Ancient Whale Basilosaurus Isis Was Head-Chomping Apex Predator

By Gemma Tarlach | January 9, 2019 1:00 pm
basilosaurus

About 37 million years ago, the ancient whale Basilosaurus isis ruled the seas as an apex predator, according to new research. (Credit: Asmoth/Wikimedia Commons)

Analysis of its fossilized stomach contents suggests that Basilosaurus isis, an ancient whale that could grow to more than 50 feet long, swam at the top of the food chain and took its prey by the head. The new findings challenge previous suggestions that the formidable animal was a scavenger and suggest instead that it may have had orca-like behavior. Read More

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Meet Saltriovenator: Oldest Known Big Predatory Dinosaur

By Gemma Tarlach | December 19, 2018 6:00 am
Saltriovenator was likely covered with filamentous protoplumage. The presence of horns on the lacrymal and nasal bones is inferred from its close kinship with dinosaurs which possess those cranial onamentation. Credit: Davide Bonadonna.

An artist’s rendering of Saltriovenator includes filamentous protoplumage and horns, the latter suggested by its evolutionary links to species with similar ornamentation. (Credit: Davide Bonadonna)

Paleontologists working in northern Italy have announced the oldest large-size predatory dinosaur known to the fossil record. Saltriovenator zanellai weighed about a ton and, at nearly 200 million years old, predates more famous megapredators by at least 25 million years.

Saltriovenator’s bones are also the first dinosaur remains to preserve evidence of marine animals that gnawed on its carcass. The biggest thing about S. zanellai, however, may be its hands: The animal’s fingers could solve a long-running debate about how bird wings evolved.  Read More

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Pterosaur Feathers Deepen Debate Over Their Evolution

By Gemma Tarlach | December 17, 2018 10:00 am
pterosaur feathers

Artist rendering of a short-tailed pterosaur feathers and all. (Credit: Yuan Zhang/Nature Ecology & Evolution)

The discovery of novel filaments on two species of pterosaur suggests that the extinct flying reptiles had complex coats of “feathers” and fuzz, say the authors of a new study. The presence of these apparent pterosaur feathers may indicate that the ancestor of both pterosaurs and their cousins, dinosaurs, sported similar coverings — but that’s not the only hypothesis.
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Behold Thylacoleo, Australia’s Extinct Giant Marsupial “Lion”

By Gemma Tarlach | December 12, 2018 1:00 pm
An artist's rendering of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia's massive marsupial "lion," based on earlier fossil evidence. A new, nearly complete skeleton of the animal, announced today, refines our understanding of its body plan and biomechanics. (Credit: Wikimedia/Jose Manuel Canete)

An artist’s rendering of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia’s massive marsupial “lion,” based on earlier fossil evidence. A complete skeletal reconstruction, announced today, refines our understanding of its body plan and biomechanics. (Credit: Wikimedia/Jose Manuel Canete)

Multiple recently discovered specimens of Thylacoleo carnifex have allowed researchers to reconstruct the extinct animal’s entire skeleton for the first time, revising what we know about how Australia’s largest-ever carnivorous mammal moved. Spoiler alert: It appears that, despite weighing in excess of 200 pounds, the animal was an adept climber. Add that skill to the list of traits, including unique flesh-shearing teeth and a lethal thumb claw, that make Thylacoleo so fascinating. Read More

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Fossil Ichthyosaur Blubber Is Evidence They Were Warm-Blooded

By Gemma Tarlach | December 5, 2018 12:00 pm
ichthyosaur

A roughly 180-million-year-old ichthyosaur fossil includes preserved skin, with pigmentation, and blubber. (Credit: Johan Lindgren)

For the first time, researchers have identified blubber, and other soft tissue, preserved in an Early Jurassic ichthyosaur. The new interpretation of the 180-million-year-old fossil suggests that the extinct marine reptiles were warm-blooded. Read More

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Tool And Butchery Site in Algeria Is 2.4 Million Years Old

By Gemma Tarlach | November 29, 2018 1:00 pm

An Oldowan core freshly excavated at Ain Boucherit from which sharp-edged cutting flakes were removed. [Credit: M. Sahnouni

Ain Boucherit, a site in Algeria, has yielded numerous stone tools, such as this Oldowan core. The tools are up to 2.4 million years old and were found with hundreds of animal bones, several of which show signs of butchery. (Credit: M. Sahnouni)

Stone tools and animal bones with cut marks, excavated at a site in eastern Algeria, are up to 2.4 million years old, the oldest archaeological evidence in North Africa and one of the oldest known examples of butchery. The finds suggest hominins, members of the human family tree, were living in the region almost half a million years earlier than previously thought.
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Tool Trove in Saudi Arabia Tells New Story Of Early Humans

By Gemma Tarlach | November 29, 2018 8:00 am
Stone tools found at Saffaqah, in central Saudi Arabia, include (a), (b), (c) and (d). (Credit: Scerri et al 2018, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-35242-5)

Stone tools found at Saffaqah, in central Saudi Arabia, include (a) a large flake with a smaller flake created during tool manufacture still attached, (b) other large flakes, (c) a handaxe and (d) a large core. (Credit: Scerri et al 2018, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-35242-5)

Hundreds of stone tools and related materials, found in central Saudi Arabia, reveal new information about early migrations of archaic humans into Southwest Asia. The discovery suggests multiple waves of tool-makers may have passed through the region, at least some by following waterways now lost to the desert.
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Oldest Long-Necked Dinosaur Found in Brazil

By Gemma Tarlach | November 20, 2018 6:00 pm
A newly-described dinosaur from Brazil is the oldest long-necked dino ever found, dating back 233 million years. (Credit: Müller et al 2018)

A newly-described dinosaur from Brazil is the oldest long-necked dino ever found, dating back 225 million years. (Credit: Müller et al 2018)

There’s a lot missing from the fossil record when it comes to the earliest dinosaurs. That makes the discovery of not one but three well-preserved skeletons, two of them nearly complete, all the more significant. Even better: The new species they represent, Macrocollum itaquii, is the oldest long-necked dinosaur known. The trio gives us a snapshot of a lineage in transition from small and swift meat-eaters to the mightiest animals ever to walk Earth.
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Elephant Birds, Biggest Ever, Were Creatures Of The Night

By Gemma Tarlach | October 30, 2018 6:01 pm
Giant nocturnal elephant birds are shown foraging in the ancient forests of Madagascar at night. CREDIT John Maisano for the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

Madagascar’s recently extinct elephant birds, once thought to be active during the day, were actually nocturnal, according to new research. (Credit: John Maisano for the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences)

They were enormous, the biggest of the big, and, say authors of a new study reconstructing bird brains, the elephant birds of Madagascar were also nocturnal. The new research reveals surprising details about the animals, their habitats and their closest evolutionary kin.
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Chocolate Was A Thing 1,500 Years Earlier Than Thought

By Gemma Tarlach | October 29, 2018 11:00 am
Millennia before chocolate fountains were mainstays at wedding receptions, the cacao-derived ingredient was an important element for people living in Central and South America. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Millennia before chocolate fountains (above) were mainstays at wedding receptions, the cacao-derived ingredient was important to people living in Central and South America. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s time to rewrite the history of chocolate. Using both archaeological and genomic data, researchers have revealed that consumption of the now globally-loved ingredient started much earlier than thought — and has a different birthplace than many assumed.
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