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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Sharks Nearly Went Extinct 19 Million Years Ago From Mystery Event

Analysis of the fossil record shows a mysterious mass extinction that decimated the diversity of sharks in the world’s oceans, and they’ve never fully recovered.

#endangered-and-extinct-species, #fossils, #oceans-and-seas, #paleontology, #research, #science-journal, #sharks, #your-feed-science

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The world saw a shark-pocalypse 19 million years ago, and we don’t know why

The outline of a shark traced with shark scales.

Enlarge (credit: Leah D. Rubin)

Sharks have been swimming and hunting in the world’s oceans for 450 million years, and though their numbers have recently declined because of human activity, they’re still with us. But the world once had many more, and many more varieties of, the large marine predators compared to today. In fact, new research published in Science suggests that 19 million years ago, the vast majority of sharks and shark species died off. We don’t understand why or how this large extinction event occurred.

“Sharks have… weathered a large number of mass extinctions. And this extinction event is probably the biggest one they’ve ever seen. Something big must have happened,” Elizabeth Sibert, one of the authors of the paper, told Ars.

Sibert is a Hutchinson postdoctoral fellow at the Yale Institute for Biospheric Sciences, and she was a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows for the initial phases of this research back in 2017.

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#extinction-event, #fossils, #ocean-science, #science, #sharks

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Scientists Find a Fossilized Ancestor of ‘Dinosaur Food’

This ancient plant might be even more ancient than paleobotanists once believed.

#brazil, #flowers-and-plants, #fossils, #paleontology, #research, #trees-and-shrubs

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These Neanderthals Weren’t Cannibals, So Who Ate Them? Stone Age Hyenas.

An archaeological excavation south of Rome uncovered fossil remains of nine Neanderthals, along with the bones of hyenas, elephants and rhinoceroses.

#archaeology-and-anthropology, #caves-and-caverns, #fossils, #hyenas, #italy, #neanderthal-man, #paleontology, #research, #skull-body-part

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Horse Fossil, Possibly From the Ice Age, Is Found in a Las Vegas Backyard

Workers found the bones, which could be up to 14,000 years old, during the construction of a pool.

#excavation, #fossils, #horses, #ice-age, #joshua-bonde, #las-vegas-nev, #matthew-perkins, #paleontology

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Baby Mammoths Were Meals for These Saber-Tooth Cats

Fossils from a Texas site suggest that the predatory felines not only snatched mammoths from their herds, but dragged the remains back to their cave.

#cats, #caves-and-caverns, #current-biology-journal, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #fossils, #mammoths-animals, #paleontology, #san-antonio-tex, #teeth-and-dentistry, #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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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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Neanderthals Listened to the World Much Like Us

A reconstructed Neanderthal ear adds a new piece to the puzzle of whether the early humans could speak.

#archaeology-and-anthropology, #ears-and-hearing, #fossils, #language-and-languages, #nature-ecologyevolution-journal, #neanderthal-man, #paleontology, #quam-rolf-m, #research, #voice-and-speech, #your-feed-science

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5 Picture Books About the Wonders of Science

Fossils, flowers, galaxies and a rare “lefty” snail.

#biology-and-biochemistry, #books-and-literature, #chemistry, #children-and-childhood, #el-fathi-mickael, #flowers-and-plants, #fossils, #fossils-from-lost-worlds-book, #genetics-and-heredity, #hahn-daniel, #hubble-space-telescope, #hubble-edwin, #ignotofsky-rachel, #laverdunt-damien, #marcero-deborah, #marinov-isabelle, #medicine-and-health, #nobel-prizes, #paleontology, #physics, #popova-maria, #rajcak-helene, #science-and-me-book, #science-and-technology, #snails, #space-and-astronomy, #stars-and-galaxies, #the-boy-whose-head-was-filled-with-stars-a-life-of-edwin-hubble-book, #the-snail-with-the-right-heart-a-true-story-book, #whats-inside-a-flower-and-other-questions-about-sciencenature-book, #winter-ali, #zhu-ping-illustrator

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Where Does the Columbian Mammoth Come From?

Genomic data — the oldest ever recovered from a fossil — reveals the origin and evolution of the Columbian mammoth.

#dna-deoxyribonucleic-acid, #fossils, #genetics-and-heredity, #ice-age, #mammoths-animals, #nature-journal, #paleontology, #research, #your-feed-science

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A Natural Work of Art May Be Hiding Among Indian Cave Masterpieces

What may be an overlooked fossil in a well-known cultural site could offer clues to the age of its underlying rocks.

