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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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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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 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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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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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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A Hitchhiker’s Guide to an Ancient Geomagnetic Disruption

A shift in Earth’s poles 42,000 years ago may have drastically altered the planet’s climate, scientists have found — and they’re naming the period after the author Douglas Adams.

#adams-douglas, #archaeology-and-anthropology, #earth, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #magnets-and-magnetism, #neanderthal-man, #ozone, #paleontology, #research, #science-journal, #your-feed-science

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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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Dire wolves aren’t wolves at all—they form a distinct lineage with jackals

Two canid skeletons facing each other.

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia commons)

Dire wolves had a burst of newfound fame with their appearance in Game of Thrones, where they were portrayed as a far larger version of more mundane wolves. Here in the real world, only the largest populations of present-day wolves get as large as the dire wolf, which weighed nearly 70 kilograms. These animals once shared North America—and likely prey—with predators like the smilodon, a saber-toothed cat. Prior to the arrival of humans, dire wolves were far more common than regular wolves, as indicated by the remains found in the La Brea tar seeps, where they outnumber gray wolves by a factor of about 100.

Like the smilodon and many other large North American mammals, the dire wolf vanished during a period of climate change and the arrival of humans to the continent, even as gray wolves and coyotes survived. And with their departure, they left behind a bit of a mystery: what were they?

A new study uses ancient DNA from dire wolf skeletons to determine that they weren’t actually wolves and had been genetically isolated from them for millions of years.

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#dire-wolves, #dogs, #evolution, #genetics, #genomics, #paleontology, #science, #wolves

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The Real Dire Wolf Ran Into an Evolutionary Dead End

The species’ remarkable genetic isolation from other wolves may have contributed to its demise.

#dna-deoxyribonucleic-acid, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #game-of-thrones-tv-program, #genetics-and-heredity, #nature-journal, #north-america, #paleontology, #research, #wolves, #your-feed-science

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Baby Megalodons Were 6-Foot-Long Womb Cannibals, Study Suggests

The research appears to confirm that, even as newborns, the extinct sharks were very, very big.

#longevity, #paleontology, #research, #sharks, #spine-body-part, #your-feed-science

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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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Yukon gold miner unearths a mummified Ice Age wolf pup

Color photo of wolf mummy puppy laying on a pillow

Enlarge / The puppy’s remains are dried out but mostly intact thanks to being buried in permafrost. (credit: Government of Yukon)

This Ice Age wolf puppy doesn’t look much like a fearsome predator, what with her tiny puppy teeth and soft little ears. According to her DNA, however, the mummified puppy, named Zhùr, came from a population that’s among the ancestors of all modern wolves. Canada’s permafrost freeze-dried her remains shortly after her death around 57,000 years ago.

“She’s the most complete wolf mummy that’s ever been found. She’s basically 100 percent intact—all that’s missing are her eyes,” said Des Moines University paleontologist Julie Meachen.

Puppy surprise

In July 2016, miner Neil Loveless of Favron Enterprises was searching for gold in Alaska’s famed Klondike gold fields. He was water-blasting the frozen mud along the banks of Last Chance Creek. It’s a process called “hydraulic thawing,” meant to thaw and soften the frozen permafrost so miners can search for gold in the streambed deposits, an approach called placer mining. But Loveless found something far stranger and even more interesting than Klondike gold: a frozen, mummified wolf puppy.

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#ancient-dna, #gold-mining, #klondike, #mummies, #paleontology, #permafrost, #pleistocene, #science, #wolves, #yukon

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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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A Wolf Pup Mummy From the Ancient Arctic

Melting permafrost yields secrets of how a 6-week-old wolf puppy lived and died.

#arctic-regions, #current-biology-journal, #global-warming, #ice-age, #mummies-and-mummification, #paleontology, #wolves, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science, #yukon-beringia-interpretive-center, #yukon-territory

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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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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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Ancient Dog DNA Shows Early Spread Around the Globe

Research on fossil canine genomes is expanding and producing some surprises about the lives of dogs and humans in prehistoric times.

#anatolia, #dogs, #europe, #genetics-and-heredity, #paleontology, #pigs, #research, #science-journal, #wolves, #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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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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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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Making Sense of ‘One of the Most Baffling Animals That Ever Lived’

Important mysteries have been solved about a reptile with a giraffe-like neck that hunted prey 242 million years ago.

#alps-mountains, #current-biology-journal, #neck, #paleontology, #reptiles, #research, #skull-body-part, #your-feed-animals, #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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Dolphins Have Hidden Fingers. So Do Seals. These Sea Creatures Did Not.

A recent analysis of the flippers of living and extinct marine animals shows the enduring power of “baby mittens.”

#biology-letters-journal, #crocodiles, #dolphins-and-porpoises, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #evolution-biology, #fingers, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #paleontology, #penguins, #reptiles, #research, #sea-lions, #seals-animals-and-sealing, #whales-and-whaling, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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