Sarmientosaurus : A New titanosaurian dinosaur

Scientists have discovered Sarmientosaurus musacchioi, a new species of titanosaurian dinosaur, based on an complete skull and partial neck fossil unearthed in Patagonia, Argentina, according to a study published April 26, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Rubén Martínez from the Laboratorio de Paleovertebrados of the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco (UNPSJB), Argentina, and colleagues.

Titanosaurs, a type of sauropod, ranged in size from the weight of a cow to that of the largest sperm whale. These plant-eaters have long necks and tails and may have been the most common large herbivores in the Southern Hemisphere landmasses during the Cretaceous. Despite their abundance, the skulls of these animals, critical to deciphering certain aspects of their biology, are exceedingly rare. Of the 60-plus named titanosaurs, only four are represented by nearly complete or semi-complete skulls. Using computerized tomography (CT) imaging, the authors of this study closely examined well-preserved, anatomically ‘primitive’ skull and neck fossils from Sarmientosaurus.

Sarmientosaurus head posture, brain & eye (WitmerLab): Digital renderings of the skull and reconstructed brain endocast and eye of the new titanosaurian dinosaur species Sarmientosaurus musacchioi. At left is the skull rendered semi-transparent in left side view, showing the relative size and position of the brain endocast (in blue, pink, yellow, and red) and the inferred habitual head posture. At center is the isolated brain endocast in left side view, and at right is a left/front view of the skull showing the reconstructed eyeball and its associated musculature. Scale bar equals five centimeters. Credit: WitmerLab, Ohio University

Sarmientosaurus head posture, brain & eye (WitmerLab): Digital renderings of the skull and reconstructed brain endocast and eye of the new titanosaurian dinosaur species Sarmientosaurus musacchioi. At left is the skull rendered semi-transparent in left side view, showing the relative size and position of the brain endocast (in blue, pink, yellow, and red) and the inferred habitual head posture. At center is the isolated brain endocast in left side view, and at right is a left/front view of the skull showing the reconstructed eyeball and its associated musculature. Scale bar equals five centimeters.   Credit: WitmerLab, Ohio University

The researchers found that the Sarmientosaurus brain was small relative to its enormous body, typical of sauropods. However, they also found evidence of greater sensory capabilities than most other sauropods. They suggest that Sarmientosaurus had large eyeballs and good vision, and that the inner ear may have been better tuned for hearing low-frequency airborne sounds compared to other titanosaurs. Moreover, the balance organ of the inner ear indicates that this dinosaur may have habitually held its head with the snout facing downward, possibly to feed primarily on low-growing plants. “Discoveries like Sarmientosaurus happen once in a lifetime,” says study leader Rubén Martínez. “That’s why we studied the fossils so thoroughly, to learn as much about this amazing animal as we could.”

Sarmientosaurus musacchioi is named for the town of Sarmiento in Chubut Province, which is close to the discovery site. The species name also honors the late Dr. Eduardo Musacchio, a paleontologist and professor at the UNPSJB and friend to Dr. Martínez and other team members.

Citation:PLOS. “Newly discovered titanosaurian dinosaur from Argentina, Sarmientosaurus: Approximately 95-million-year-old complete sauropod skull examined, possibly exceptional sensory capabilities.

Key: WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev

How deep sea creatures survive asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs : World Fossil Society News

WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev,

A team led by experts at Cardiff University has provided new evidence to explain why deep sea creatures were able to survive the catastrophic asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago.

Like the dinosaurs themselves, giant marine reptiles, invertebrates and microscopic organisms became extinct after the catastrophic asteroid impact in an immense upheaval of the world’s oceans, yet deep sea creatures managed to survive.

This has puzzled researchers as it is widely believed that the asteroid impact cut off the food supply in the oceans by destroying free-floating algae and bacteria.

However, in a study published in the April issue of the journal Geology, a team led by researchers from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences provides strong evidence suggesting that some forms of algae and bacteria were actually living in the aftermath of the asteroid disaster, and that they acted as a constant, sinking, slow trickle of food for creatures living near the seafloor.

