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

Volunteering to muck around in the mud

The Snowmastodon Project team pulled thousands of fossils out of snowy mud in a matter of months, a herculean task that would not have been as successful without a small army of volunteers, many of whom came from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s paleontology program. The program trains interested laypeople in the art of collecting, studying and curating fossils, one of the only programs like it in the world. 
13 Dec 2015

Potentially venomous extinct mammals discovered in Zambia

Venomousness is rare among both living mammals and their extinct relatives, with only a handful of modern mammals, like the platypus and some species of shrews, known to produce venom. But the discovery of a mammal that lived about 255 million years ago in what is now Zambia may be one of the earliest venomous mammals. 
12 Dec 2015

Down to Earth With: Paleobiologist Nigel Hughes

I first met Nigel Hughes, a paleobiologist at the University of California at Riverside (UCR), in 2010. He took me on a brisk walk through the UCR Botanical Gardens, where the trees kept us cool in the hot Southern California sun while he told me all about trilobites. 
03 Dec 2015

Moroccan fossil formation reshapes timeline of Early Phanerozoic evolution

Many new life-forms emerged during both the Cambrian Explosion and the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, but a lack of fossils from the 40-million-year span in between has left scientists wondering if a period of evolutionary stasis took hold between the two booms. Now, the discovery of a prodigious bed of fossils in Morocco that date to between 485 million and 444 million years ago indicates that the Ordovician boom may actually have been a continuation of the Cambrian Explosion, with little to no evolutionary downtime in between.
02 Dec 2015

Butchery or trampling? Controversy marks ancient animal bones

At some point in early human evolution, our ancestors began regularly hunting, butchering and consuming meat from large game, a protein- and fat-rich change in diet that may have helped fuel the development of a larger and more complex brain. When exactly this change took place has long been a matter of debate. Stone tools from 2.6 million years ago have offered the most solid evidence to date. But the discovery several years ago of a pair of 3.4-million-year-old animal bones in Dikika, Ethiopia, that appear to show cut marks indicative of butchery could push the date back significantly. Some researchers think the bones were marked by incidental trampling, however, not by early humans. 
22 Nov 2015

Bite marks offer best evidence yet of T. rex cannibalism

Tyrannosaurs were not the most discerning of carnivores. In addition to dining on other dinosaurs, like Triceratops and duck-billed hadrosaurs, it appears the fearsome apex predators weren’t averse to making a meal of their own kind. A series of deep bite marks on a 66-million-year-old leg bone uncovered recently in eastern Wyoming may be the best evidence yet of Tyrannosaurus rex cannibalism.

10 Nov 2015