Mammoths may have suffered from bone disease

The demise of mammoths, which went extinct by the end of the Pleistocene about 12,000 years ago, is thought to have been brought about by a combination of climate change and overhunting by early humans. A new study indicates that another culprit might have contributed as well: Mammoth bones retrieved from Northern Eurasia — from sedimentary strata close to the animals’ last known appearance in the fossil record — appear to show evidence for bone diseases associated with nutrient deficiencies.
28 Feb 2016

Geologic Column: A Jurassic romance

What do "Jane Eyre," Bevin Boys and icthyosaur-hunting paleontologists have in common? Reader, I’ll tell you.

12 Feb 2016

Fossilized melanin reveals bats' true colors

Studies of pigments preserved in fossil feathers have changed our perception of how colorful dinosaurs were. Now, researchers have revealed the true colors of some of the first flying mammals as well. Two species of bats that lived during the Eocene about 50 million years ago were likely reddish-brown in color, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
02 Feb 2016

Permian-Triassic extinctions timed differently on land and at sea

Life on land and in the sea was nearly eradicated about 252 million years ago in the largest-known mass extinction. The cataclysm, known as the Permian-Triassic (P-T) mass extinction, was likely driven by extensive flood basalt volcanism in Siberia and is thought to have affected global biodiversity simultaneously. However, based on analyses of rocks deposited around the time of the P-T boundary in the Karoo Basin of South Africa, scientists suggest in a new study that the terrestrial turnover in vertebrates occurred earlier than the marine extinction. If true, a second trigger — other than Siberian volcanism — might need to have occurred to explain both events.
31 Jan 2016

Ancient eggshells may reveal dinosaur body temperatures

Whether dinosaurs had metabolisms more like slow, cold-blooded reptilians or fast, warm-blooded birds has long been a mystery. Fossilized bones, which don’t preserve the delicate cell membranes that facilitate heat production in warm-blooded animals, are not likely to answer the question. Fossilized eggshells, however, might be just the ticket to determining the past body temperatures of egg-laying females, which, scientists say, might help address whether the dinosaurs’ metabolisms were warm or cold.
27 Jan 2016

Three new species of extinct baleen whales found

The evolution of baleen whales from toothed whales was gradual, with intermediate fossil species found that possess both teeth and baleen. Now, the discovery of three new whale species on New Zealand’s South Island is filling in the evolutionary story of baleen whales.
21 Jan 2016

Unshelled ancestor fills big gap in turtle family tree

Turtles may seem like innocent creatures, but the uniquely shelled reptiles have long posed a problem for paleontologists. Shelled turtles are plentiful in the fossil record, but specimens of their intermediate forebears — the missing links between ancestral unshelled reptiles and modern turtles — have remained elusive. Now, a closer look at the skull of what may be one of the earliest turtle relatives is filling gaps in the turtle family tree.
28 Dec 2015

Oldest marine turtle found in Colombia

A 120-million-year-old sea turtle recently discovered in Colombia is about 25 million years older than the previously oldest-known marine turtle. Despite its age, the new 2-meter-long specimen is very similar to living marine turtles and was placed in the group Chelonioidea, which includes the modern Hawksbill turtle and green sea turtle.
28 Dec 2015

The Snowmastodon Project: Mammoths and mastodons lived the high life in Colorado

In fall 2011, a bulldozer driver in Snowmass, Colo., unearthed an unprecedented trove of Pleistocene-aged fossils. Over the next few months, “Snowmastodon” became one of the largest fossil excavations ever. Scientists have already learned a lot from the bones.

13 Dec 2015

What happened here?

Why did so many animals end up buried at the Snowmastodon site? What happened to them? “We really struggled to figure out why there were so many bones found in this location,” says Ian Miller, chair of earth sciences and the paleobotanist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science who co-led the Snowmastodon Project. “Was it some kind of deathtrap? Or was there a deadly catastrophe like an earthquake or a landslide?” 
13 Dec 2015