Trace fossils, the most inconspicuous bite-sized window into ancient worlds

Image of a rock with oval outlines embedded in it.

Enlarge / It may not look like much, but you can actually learn a lot from a fossilized leaf that preserves insect damage. (credit: Donovan et. al.)

He knew what it was as soon as he saw it: the signature sign of a bird landing. He’d seen hundreds of such tracks along the Georgia coast. He’d photographed them, measured them, and drawn them. The difference here? This landing track was approximately 105 million years old.

Dr. Anthony Martin, a popular professor at Emory University, recognized that landing track in Australia in the early 2000s when he passed by a fossil slab in a museum. “Because my eyes had been trained for so long from the Georgia coast seeing those kinds of patterns, that’s how I noticed them,” he said. “Because it literally was out of the corner of my eye. I was walking by the slab, I glanced at it, and then these three-toed impressions popped out at me.”

Impressions of toes may seem to be pretty dull compared to a fully reconstructed skeleton. But many of us yearn for a window into ancient worlds, to actually see how long-extinct creatures looked, lived, and behaved. Paleontology lets us crack open that window; using fossilized remains, scientists glean information about growth rates, diet, diseases, and where species roamed. But there’s a lesser-known branch of paleontology that fully opens the window by exploring what the extinct animals actually did.

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#biology, #dinosaurs, #features, #fossils, #giant-sloths, #mammoths, #paleontology, #science

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New Dinosaur Species Is Australia’s Largest, Researchers Say

Australotitan cooperensis, a long-necked herbivore from the Cretaceous period, is estimated to have weighed 70 tons, measured two stories tall and extended the length of a basketball court.

#australia, #dinosaurs, #museums, #paleontology, #queensland-australia

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How Many Tyrannosaurus Rexes Ever Lived on Earth? Here’s a New Clue.

An estimation of the iconic predator’s total population can teach us things about dinosaurs that fossils cannot.

#dinosaurs, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #north-america, #paleontology, #research, #science-journal, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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How the Largest Animals That Could Ever Fly Supported Giraffe-Like Necks

These pterosaurs had wingspans as long as 33 feet, and scans of fossilized remains reveal a surprise in their anatomy.

#dinosaurs, #fossils, #iscience-journal, #morocco, #neck, #paleontology, #pterosaurs, #research, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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These Rocks Made a 1,000-Mile Trek. Did Dinosaurs Carry Them?

Researchers suggest a collection of prehistoric stones found in Wyoming journeyed from Wisconsin in the bellies of very large beasts.

#dinosaurs, #geology, #paleontology, #research, #rock-and-stone, #terra-nova-journal, #wisconsin, #wyoming, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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Prior to the Chicxulub impact, rainforests looked very different

Image of a tropical forest.

Enlarge (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Colombia’s rainforest looked very different 66 million years ago. At present, the humid and biodiverse ecosystem is jam-packed with plants and is covered in a thick, light-blocking canopy of leaves and branches. Notably, there are no dinosaurs. But prior to the dinosaurs going away with the Chicxulub impact, signaling the end of the Cretaceous Period, things looked very different. The area’s plant coverage was relatively sparse, and a bevvy of conifers called it home.

Using the fossilized remains of plants, a team of researchers studied the past of the rainforest and how the asteroid gave rise to the rainforests of today. The study, published in Science on April 1, was led by scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama and supported by scientists at the Negaunee Institute for Plant Conservation Science and Action at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“Forests disappeared because of the ecological catastrophe… and then, the returning vegetation was mostly dominated by flowering plants,” said Mónica Carvalho, first author and joint postdoctoral fellow at STRI and at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia, in an interview with Ars.

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#asteroid-impact, #biology, #dinosaurs, #ecology, #paleontology, #science

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Decolonizing the Hunt for Dinosaurs and Other Fossils

Younger paleontologists are working to overcome some historical legacies of their discipline and change how people learn about natural history.

#colonization, #dinosaurs, #discrimination, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #fossils, #museums, #paleontology, #race-and-ethnicity, #research, #science-and-technology, #tunisia, #your-feed-science

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Uprooting Colonialism From the Fossil-Finding Field

Younger paleontologists are working to overcome some historical legacies of their discipline and change how people learn about natural history.

