PALEO

paleo

Closing a gap in the tetrapod fossil record

The story of how fish evolved into four-legged land animals called tetrapods has long been left incomplete by a 15-million-year gap in the fossil record, known as Romer’s Gap, which stretches from the end of the Devonian Period into the Carboniferous. Whether the gap is due to the actual absence of tetrapod fossils from this interval, or whether such fossils exist but have not been found yet has long remained unclear. A new study, however, shows tetrapod fossils from the base of the gap, adding to a growing list of discoveries that appear to be closing the gap.
 
07 Sep 2015

Earliest stone tools pre-date Homo

Tool making is thought to be one of the defining characteristics of the transition from apes to early man. Now, the discovery of a set of stone tools dating to 3.3 million years ago is pushing back this critical stage of early human development by more than half a million years, and, according to one researcher involved, disproving “the long-standing assumption that Homo habilis was the first tool maker.”

05 Sep 2015

Snake forebear had two back legs but no front legs

The more than 3,400 species of snakes alive today may have descended from one ancestor that lacked forelimbs, but which had small vestigial hind limbs complete with ankle bones and toes, according to a new study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology.
 
30 Aug 2015

Oldest birds unearthed in China

The discovery of two well-preserved fossils in the Sichakou Basin of northeastern China has pushed back the known evolutionary record of birds by as much as 6 million years, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
 
24 Aug 2015

Ancient marine reptiles born alive and ready to hunt

Mosasaurs, giant marine reptiles found in all the world’s oceans during the Late Cretaceous, may have reached up to 18 meters in length, and they were fearsome predators. Little is known, however, about newborn, or neonate, mosasaurs because very few have been found. Now, new research describing a rare fossil find from Kansas reveals that mosasaurs likely gave birth to live young that were born swimming and able to survive alongside the adults.
 
23 Aug 2015

De-evolving the bird beak

The transition from dinosaurs with snouts to birds with beaks was a pivotal change in the evolution of dinosaurs into birds during the Late Mesozoic. Now, biologists have partially reversed this process by transforming chicken embryos into specimens with snout and palate configurations similar to those of small dinosaurs like Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx.
 
21 Aug 2015

A terribly low voice for a new terror bird

A recently discovered fossil skeleton is giving paleontologists a nearly complete look at a new species in the family of big-beaked giants known as “terror birds.” Thought to have grown as tall as 3 meters, these flightless birds roamed South America as apex predators before going extinct about 2.5 million years ago.
 
12 Aug 2015

From fearsome predator to filter feeder

Early in the Paleozoic, giant arthropods known as anomalocaridids were the largest predators in the sea. A collection of finely preserved fossils, described in a new study in Nature and belonging to the Early Ordovician Fezouata Biota of Morocco, is now giving paleontologists a more detailed look at a 2-meter-long variety called Aegirocassis benmoulae. The fossils seem to suggest that at least this species wasn’t a predator after all.
 
10 Aug 2015

Makeovers for two popular dinosaurs

Two of the most recognizable dinosaurs are getting image makeovers. According to recent research, tyrannosaurs weren’t only fearsome predators with a taste for other species, but also may have been cannibals; and Brontosaurus, long thought to be obsolete — as a distinct genus at least — may be making a comeback.
 
06 Aug 2015

One whale's incredible journey details East Africa's uplift

About 17 million years ago, a 7-meter-long beaked whale took a wrong turn off Africa’s east coast and swam hundreds of kilometers up the Anza River before stranding. In 1964, the fossilized remains of the wayward whale were discovered at high elevation in West Turkana, Kenya, and then transported to the U.S., where they were subsequently lost in storage for more than 30 years before being rediscovered at Harvard in 2011. The whale’s incredible journey is now providing crucial clues about the timing of uplift in East Africa.
 
07 Jul 2015

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