#archaeology-and-anthropology, #art, #bhopal-india, #caves-and-caverns, #fossils, #gondwana-research-journal, #paleontology, #research, #your-feed-science

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Rare 50 million-year-old fossilized bug flashes its penis for posterity

This poor fossilized assassin bug's tiny penis is being closely scrutinized by paleontologists who consider the find "a rare treat"—because it has been so extraordinarily preserved.

Enlarge / This poor fossilized assassin bug’s tiny penis is being closely scrutinized by paleontologists who consider the find “a rare treat”—because it has been so extraordinarily preserved. (credit: Daniel R. Swanson/Sam W. Heads)

A rare fossilized assassin bug is causing a bit of a stir in entomology circles, because it is so remarkably well-preserved that one can distinctly pick out its penis. The specimen dates back 50 million years to the Eocene epoch, meaning this particular taxonomic group may be twice as old as scientists previously assumed. The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) researchers who conducted the analysis described their unusual find in a new paper published in the Journal of Paleontology.

“Getting a complete fossilized insect is really rare, but getting a fossil of an insect from this long ago, that has this much detail, is pretty amazing and exciting,” Gwen Pearson of UIUC’s Department of Entomology, who is not a co-author on the paper, told Ars. Assassin bugs (part of the Reduviidae family, of the order Hemiptera) are predators favored by gardeners because they eat pests. The mouth is distinctly shaped like a straw, the better to poke into the body of its prey, like a juice box, and slurp out the guts.

But of course, it’s the preserved genitalia that make this fossilized specimen so exciting. The genitalia are contained within a shell—Ruth Schuster, writing at Haaretz, described the penis (technically its “pygophore”) of the assassin bug as a “chitinous codpiece”—which is why it’s difficult to tell whether a given insect specimen is male or female. In addition to the pygophore and the telltale stripes on the legs, the new fossil also distinctly shows the “basal plate,” a structure shaped like a stirrup that supports the penis.

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#assassin-bugs, #biology, #fossils, #paleontology, #penis, #science

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This Ammonite Was Fossilized Outside Its Shell

The bizarre fossil is one of very few records of soft tissue in a creature better known as a whorled shell.

#fossils, #germany, #paleontology, #squid, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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They Put the Bite in Trilobite

New research helps explain how some ancient species hunted and fed, and highlights the shell-crushing power of one large trilobite.

#fish-and-other-marine-life, #fossils, #paleontology, #proceedings-of-the-royal-society-b-journal, #research, #trilobites, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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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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Is this a fossilized lair of the dreaded bobbit worm?

The head of a gruesome yet colorful worm projects from the seafloor.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Not to toot my own horn, but I know a thing or two about bizarre animals. And I can tell you without a hint of doubt that the bobbit worm is by far the most bizarre. Growing to 10 feet long, the worm digs a burrow in the seafloor, leaving only its bear trap of a mouth sticking out. When a fish approaches, the bobbit worm shoots out of its burrow with astonishing speed, snapping its jaws around its prey. With violent tugs, the worm then drags the victim down into its lair, where it eats the fish alive. (Oh, there’s video.)

Now scientists say they’ve found evidence that an ancestor of the bobbit worm may have been menacing fish 20 million years ago. Writing today in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers argue that hundreds of fossilized worm burrows, found in what is now Taiwan, show telltale signs of struggle. They haven’t found the worms themselves, mind you, as boneless critters like worms (known as invertebrates, because they lack spinal columns) very rarely fossilize. Instead, they discovered trace fossils, geological features that hint at the behavior of ancient animals, in sandstone that was once a seafloor.

“This is, we believe, the first time that we’ve actually found a trace fossil that shows how invertebrates like worms were feeding on vertebrates,” says National Taiwan University sedimentologist Ludvig Löwemark, co-author of the new paper. “Because, typically, what we find in the sedimentary record is animals that are moving through the sediment.” Invertebrates, for instance, might dig tunnels through the sea bottom and pump water through their burrows, filtering out particles. “But this is a record of a much more active behavior,” he continues. “The worms were actually hiding in the sediment, jumping out, catching their prey, and then dragging this prey down into the sediment.”

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#bobbit-worm, #fossils, #paleontology, #science, #uncategorized

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A Surprise in a 50 Million-Year-Old Assassin Bug Fossil: Its Genitals

Scientists were surprised to find the insect’s preserved penis, which suggests it was an unknown species.