#colonization, #dinosaurs, #discrimination, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #fossils, #museums, #paleontology, #race-and-ethnicity, #research, #science-and-technology, #tunisia, #your-feed-science

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The Outsized Influence of Teen T. Rex and Other Young Dinosaurs

A deep dive into dinosaur data suggests that teenage T. rexes and other juvenile carnivores shaped their ecosystems.

#children-and-childhood, #dinosaurs, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #paleontology, #research, #science-journal, #teenagers-and-adolescence, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science, #youth

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Astronomers: A comet fragment, not an asteroid, killed off the dinosaurs

Harvard astronomers have a new theory about the origin of the comet that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Some 66 million years ago, a catastrophic event occurred that wiped out three-quarters of all plant and animal species on Earth, most notably taking down the dinosaurs. An errant asteroid from the asteroid belt has been deemed the most likely culprit. However, in a new paper published in Scientific Reports, Harvard astronomers offer an alternative: a special kind of comet—originating from a field of debris at the edge of our solar system known as the Oort cloud—that was thrown off course by Jupiter’s gravity toward the Sun. The Sun’s powerful tidal forces then ripped pieces off the comet, and one of the larger fragments of this “cometary shrapnel” eventually collided with Earth.

The most widely accepted explanation for what triggered that catastrophic mass extinction is known as the “Alvarez hypothesis,” after the late physicist Luis Alvarez and his geologist son, Walter. In 1980, they proposed that the extinction event may have been caused by a massive asteroid or comet hitting the Earth. They based this conclusion on their analysis of sedimentary layers at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary (the K-Pg boundary, formerly known as the K-T boundary) found all over the world, which included unusually high concentrations of iridium—a metal more commonly found in asteroids than on Earth. (That same year, Dutch geophysicist Jan Smit independently arrived at a similar conclusion.)

Since then, scientists have identified a likely impact site: a large crater in Chicxulub, Mexico, in the Yucatan Peninsula, first discovered by geophysicists in the late 1970s. The impactor that created it was sufficiently large (between 11 and 81 kilometers, or 7 to 50 miles) to melt, shock, and eject granite from deep inside the Earth, probably causing a megatsunami and ejecting vaporized rock and sulfates into the atmosphere. This in turn had a devastating effect on global climate, leading to mass extinction.

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#astronomy, #astrophysics, #chicxulub, #comets, #cretaceous, #dinosaurs, #physics, #science

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Where Did the Dinosaur-Killing Impactor Come From?

A new study blames a comet fragment for the death of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. But most experts maintain that an asteroid caused this cataclysmic event.

#asteroids, #comets, #dinosaurs, #earth, #research, #scientific-reports-journal, #space-and-astronomy, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science, #yucatan-peninsula-mexico

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Was Spinosaurus an Underwater Killer or a Giant Wading Bird?

A new study challenges the hypothesis that spinosaurus pursued its prey in the currents of prehistoric rivers.

#dinosaurs, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #fossils, #north-africa, #palaeontologia-electronica, #paleontology, #research, #your-feed-science

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Finally in 3-D: A Dinosaur’s All-Purpose Orifice

This cloaca is more than 100 million years old, and it did a lot of work for this extinct species.

#anatomy-and-physiology, #anus, #crocodiles, #current-biology-journal, #dinosaurs, #feces, #fossils, #paleontology, #reproduction-biological, #research

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Another Thing a Triceratops Shares With an Elephant

It’s not just large size and something pointy near their faces.

#biology-letters-journal, #dinosaurs, #flowers-and-plants, #paleontology, #research, #seeds, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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This Unusual Bird Superpower Goes Back to the Dinosaur Extinction

Kiwis, ibises and sandpipers share this sensory power with birds that lived millions of years ago.

#birds, #dinosaurs, #fossils, #paleontology, #proceedings-of-the-royal-society-b-journal, #research, #senses-and-sensation, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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We’ve Rarely Seen a Dinosaur Brain Like This Before

While later dinosaurs in this lineage were giant herbivores with tiny brains, this small species packed a lot more power in its skull.