The team were able to draw these conclusions by analysing new data from the chemical composition of the fossilised shells of sea surface and seafloor organisms from that period, taken from drilling cores from the ocean floor in the South Atlantic.

Artist's impression of large asteroid closing in on Earth (stock image). Credit: © Mopic / FotoliaClose

                           Artist’s impression of large asteroid closing in on Earth (stock image).Credit: © Mopic / FotoliaClose

This gave the researchers an idea of the flux, or movement, of organic matter from the sea surface to the seafloor in the aftermath of the asteroid strike, and led them to conclude that a slow trickle of food was constantly being delivered to the deep ocean.

Furthermore, the team were able to calculate that the food supply in the ocean was fully restored around 1.7m years after the asteroid strike, which is almost half the original estimates, showing that marine food chains bounced back quicker than originally thought.

Heather Birch, a Cardiff University PhD from the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences who led the study, said: “The global catastrophe that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs also devastated ocean ecosystems. Giant marine reptiles met their end as did various types of invertebrates such as the iconic ammonites.

“Our results show that despite a wave of massive and virtually instantaneous extinctions among the plankton, some types of photosynthesising organisms, such as algae and bacteria, were living in the aftermath of the asteroid strike.

“This provided a slow trickle of food for organisms living near the ocean floor which enabled them to survive the mass extinction, answering one of the outstanding questions that still remained regarding this period of history.

“Even so, it took almost two million years before the deep sea food supply was fully restored as new species evolved to occupy ecological niches vacated by extinct forms.”

Many scientists currently believe that the mass extinction of life on Earth around 65m years ago was caused by a 110km-wide asteroid that hit Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It is believed the debris from impact starved Earth of the Sun’s energy and, once settled, led to greenhouse gases locking in the Sun’s heat and causing temperatures to rise drastically.

This period of darkness followed by soaring heat, known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, was thought to obliterate almost half of the world’s species.

Scientists also claim that the impact of the asteroid would have filled Earth’s atmosphere with sulphur trioxide, subsequently creating a gas cloud that would have caused a mass amount of sulphuric acid rain to fall in just a few days, making the surface of the ocean too acidic for upper ocean creatures to live.

Cardiff University. “‘Trickle of food’ helped deep sea creatures survive asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160414081843.htm

Key: WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev


13 Million Year Old Gavialoid Crocodylian Reveals Parallel Evolutionary Trend

Citation: Salas-Gismondi R, Flynn JJ, Baby P, Tejada-Lara JV, Claude J, Antoine P-O (2016) A New 13 Million Year Old Gavialoid Crocodylian from Proto-Amazonian Mega-Wetlands Reveals Parallel Evolutionary Trends in Skull Shape Linked to Longirostry. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0152453. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152453

Editor: Laurent Viriot, Team ‘Evolution of Vertebrate Dentition’, FRANCE

ABSTRACT: Gavialoid crocodylians are the archetypal longirostrine archosaurs and, as such, understanding their patterns of evolution is fundamental to recognizing cranial rearrangements and reconstructing adaptive pathways associated with elongation of the rostrum (longirostry). The living Indian gharial Gavialis gangeticus is the sole survivor of the group, thus providing unique evidence on the distinctive biology of its fossil kin. Yet phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary ecology spanning ~70 million-years of longirostrine crocodylian diversification remain unclear. Analysis of cranial anatomy of a new proto-Amazonian gavialoid, Gryposuchus pachakamue sp. nov., from the Miocene lakes and swamps of the Pebas Mega-Wetland System reveals that acquisition of both widely separated and protruding eyes (telescoped orbits) and riverine ecology within South American and Indian gavialoids is the result of parallel evolution. Phylogenetic and morphometric analyses show that, in association with longirostry, circumorbital bone configuration can evolve rapidly for coping with trends in environmental conditions and may reflect shifts in feeding strategy. Our results support a long-term radiation of the South American forms, with taxa occupying either extreme of the gavialoid morphospace showing preferences for coastal marine versus fluvial environments. The early biogeographic history of South American gavialoids was strongly linked to the northward drainage system connecting proto-Amazonian wetlands to the Caribbean region.

