If, like me, you like fossils and you like sharks, you’re in luck. A recent re-look at a fossil found more than a decade ago has answered a big question about the story of sharks’ evolution.
Sometimes, paleontology is about looking forward. Sure, the field is focused on uncovering and understanding the past, but to continue to progress, like every other area of science, paleontology needs a constant influx of new and enthusiastic talent. And as more opportunities open up around the world for both academic studies and fieldwork, from Antarctica to the expansive deserts of Africa, the next generation of paleontologists are blazing new trails.
Here at Dead Things, I’ll be spotlighting these rising stars of the field in an occasional Q&A series, The NextGen Paleontologist. Today’s paleo-to-know: Sanaa El-Sayed, who’s making a splash for her description of an ancient fish from her native Egypt.
Qarmoutus hitanensis is the first catfish to be found at the famous Valley of Whales site, and it’s no small fry. Let’s just say that if you were fishing in the area back when Q. hitanensis was swimming around, some 37 million years ago, you’d need a bigger boat.
The extinct woolly mammoth lives on today as a regal symbol of the last ice age, a poster child for de-extinctionists and an occasional guest on HBO’s Game of Thrones. But new research reveals that when it made its last stand on a remote island, the species was a mess.
The period about 100,000 years ago was a crucial one for our species — and a time not well represented in the fossil record. A pair of partial human skulls from Central China are helping to fill in some of the mystery, but their blend of archaic and modern Homo sapiens traits, as well as some Neanderthal characteristics, are also raising new questions.
New Zealand’s tuataras prove the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” like few other animals on the planet (coelacanth, I’m looking at you). While paleontologists have long differed over the animal’s “living fossil” status, new research suggests the tuatara lineage got its groove some 240 million years ago and never lost it.
Here’s some egg-citing news: for the first time in the fossil record, researchers have discovered a specific type of marine reptile that was carrying an advanced embryo at time of death. Why is that interesting? Because the specimen is an archosauromorph, an early member of the same gang of vertebrates that includes dinosaurs as well as pterosaurs, birds and crocodiles, all of which we thought, based on previous evidence, were exclusively egg-layers. Today that changes. Read More
We know the chances of finding dinosaur DNA are virtually nil. Despite recent advances, the oldest genetic material of any animal that researchers have successfully extracted and sequenced is about 700,000 years old (Note: still impressive. Most impressive). DNA degrades and gets contaminated by bacteria and other gunk; it’s unlikely researchers will push back that ancient DNA landmark much further.
But what if I told you they’ve found something potentially even better than DNA to give us insights into the Age of Dinosaurs?
Who’s your daddy, give or take a few hundred million years? Researchers believe a 540-million-year-old creature unearthed in China is our oldest ancestor, and I can definitely see the family resemblance. Read More
While I have mixed feelings about de-extinction, particularly for animals that have been out of the picture for thousands of years (I’m looking at you, woolly mammoth), I’d argue the species with the strongest case for giving it a shot would be Thylacinus cynocephalus, better known as the Tasmanian Tiger or thylacine.
This fascinating marsupial, once found in much of Australia (particularly the island of Tasmania, as its name suggests), went extinct in the 20th century — though reports of alleged sightings continue to accumulate.
Whether any of those sightings are legit, or the thylacine earns a second chance through de-extinction, new research is giving us a novel look into the workings of the thylacine brain and how it might have lived in the wild. Read More
The arms race between prey and predator has been around since the first time one microbe evaded another; it’s a never-ending spiral of adaptations to be faster, stronger or better-defended. Now a new study looking at antipredator defenses across 647 species of mammals has found animals seem to have taken a couple different evolutionary paths to avoid being eaten. Each path came with a trade-off, however. Read More