#animal-behavior, #brain, #brazil, #dinosaurs, #evolution-biology, #fossils, #journal-of-anatomy, #paleontology, #research, #skull-body-part, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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These Winged Dinosaurs Hurtled Through the Trees Like Haywire Hang Gliders

To call it flying would be generous.

#birds, #dinosaurs, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #fossils, #iscience-journal, #paleontology, #pterosaurs, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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Paleontologists See Stars as Software Bleeps Scientific Terms

When their annual conference was moved online, they were amused to find seemingly benign words blocked and replaced with asterisks during virtual sessions.

#censorship, #computers-and-the-internet, #conventions-fairs-and-trade-shows, #convey-services, #dinosaurs, #indecency-obscenity-and-profanity, #paleontology, #society-of-vertebrate-paleontology, #thomas-r-holtz-jr

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Who Would Win in a Dinosaur Battle Royale?

A cheat sheet for parents of dino-obsessed kids.

#children-and-childhood, #content-type-service, #dinosaurs, #paleontology, #parenting, #toys

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T. Rex Skeleton Brings $31.8 Million at Christie’s Auction

A 40-foot-long dinosaur fossil named Stan was the headliner at an auction of Impressionist and Modern art worth more than $300 million.

#art, #christies, #dinosaurs, #fossils, #paleontology, #quarantine-life-and-culture

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Seen Jurassic Park? T-Rex Skeleton Brings $31.8 Million at Christie’s

A 40-foot-long dinosaur fossil named Stan was the headliner at an auction of Impressionist and Modern art worth more than $300 million.

#art, #christies, #dinosaurs, #fossils, #paleontology, #quarantine-life-and-culture

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First Fossil Feather Ever Found Belonged to This Dinosaur

To settle a lengthy debate, a team of paleontologists says the specimen unearthed in the 19th century was shed by an archaeopteryx.

#bavaria-germany, #dinosaurs, #feathers, #fossils, #paleontology, #scientific-reports-journal, #tattoos, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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Fossil Reveals ‘One of the Cutest Dinosaurs’ Ever Found

While many fossils have been flattened by time and the elements, a titanosaur found in an egg was preserved in three dimensions.

#argentina, #current-biology-journal, #dinosaurs, #eggs, #eyes-and-eyesight, #fossils, #paleontology, #reproduction-biological, #skull-body-part, #smuggling, #your-feed-science

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‘Terror Crocodile’ the Size of a Bus Fed on Dinosaurs, Study Says

The monster animal, more closely related to American alligators than modern crocodiles, had teeth the size of bananas and a strange enlarged snout.

#alligators, #dinosaurs, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #journal-of-vertebrate-paleontology, #paleontology

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What to Do At Home This Week

See the Mona Lisa, up your baking skills and get some answers to your salacious questions about dinosaurs.

#dinosaurs, #kahlo-frida, #louvre-museum, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #tosi-christina

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Life Hatched From Soft Eggs, Some a Foot Long, in Dinosaur Era

A football-size egg from Antarctica and baby dinosaurs from Mongolia and Argentina shine new light on ancient reptile reproduction.

#dinosaurs, #eggs, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #fabbri-matteo, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #fossils, #legendre-lucas, #nature-journal, #norell-mark-a, #paleontology, #reptiles, #research, #wiemann-jasmina, #your-feed-science

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Long Limbs Helped Propel T. Rex Up the Dinosaur Food Chain

The apex predator wasn’t a quick runner because of its heft, but its lanky limbs ensured it could amble efficiently for hours.

#biology-and-biochemistry, #dececchi-alexander, #dinosaurs, #mount-marty-college, #paleontology, #plos-one-journal, #research, #your-feed-science

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A Strange Dinosaur May Have Swum the Rivers of Africa

The Spinosaurus possessed a long, powerful tail. Paleontologists think the dinosaur used that to propel itself through water.

#africa, #dinosaurs, #fossils, #ibrahim-nazir, #nature-journal, #paleontology, #research, #swimming, #your-feed-science

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