Information through WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev

Gryposuchus pachakamue sp. nov. Photograph and schematic drawing of the skull (holotype, MUSM 1981) in dorsal (A), ventral (B), and lateral (C) view. (D) Photograph of the right mandible (MUSM 987) and schematic drawing in dorsal view. Details of the skull (E,F). (E) MUSM 900 in lateral view. (F) MUSM 1681 in occipital view. Abbreviations: an, angular; ar, articular; bo, basioccipital; d, dentary; d4, d22, dentary tooth positions; ec, ectopterygoid; ec.j, jugal surface for ectopterygoid; ec.mx, maxilla surface for ectopterygoid; EN, external nares; eo, exoccipital; f, frontal; fo, foramen; IF, incisive foramen; j, jugal; j.mx, maxilla surface for the jugal; l, lacrimal; ls, laterosphenoid; m22, maxillary tooth position 22; mcq, medial condyle of the quadrate; mx, maxilla; mx.j, jugal surface for maxilla; n.mx, maxilla surface for nasal; n, nasal; OR, orbit; p, parietal; pa, palatine; pf, prefrontal; pm, premaxilla; p2, premaxillary tooth position 2; po, postorbital; ppo, paraoccipital process; pt, pterygoid; ptb, pterygoid bullae; q, quadrate; qj, quadratojugal; qj.q, quadrate surface for quadratojugal;; rac, retroarticular crest; sp, splenial; sa, surangular; so, supraoccipital; sq, squamosal; SOF, suborbital fenestra; STF, supratemporal fenestra. Scale bars, 5 cm.

                                                                                                                       Gryposuchus pachakamue sp. nov.
Photograph and schematic drawing of the skull (holotype, MUSM 1981) in dorsal (A), ventral (B), and lateral (C) view. (D) Photograph of the right mandible (MUSM 987) and schematic drawing in dorsal view. Details of the skull (E,F). (E) MUSM 900 in lateral view. (F) MUSM 1681 in occipital view. Abbreviations: an, angular; ar, articular; bo, basioccipital; d, dentary; d4, d22, dentary tooth positions; ec, ectopterygoid; ec.j, jugal surface for ectopterygoid; ec.mx, maxilla surface for ectopterygoid; EN, external nares; eo, exoccipital; f, frontal; fo, foramen; IF, incisive foramen; j, jugal; j.mx, maxilla surface for the jugal; l, lacrimal; ls, laterosphenoid; m22, maxillary tooth position 22; mcq, medial condyle of the quadrate; mx, maxilla; mx.j, jugal surface for maxilla; n.mx, maxilla surface for nasal; n, nasal; OR, orbit; p, parietal; pa, palatine; pf, prefrontal; pm, premaxilla; p2, premaxillary tooth position 2; po, postorbital; ppo, paraoccipital process; pt, pterygoid; ptb, pterygoid bullae; q, quadrate; qj, quadratojugal; qj.q, quadrate surface for quadratojugal;; rac, retroarticular crest; sp, splenial; sa, surangular; so, supraoccipital; sq, squamosal; SOF, suborbital fenestra; STF, supratemporal fenestra. Scale bars, 5 cm.

