Marine Reptiles, Origins In Europe? Fossil Placodont Discovered In Netherlands

March 28, 2013 in Animals & Insects, Fossils

The origin of one of the first groups of marine reptiles, the Placodonts, is now becoming clear, thanks to the new discovery of a fossil skull in the Netherlands. The 246-million-year-old skull, discovered in the region that was once the Tethys Ocean, shows that these highly specialized marine reptiles, one of the earliest saurians, very likely originated in Europe.

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The placodonts lived for about 40 million years or so in the flat coastal regions of the Tethys Ocean, from around 250 million years ago to 210 million years ago. Possessing their “trademark” crushing teeth, they fed primarily on shellfish and crustaceans, but were likely opportunistic predators as well. The distinctive features of these teeth really make them stand out in the fossil record; “the upper jaw had two rows of flattened teeth – one on the palate and one on the jawbone – while the lower jaw only had one set of teeth ideal for crushing shellfish and crustaceans.”

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Extinction, Mass Extinctions, Extinct Species, And The Ongoing 6th Great Mass Extinction

March 7, 2013 in Animals & Insects, Fossils, Humans, Plants

Extinction, is the process by which a species, genus, or family, becomes extinct, no longer existing and living in the world. It is the abolition and annihilation of something that previously existed in the world. In the case of biology, it refers specifically to the end of an evolutionary line, or a branch on the tree of life.

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The actual moment of extinction is considered to be when the last individual representative of that species or group is no longer living. But functional extinction can occur considerably earlier than that, as a result of loss of genetic diversity, range, or an ability for the group to recover and breed.

Most types of life, especially animals, are closely tied to their ecological niches and environments. With a loss of their living environment, and its accompanying species, extinction is almost inevitable for many types of life. Species diversification and emergence typically doesn’t occur in these circumstances, it usually happens within healthy ecosystems. The long-period of time that follows large extinction events when no new species emerge is referred to as a dead zone .

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Elasmotherium, The Origin Of Unicorn Legends, Survived Until At Least 50,000 Years Ago, Possibly Until Much More Recently

November 27, 2012 in Animals & Insects, Fossils

In Ice Age Europe and Asia, a large, somewhat horse-like genus of rhinoceros, possessing a large unicorn-like horn lived until at least as recently as 50,000 BP. And it’s possible that they survived until much more recently than that. The likely origin of the ‘unicorn’ myths common throughout the Northern Hemisphere, these animals would have been in contact with humans for hundreds of thousands of years. And though now extinct, the memory of their existence has persisted in the stories of humans.

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Several species of the animals were known to have existed. All belonging to the extinct genus, Elasmotherium, meaning ‘Thin Plate Beast’. They were quite common in Eurasia during the last couple of million years, documented from around 2.6 million years ago to at least as late as 50,000 years ago, possibly much later. Of the three known species, the most famous is E. sibiricum. Roughly the size of a mammoth and possessing a singular enormous horn on its forehead, it’s a very distinct looking animal, and calls to mind the image of many mythical creatures. The horn is presumed to have been utilized for competition with other males, attracting mates, defense from predators, digging up roots, opening water holes, and clearing snow from grass. And like all known species of rhinoceroses, elasmotheres were herbivores. Distinct from any other known rhinoceroses though, the high-crowned molars that they possessed never stopped growing. And very interestingly, its legs were quite a bit different, and longer, than those of modern rhinos. They were very well adapted for galloping, giving it a ‘horse-like gait’, further supporting the idea of its identity as that of the mythological ‘unicorn’.

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Biological Cells Found In Dinosaur Bone Confirmed To Be 67-Million-Year-Old Collagen, Possibly Contain DNA

October 25, 2012 in Animals & Insects, Fossils

In 2005, what appeared to be preserved soft tissue was found inside of a 67-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex bone. This soft material was confirmed by later research to be collagen. And now new research has provided further strong evidence that these are in fact dinosaur proteins, and not the result of microbial contamination.

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The primary evidence is the soft tissue’s reactivity to antibodies that only target specific proteins found in the bone cells of vertebrates. This rules out microbial contamination. And strongly suggests that there are actual T-Rex cells preserved in the soft tissue, and possibly DNA.

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Spider Eating A Wasp, 100-Million-Year-Old Moment Captured In Amber

October 9, 2012 in Animals & Insects, Fossils

An 100-million-year-old amber fossil showing the exact moment that a spider begins to attack a wasp has just been discovered by researchers. The scene is perfectly preserved in time, giving a remarkably detailed look into the distant past. This is the only fossil showing a spider attacking prey caught in its web ever found.

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It’s an unprecedented fossil, that shows “an action that took place in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar in the Early Cretaceous between 97-110 million years ago, almost certainly with dinosaurs wandering nearby.”

“Aside from showing the first and only fossil evidence of a spider attacking prey in its web, the piece of amber also contains the body of a male spider in the same web. This provides the oldest evidence of social behavior in spiders, which still exists in some species but is fairly rare. Most spiders have solitary, often cannibalistic lives, and males will not hesitate to attack immature species in the same web.”

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