#fossils, #insects, #paleontology, #papers-in-paleontology, #penis, #reproduction-biological, #research, #your-feed-animals, #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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Welcome to the Ruthless, Cutthroat World of Paleoanthropology

Two new books, Kermit Pattison’s “Fossil Men” and Meave Leakey’s “The Sediments of Time,” offer a glimpse into the adventurous world of the men and women searching for our origins.

#archaeology-and-anthropology, #books-and-literature, #fossil-men-the-quest-for-the-oldest-skeleton-and-the-origins-of-humankind-book, #fossils, #leakey-meave-g, #leakey-samira, #paleontology, #pattison-kermit, #the-sediments-of-time-my-lifelong-search-for-the-past-book

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Pythons Slithered Through Europe Before Coiling Around the World

The oldest known fossils of the predatory snakes were found at a German site, changing the snake family tree.

#biology-letters-journal, #europe, #fossils, #germany, #paleontology, #research, #skeletons, #snakes, #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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Cretaceous birds were thought to have small bills—except this one

Precise anatomical profile of a prehistoric bird.

Enlarge / Artist’s depiction of Falcatakely forsterae. (credit: Mark Witton)

Given the unusual attention granted to turkeys this week, let’s talk dinosaurs. Today’s birds are, of course, descendants of the only branch of the dino tree that made it through the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. In the dinosaurs’ halcyon days, the early birds were a bit different, still retaining teeth and foreclaws among some subtler anatomical differences with their modern descendant. A new fossil find reveals an unexpected bird from that time—one with a whopping-great, toucan-like beak.

The fossil, named Falcatakely forsterae, comes from late Cretaceous rocks in Madagascar. Many of the early bird fossils we’ve discovered so far come from older, early-Cretaceous rocks in China, with the timeframe between then and the end-Cretaceous extinction more of a question mark. The new fossil is a nicely preserved head of a crow-sized bird with a strikingly long, tall, and narrow beak.

The early Chinese bird fossils don’t show much diversity in beak shape. That’s a big contrast with modern birds, which have a wild variety of beak shapes befitting their many different ecological niches. Pelicans, woodpeckers, and parrots have very different diets that require a beak adapted to the job. It had been thought that enlarged beaks may not have been possible until some anatomical shifting in the parts of the skull took place, meaning that the early birds were simply limited. But the new find shows that wasn’t entirely true. This species could have inhabited an ecological niche that was empty after the extinction—until a more modern bird drifted back into it much later.

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#birds, #evolution, #fossils, #science

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Burning Fossil Fuels Helped Drive Earth’s Most Massive Extinction

Massive volcanic eruptions ignited oil and coal deposits in Siberia in the events that led to the Permian-Triassic “Great Dying” event.

#carbon-dioxide, #coal, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #fossils, #geology, #geology-journal, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #nature-geoscience-journal, #oceans-and-seas, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #research, #volcanoes, #your-feed-science

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Skull Fossil Shows How Human Cousin Adapted to Changing Climate

A skull found in a South African cave suggests that the species went through a process of microevolution during a chaotic environmental shift.

#archaeology-and-anthropology, #caves-and-caverns, #fathers-day, #fossils, #nature-ecologyevolution-journal, #paleontology, #south-africa, #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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Footprints Mark a Toddler’s Perilous Prehistoric Journey

Mammoths and giant ground sloths roamed the same terrain that a young adult swiftly moved through while toting a young child.

#animal-behavior, #children-and-childhood, #feet, #fossils, #mammoths-animals, #new-mexico, #paleontology, #quaternary-science-reviews-journal, #research, #sloths-animals, #white-sands-national-park-new-mexico, #your-feed-science, #youth

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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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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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250 Million Years Ago, They Hibernated at the Bottom of the World

In the tusks of creatures that lived before dinosaurs, paleontologists found signs of hibernation-like metabolism.

#animal-behavior, #antarctic-regions, #communications-biology-journal, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #fossils, #hibernation, #paleontology, #research, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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Fabulous fossil preserves eyes of 429-million-year-old trilobite

Fossil of a prehistoric arthropod.

Enlarge / Don’t think you can pull one over on this trilobite—he’s still got one good eye, ya know. (credit: Brigitte Schoenemann)

Among fossils, trilobites are rock stars. They are adorable (as stony arthropods go), with a segmented shape distinctive enough to be a common logo. But they’re also fascinating because there are so many examples in the fossil record over such a long period of time, given that they thrived for over 250 million years. Studying their evolution is enlightening in part because odds are good for finding excellent specimens.