Cranial and mandibular specimens referred to Gryposuchus pachakamue sp. nov. (A-C,E-O) Gryposuchus pachakamue from the Middle Miocene of the Pebas Formation, Peru and (D) Gryposuchus cf. pachakamue from the Late Miocene of Urumaco, Venezuela. (A,E) Skull in dorsal (A) and lateral (E) view (MUSM 1681); (B,F) Skull in dorsal (B) and lateral (F) view (MUSM 2032); (C,G,H) Skull in dorsal (C), lateral (G), and occipital (H) view, juvenile (MUSM 1988); (D) Skull in dorsal view (AMU CURS 12). (I,J) Snout in dorsal (I) and (J) ventral view (MUSM 1681). (K,L) Snout in dorsal (K) and ventral (L) view, juvenile (MUSM 1727). (M) Symphyseal mandible in dorsal view (MUSM 2407). (N) Symphyseal mandible in dorsal view, juvenile (MUSM 1439). (O) Symphyseal mandible in dorsal view, juvenile (MUSM 1682). Abbreviations: cqg, cranio-quadrate groove; d, dentary; d4, d11, d18, dentary tooth positions; ec, ectopterygoid; EN, external nares; eo, exoccipital; f, frontal; fcp, foramen carotideum posterior; IF, incisive foramen; ITF, infratemporal fenestra; j, jugal; l, lacrimal; m1, maxillary tooth position 1; mx, maxilla; n, nasal; OP, occlusal pits; OR, orbit; p, parietal; p1, p2, p4, premaxillary tooth positions; pm, premaxilla; po, postorbital; pr, prefrontal; pt, pterygoid; PTF, post-temporal fenestra; q, quadrate; qj, quadratojugal; so, supraoccipital; sp, splenial; sq, squamosal; STF, supratemporal fenestra; v, foramen vagus. Scale bars, 5 cm.

                                                                    Cranial and mandibular specimens referred to Gryposuchus pachakamue sp. nov.
(A-C,E-O) Gryposuchus pachakamue from the Middle Miocene of the Pebas Formation, Peru and (D) Gryposuchus cf. pachakamue from the Late Miocene of Urumaco, Venezuela. (A,E) Skull in dorsal (A) and lateral (E) view (MUSM 1681); (B,F) Skull in dorsal (B) and lateral (F) view (MUSM 2032); (C,G,H) Skull in dorsal (C), lateral (G), and occipital (H) view, juvenile (MUSM 1988); (D) Skull in dorsal view (AMU CURS 12). (I,J) Snout in dorsal (I) and (J) ventral view (MUSM 1681). (K,L) Snout in dorsal (K) and ventral (L) view, juvenile (MUSM 1727). (M) Symphyseal mandible in dorsal view (MUSM 2407). (N) Symphyseal mandible in dorsal view, juvenile (MUSM 1439). (O) Symphyseal mandible in dorsal view, juvenile (MUSM 1682). Abbreviations: cqg, cranio-quadrate groove; d, dentary; d4, d11, d18, dentary tooth positions; ec, ectopterygoid; EN, external nares; eo, exoccipital; f, frontal; fcp, foramen carotideum posterior; IF, incisive foramen; ITF, infratemporal fenestra; j, jugal; l, lacrimal; m1, maxillary tooth position 1; mx, maxilla; n, nasal; OP, occlusal pits; OR, orbit; p, parietal; p1, p2, p4, premaxillary tooth positions; pm, premaxilla; po, postorbital; pr, prefrontal; pt, pterygoid; PTF, post-temporal fenestra; q, quadrate; qj, quadratojugal; so, supraoccipital; sp, splenial; sq, squamosal; STF, supratemporal fenestra; v, foramen vagus. Scale bars, 5 cm.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

World Fossil Society : Earth Day

WFS, World Fossil Society Celebrates Earth Day ………

Earth Day is being commemorated on the 22 April. Held around the world, it’s intended as a moment to reflect on and help preserve the health of the planet – but here are five things that you might not have known about the annual event. World Fossil Society celebrating it along with Riffin T Sajeev and Russel T Sajeev, the youngest paleontologists .

My Earth.... Riffin T Sajeev & Russel T Sajeev

                                                      My Earth…. Riffin T Sajeev & Russel T Sajeev

WFS News: Dinosaurs ‘already in decline’ before asteroid apocalypse

Dinosaurs were already in an evolutionary decline tens of millions of years before the meteorite impact that finally finished them off, new research has found.

The findings provide a revolution in the understanding of dinosaur evolution. Palaeontologists previously thought that dinosaurs were flourishing right up until they were wiped out by a massive meteorite impact 66 million years ago. By using a sophisticated statistical analysis in conjunction with information from the fossil record, researchers at the Universities of Reading, UK and Bristol, UK showed that dinosaur species were going extinct at a faster pace than new ones were emerging from 50 million years before the meteorite hit.

