrophic explosion of some bones.

“It was this bone-crunching acumen that helped T. rex to more fully exploit the carcasses of large horned-dinosaurs and duck-billed hadrosaurids whose bones, rich in mineral salts and marrow, were unavailable to smaller, less equipped carnivorous dinosaurs,” Gignac said.

The researchers built on their extensive experience testing and modeling how the musculature of living crocodilians, which are close relatives of dinosaurs, contribute to bite forces. They then compared the results with birds, which are modern-day dinosaurs, and generated a model for T. rex.

From their work on crocodilians, they realized that high bite forces were only part of the story. To understand how the giant dinosaur consumed bone, Erickson and Gignac also needed to understand how those forces were transmitted through the teeth, a measurement they call tooth pressure.

“Having high bite force doesn’t necessarily mean an animal can puncture hide or pulverize bone, tooth pressure is the biomechanically more relevant parameter,” Erickson said. “It is like assuming a 600 horsepower engine guarantees speed. In a Ferrari, sure, but not for a dump truck.”

In current day, well-known bone crunchers like spotted hyenas and gray wolves have occluding teeth that are used to finely fragment long bones for access to the marrow inside – a hallmark feature of mammalian osteophagy. Tyrannosaurus rex appears to be unique among reptiles for achieving this mammal-like ability but without specialized, occluding dentition.

The new study is one of several by the authors and their colleagues that now show how sophisticated feeding abilities, most like those of modern mammals and their immediate ancestors, actually first appeared in reptiles during the Age of the Dinosaurs.

Science Fact Friday: Carbon dating

Given current technology, radiocarbon dating is typically limited to 50,000 years, though sometimes that can be extended to 100,000 years. Beyond that, radiocarbon levels have dropped so low that they are not measurable. Older organic samples (i.e. fossils) require dating using other radioactive atoms.

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Researchers discover Moabosaurus in Utah’s ‘gold mine’

Move over, honeybee and seagull: it’s time to meet Moabosaurus utahensis, Utah’s newly discovered dinosaur, whose past reveals even more about the state’s long-term history.

The Moabosaurus discovery was published this week by the University of Michigan’s Contributions from the Museum of Paleontology. The paper, authored by three Brigham Young University researchers and a BYU graduate at Auburn University, profiles Moabosaurus, a 125-million-year-old dinosaur whose skeleton was assembled using bones extracted from the Dalton Wells Quarry, near Arches National Park.

BYU geology professor and lead author Brooks Britt explained that in analyzing dinosaur bones, he and colleagues rely on constant comparisons with other related specimens. If there are enough distinguishing features to make it unique, it’s new.

“It’s like looking at a piece of a car,” Britt said. “You can look at it and say it belongs to a Ford sedan, but it’s not exactly a Focus or a Fusion or a Fiesta. We do the same with dinosaurs.”

Moabosaurus belongs to a group of herbivorous dinosaurs known as sauropods, which includes giants such as Brontosaurus and Brachiosaurus, who had long necks and pillar-like legs. Moabosaurus is most closely related to species found in Spain and Tanzania, which tells researchers that during its time, there were still intermittent physical connections between Europe, Africa and North America.

Moabosaurus lived in Utah before it resembled the desert we know – when it was filled with large trees, plentiful streams, lakes and dinosaurs.

“We always think of Moab in terms of tourism and outdoor activities, but a paleontologist thinks of Moab as a gold mine for dinosaur bones,” Britt said.

In naming the species, Britt and his team, which included BYU Museum of Paleontology curator Rod Scheetz and biology professor Michael Whiting, decided to pay tribute to that gold mine. “We’re honoring the city of Moab and the State of Utah because they were so supportive of our excavation efforts over the decades it’s taken us to pull the animal out of the ground,” Britt said, referencing the digs that began when he was a BYU geology student in the late '70s.

A previous study indicates that a large number of Moabosaurus and other dinosaurs died in a severe drought. Survivors trampled their fallen companions’ bodies, crushing their bones. After the drought ended, streams eroded the land, and transported the bones a short distance, where they were again trampled. Meanwhile, insects in the soils fed on the bones, leaving behind tell-tale burrow marks.

“We’re lucky to get anything out of this site,” Britt said. “Most bones we find are fragmentary, so only a small percentage of them are usable. And that’s why it took so long to get this animal put together: we had to collect huge numbers of bones in order to get enough that were complete.”

BYU has a legacy of collecting dinosaurs that started in the early 1960s, and Britt and colleagues are continuing their excavation efforts in eastern Utah. Moabosaurus now joins a range of other findings currently on display at BYU’s Museum of Paleontology – though, until its placard is updated, it’s identified as “Not yet named” (pronunciation: NOT-yet-NAIM-ed).

“Sure, we could find bones at other places in the world, but we find so many right here in Utah,” Britt said. “You don’t have to travel the world to discover new animals.”

The turtle-jawed moa-nalo (Chelychelynechen quassus) was a large flightless goose-like duck from the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i. About 90cm tall (3′) and weighing around 7kg (15lbs), these birds and their relatives were descended from dabbling ducks and existed on most of the larger Hawaiian islands for the last 3 million years or so – before going extinct around 1000 years ago following the arrival of Polynesian settlers.

Chelychelynechen had an unusually-shaped bill, tall and broad with vertically-oriented nostrils, convergently similar to the beak of a turtle. It would have occupied the same sort of ecological niche as giant tortoises on other islands, filling the role of large herbivore in the absence of mammals.

Mary Anning: English Paleontologist 1799-1847.

Mary Anning was born to a poor family that was shunned due to religious discrimination. To make some extra money the family began collecting fossils by the sea and selling them. Mary took over the family business after her father died and made many important fossil finds in the county of Dorset, but as a woman was kept out of the Geographical Society of London and often did not receive credit for her finds.

My favorite part of researching for this illustration was finding that local parlance referred to vertebrae as “verteberries”

In 2015, Lida Xing was visiting a market in northern Myanmar when a salesman brought out a piece of amber about the size of a pink rubber eraser. Inside, he could see a couple of ancient ants and a fuzzy brown tuft that the salesman said was a plant.

As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn’t a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.

“I have studied paleontology for more than 10 years and have been interested in dinosaurs for more than 30 years. But I never expected we could find a dinosaur in amber. This may be the coolest find in my life,” says Xing, a paleontologist at China University of Geosciences in Beijing. “The feathers on the tail are so dense and regular, this is really wonderful.”

He persuaded the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology to buy the artifact.

After analyzing the delicate tail, Xing and his colleagues in China, the U.K. and Canada now have an idea of what type of dinosaur it is, and of the evolutionary clues it holds. Their research was published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

They say that 99 million years ago, a baby dinosaur about the size of a sparrow got stuck in tree sap and never made it out. Had the young dinosaur had a more auspicious day, it would have grown up to be a little smaller than an ostrich.

Baby Dinosaur’s 99-Million-Year-Old Tail, Encased In Amber, Surfaces In Myanmar

Photo: Ryan McKellar/Royal Saskatchewan Museum
Caption: A baby dinosaur’s tail is encased in amber along with ants, a beetle and plant fragments.