If these fossilized turtles had a final thought, it was probably, “If you’ve gotta go, go out with a bang!” New evidence suggests that the ancient reptiles died while mating and were preserved in their final embrace.
Germany’s Messel Pit Fossil Site contains black oil shale that has preserved even the soft tissues of tens of thousands of 47-million-year-old fossils. Among them, the only ones found in pairs were nine sets of coupled carettochelyid turtles, and although previous research speculated that the reptiles were copulating, there was no proof until now. German researchers discovered that the turtles were all in male-female pairs (in the above image, the larger fossil on the left is the female), and that their tails were aligned, a position that indicates the close contact of a mating stance.
In 2004, a street in Taiwan got showered in whale guts. The putrefying whale was on route to a necropsy when pent-up gas blew a hole in its body and entrails spewed onto unfortunate passersby. One hundred to 200 million years earlier, an ichthyosaur—a dolphin-looking marine reptile contemporary to dinosaurs—died and became a fossil. Since embryos were scattered around the ichthyosaur mother’s body, some paleontologists believed the decaying animal had met an end as explosive as the whale’s.
The exploding-carcass theory has been used to explain why so many ichthyosaur fossils have been found with embryos ejected or bones oddly scattered. But as with old bones, evidence is frustratingly thin: the theory was mostly based on exploding whales as proof of principal. Scientists who want to test this hypothesis today don’t have any ichthyosaur carcasses at their disposal…but there are a lot of humans around now, many of them dead. A new study measuring gas pressure in 100 bloating human carcasses found the pressure (0.035 bar) to be nowhere near high enough to cause an explosion underwater (more than 5 to 15 bar).
Lucy flew all the way from Ethiopia for nothing.
Seattle officials paid $2.25 million for the fossilized remains of the 3.2 million-year-old hominid known as Lucy to be on display at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. The problem is that no one wanted to visit the world’s oldest and best preserved human fossil, even though this is the first time she has ever traveled outside of Africa.
So far, Lucy’s been in Seattle for 5 months, and only 60,000 people have visited the exhibit (officials had expected more like 250,000). As a result, the science center has lost half a million dollars, resulting in layoffs of 8 percent of its staff and a wage freeze.
Lucy was supposed to go on a six-year, 10-city tour. The event started out strong: Visitors in Houston loved Lucy so much that officials extended her stay for a few months. By the exhibit’s end, Houston’s museum had clocked in more than 170,000 visitors. But a poor turnout in Seattle is making museums cancel their plans. The Field Museum in Chicago has pulled out, and the Denver museum of Nature and Science was apparently worried that transporting Lucy might damage her fragile remains.