The analyses demonstrate that while the decline in species numbers over time was effectively ubiquitous among all dinosaur groups, their patterns of species loss were different. For instance, the long-necked giant sauropod dinosaurs were in the fastest decline, whereas theropods, the group of dinosaurs that include the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex, were in a more gradual decline.

Dr Manabu Sakamoto, University of Reading, the palaeontologist who led the research, said: “We were not expecting this result. While the asteroid impact is still the prime candidate for the dinosaurs’ final disappearance, it is clear that they were already past their prime in an evolutionary sense.”

‘Losing their edge’

“Our work is ground-breaking in that, once again, it will change our understanding of the fate of these mighty creatures. While a sudden apocalypse may have been the final nail in the coffin, something else had already been preventing dinosaurs from evolving new species as fast as old species were dying out.

“This suggests that for tens of millions of years before their ultimate demise, dinosaurs were beginning to lose their edge as the dominant species on Earth.”

Professor Mike Benton of the University of Bristol, one of the co-authors of the research, said: “All the evidence shows that the dinosaurs, which had already been around, dominating terrestrial ecosystems for 150 million years, somehow lost the ability to speciate fast enough. This was likely to have contributed to their inability to recover from the environmental crisis caused by the impact.”

New research suggests that other factors, such as the break-up of continental land masses, sustained volcanic activity and other ecological factors, may possibly have influenced the gradual decline of dinosaurs. The long-necked giant sauropod dinosaurs were in the fastest decline, whereas theropods, the group of dinosaurs that include the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex, were in a more gradual decline before the asteroid hit. Credit: © satori / Fotolia

New research suggests that other factors, such as the break-up of continental land masses, sustained volcanic activity and other ecological factors, may possibly have influenced the gradual decline of dinosaurs. The long-necked giant sauropod dinosaurs were in the fastest decline, whereas theropods, the group of dinosaurs that include the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex, were in a more gradual decline before the asteroid hit.
Credit: © satori / Fotolia

It is thought that a giant asteroid’s impact with Earth 66 million years ago threw up millions of tonnes of dust, blacking out the sun, causing short-term global cooling and widespread loss of vegetation. This ecological disaster meant that large animals reliant on the abundance of plants died out, along with the predators that fed on them.

The new research suggests that other factors, such as the break-up of continental land masses, sustained volcanic activity and other ecological factors, may possibly have influenced the gradual decline of dinosaurs.

‘Room for mammals’

This observed decline in dinosaurs would have had implications for other groups of species. Dr Chris Venditti, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Reading and co-author of paper said: “The decline of the dinosaurs would have left plenty of room for mammals, the group of species which humans are a member of, to flourish before the impact, priming them to replace dinosaurs as the dominant animals on earth.”

Dr Sakamoto points out that the study might provide insight into future biodiversity loss. He said: “Our study strongly indicates that if a group of animals is experiencing a fast pace of extinction more so than they can replace, then they are prone to annihilation once a major catastrophe occurs. This has huge implications for our current and future biodiversity, given the unprecedented speed at which species are going extinct owing to the ongoing human-caused climate change.”

Citation:Sakamoto, M., Benton, M.J., and Venditti, C. Dinosaurs in decline tens of millions of years before their final extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016 And University of Bristol. “Dinosaurs ‘already in decline’ before asteroid apocalypse.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160418160957.htm> 

KeY; WFS,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev,World Fossil Society

Tullimonstrum gregarium was a vertebrate

A 300-million-year-old fossil mystery has been solved by a research team led by the University of Leicester, which has identified that the ancient ‘Tully Monster’ was a vertebrate — due to the unique characteristics of its eyes.

Tullimonstrum gregarium or as it is more commonly known the ‘Tully Monster’, found only in coal quarries in Illinois, Northern America, is known to many Americans because its alien-like image can be seen on the sides of large U-haul™ trailers which ply the freeways.