The University of Cologne’s Brigitte Schoenemann and the University of Edinburgh’s Euan Clarkson took a look into the eyes of one exquisitely preserved trilobite specimen, and they learned plenty about how the creature’s eyes developed and what that says about evolution. And, as a bonus, they conclude that this particular trilobite species was probably translucent.

A real lens

The fossil in question comes from 429-million-year-old sedimentary rocks in the Czech Republic. It’s a centimeter-long trilobite called Aulacopleura koninckii that split in half as the rock layer was peeled apart. The shape of the structures in one of its two eyes is nicely visible, with bits split between the two halves.

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#compound-eyes, #fossils, #science

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Fossil Shows Wombat Relative That Weighed More Than 300 Pounds

Compared in size with modern black bears, the extinct species offers a new window into the large vombatiforms that once lived in Australia.

#australia, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #fossils, #paleontology, #research, #scientific-reports-journal, #wombats, #your-feed-science

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Tracks Hint at a Crocodile Ancestor That Walked on 2 Legs

Over 100 million years ago in what is now South Korea, evolution experimented with nine-foot-long bipedal reptiles.

#crocodiles, #fossils, #kim-kyung-soo, #lockley-martin-1950, #paleontology, #reptiles, #research, #scientific-reports-journal, #south-korea, #your-feed-science

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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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11 Great Alternatives to the Top National Parks

Whether you like hiking, fishing, volcanoes, trees or even fossilized trees, there is a less-traveled and still awe-inspiring national park for you.

#arches-national-park-utah, #big-bend-national-park-tex, #biodiversity, #canoes-and-canoeing, #canyonlands-national-park-utah, #congaree-national-park, #coronavirus-reopenings, #deserts, #dunes, #forests-and-forestry, #fossils, #glaciers, #great-basin-national-park, #great-sand-dunes-national-park-and-reserve-colorado, #gunnison-colo, #hikes-and-hiking, #lakes, #lassen-volcanic-national-park-calif, #national-park-service, #national-parks-monuments-and-seashores, #north-cascades-national-park-wash, #parks-and-other-recreation-areas, #petrified-forest-national-park-ariz, #shutdowns-institutional, #travel-and-vacations, #trees-and-shrubs, #volcanoes, #voyageurs-national-park-minn, #wilderness-areas

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Incredible fossil find is the oldest known parasite

Artist's depiction of what this brachiopod—and its parasites—would have looked like.

Enlarge / Artist’s depiction of what this brachiopod—and its parasites—would have looked like. (credit: Zhifei Zhang (Northwest University))

From the perspective of a legacy-seeking critter deep in Earth’s history, there’s little chance of you hitting the big time. The odds of getting fossilized are low enough. You need to die in the right kind of place, get buried before you are picked apart or decay, and encounter the right kind of chemistry underground that replaces your fleshy bits with enduring stone.

This unlikely chain makes capturing common life events like your last meal or developing embryos even more rare. But in the case of a newly published study, researchers were lucky enough to find what appear to be the earliest known parasites, still stuck to the hosts they targeted some 510 million years ago.

The find comes from Yunnan, China, where a sedimentary rock layer called the Wulongqing Formation is chock full of tiny fossil brachiopods of a species named (quite sensibly) Neobolus wulongqingensis. Back in the Cambrian Period, shortly after multicellular animal life bloomed into incredible variety, these creatures were living on the seafloor. A team led by Zhifei Zhang at China’s Northwest University discovered that N. wulongqingensis was not alone in the rock—many were adorned with whitish tubes on the exteriors of their shells.

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#cambrian, #fossils, #parasites, #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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First Frog Fossil Found on Antarctica

The specimen is some 40 million years old, and is probably related to species currently living in South America.

#antarctic-regions, #chile, #fossils, #frogs, #mors-thomas, #paleontology, #research, #scientific-reports-journal, #south-america, #your-feed-science

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When Crocodiles Once Dived Like Dolphins and Whales

They didn’t have blowholes, but an ancient lineage of crocodilians returned to the oceans in a manner similar to some marine mammals.

#crocodiles, #dolphins-and-porpoises, #ears-and-hearing, #evolution-biology, #fossils, #oceans-and-seas, #paleontology, #proceedings-of-the-national-academy-of-sciences, #research, #schwab-julia-a, #whales-and-whaling, #your-feed-science

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