Fossils

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Down to Earth With: Paleobiologist Gregory Erickson

As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, Gregory Erickson wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He started out as an engineering major, then dabbled with getting a degree in wildlife management. In 1986, having taken numerous science courses, he happened to compare notes with his best friend, a geology major, and realized he was just a few courses shy of obtaining a geology degree himself. Eager to finish college, Erickson signed up for a class in vertebrate paleontology focusing on dinosaurs — a decision that ultimately changed his life.

22 Sep 2017

End of ice age may have been too wet for megafauna

Between 15,000 and 11,000 years ago, dozens of ice-age megafauna species went extinct. Various causes, from climate-driven habitat changes to overhunting to extraterrestrial impacts, have been cited for these extinctions. But new research looking at fossils of large herbivores such as bison, horses and llama supports the idea that a worldwide uptick in moisture was a main driver of the extinction trend.

08 Sep 2017

Asymmetrical fossil feathers fill in timeline of flight

To get off the ground and evolve into flying birds, dinosaurs got a lift from asymmetrical feathers, which are more aerodynamic than symmetrical feathers. The discovery of a new species of asymmetrically feathered dinosaur in northeastern China from the Early Cretaceous is helping fill in the timeline of adaptations that led to flight.

29 Aug 2017

A mammoth king: Was the legend of King Hygelac in "Beowulf" inspired by a fossil find?

Some literary and scientific sleuthing suggests that the eighth-century discovery and misidentification of fossil mammoth bones on the Rhine-Meuse River Delta could have led to the monsters and characters of “Beowulf.”
20 Aug 2017

Baby Louie dinosaur fossil gets a formal name

A baby dinosaur found fossilized with a clutch of eggs in China in the 1990s has finally been identified as an embryo from a new species of giant oviraptorosaur, according to a study in Nature Communications. The specimen, nicknamed “Baby Louie” and once featured on the cover of National Geographic, has been formally classified as a caenagnathid oviraptorosaur named Beibeilong sinensis, which translates to “Chinese baby dragon,” by Hanyong Pu of the Henan Geological Museum in Zhengzhou, China, and colleagues.

16 Aug 2017

Horned dinosaur find a first for eastern North America

Fossils of horned dinosaurs called ceratopsids, the group that includes Triceratops, are usually found in either western North America or Asia. But the discovery of a single ceratopsid tooth in Mississippi, reported in a new study in PeerJ, hints that this group spread into new territory at the tail end of the Mesozoic Era — just prior to going extinct.

20 Jul 2017

Massive trove of dinosaur tracks cataloged in Australia

In a remote region of Western Australia, paleontologists have documented the world’s most diverse assemblage of dinosaur tracks. The scientists found preserved in Early Cretaceous rocks thousands of tracks, 150 of which can be assigned to at least 11, and possibly as many as 21, different known track types representing theropods, sauropods, ornithopods and armored thyreophorans.

18 Jul 2017

Hangover echinoderms survived the Great Dying

The end-Permian extinction event was disastrous for a wide range of organisms on land and in the sea, with as many as 70 percent of terrestrial and 81 percent of marine species dying off. One of the hardest hit marine phyla was the echinoderms, which today includes sea urchins and starfish. Echinoderms are thought to have suffered one of the most severe population reductions in evolutionary history, with only a few members surviving to repopulate the oceans in the Triassic. But in a new study, researchers have identified Triassic fossils from a handful of “hangover” species whose ancestors were previously thought to have gone extinct at the end of the Permian, suggesting the extinction wasn’t quite as cataclysmic for echinoderms as paleontologists have suspected.

12 Jul 2017

Precambrian rumblings of the Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian Explosion, when the ancestors of most of today’s animal groups began appearing in the fossil record about 542 million years ago, was — as the name suggests — a geologically abrupt event. Paleontologists have long thought of the event as marking a boundary between distinct Precambrian and Cambrian faunas. In new research published in Geology, however, scientists report that small, shelly fossils once thought to occur only in Cambrian rocks have been found in rocks dating to the late Ediacaran, just before the Cambrian, implying an earlier start to the explosion than previously thought.

11 Jul 2017

Bipedalism left its mark on human skull: Kangaroos and upright rodents show same signs

The transition to bipedal walking in our ancestors changed the hominin skeleton in many ways. New research looking at how upright walking affected the structures at the base of the skull in both early humans and other bipedal mammals, like kangaroos, is shedding light on a once-controversial marker for bipedalism.

04 Jul 2017

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