Despite being an iconic image — a fossil with a striped body, large tail, a pair of stalks terminating in dark, oval-shaped ‘blobs’ and a large elephant trunk-like proboscis at the head end which has a pincer-like claw filled with teeth — it is a complete mystery as to what kind of extinct animal it was.

This is an image of the 'Tully Monster' fossil and 'meatball' and 'sausage' melanosomes. Credit: University of Leicester

This is an image of the ‘Tully Monster’ fossil and ‘meatball’ and ‘sausage’ melanosomes.Credit: University of Leicester

Professor Sarah Gabbott from the University of Leicester’s Department of Geology said: “Since its discovery over 60 years ago scientists have suggested it is a whole parade of completely different creatures ranging from molluscs to worms — but there was no conclusive evidence and so speculation continued.”

Thomas Clements, a PhD student from the University of Leicester and lead author on the paper, explained: “When a fossil has anatomy this bizarre it’s difficult to know where to start, so we decided to look at the most striking feature — the stalked structures with dark blobs.”

This proved to be the vital clue the team needed to solve the mystery.

In a new study published in Nature, the University of Leicester palaeontologists, along with colleagues at the University of Bristol and the University of Texas in Austin, discovered that the dark ‘blobs’ were actually made up of hundreds of thousands of microscopic dark granules, each 50 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The shape and chemical composition of these granules is identical to organelles found in cells called melanosomes; these being responsible for creating and storing the pigment melanin.

Dr Jakob Vinther (University of Bristol) said: “We used a new technique called Time of Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) to identify the chemical signature of the fossil granules and compared it to known modern melanin from crows and this proved that we had discovered the oldest fossil pigment currently known.”

Thomas added: “Nearly all animals can produce the pigment melanin. It’s what gives humans the range of skin and hair colours we see today. Melanin is also found in the eyes of many animal groups where it stops light from bouncing around inside the eyeball and allows the formation of a clear visual image.”

Identifying fossil melanosomes containing melanin and a lens is the first time it has been conclusively proved that Tullimonstrum had eyes on stalks.

When the team looked closer at the melanosomes they made another exciting discovery.

Professor Gabbott said: “There were two distinct shapes of melanosomes in Tullimonstrum’s eyes: some look like microscopic ‘sausages’ and others like microscopic ‘meatballs’. This evidence was crucial because only vertebrates have two different shapes of melanosome, meaning that unlike previous researchers that thought that Tullimonstrum was an invertebrate (animal without a backbone), this is the first unequivocal evidence that Tullimonstrum is a member of the same group of animals as us, the vertebrates.”

Thomas added: “This is an exciting study because not have we discovered the oldest fossil pigment, but the structures seen in Tullimonstrum’s eyes suggest it had good vision. The large tail and teeth suggest that the Tully Monster is in fact a type of very weird fish.”

Citation:University of Leicester. “Prehistoric peepers give vital clue in solving 300-million-year-old ‘Tully Monster’: Ancient ‘Tully Monster’ was a vertebrate.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160413135659.htm

Key: WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev

Elasmotherium sibiricum: A Siberian Unicorn

With a new discovery, paleontologists have found evidence that a Siberian “unicorn” likely walked the earth at the same time as humans.

Lest visions of graceful white horses with golden, spiraled horns prance through your mind, let’s first establish that this beast is anything but. Much closer to today’s rhinoceroses than horses, Elasmotherium sibiricum was a gray, hulking creature with a single defining feature: a massive horn rising from its head. It was thought that these creatures died out roughly 350,000 years ago, but new evidence indicates that these horny beasts were around much longer than that — existing as recently as 29,000 B.C.

First discovered in the 19th century by Russian paleontologists, the animal, whose name means “thin plate beast,” roamed the Eurasian steppes starting sometime around 2.5 million years ago. It was an herbivore and could weigh up to five tons and grow up to twenty feet long. The impressive horn, which could likely grow up to five feet long, was used for self-defense and digging for food, among other things.

Researchers from Tomsk State University found a well-preserved skull belonging to a Siberian unicorn near the village of Kozhamzhar in modern-day Kazakhstan. They published their findings in the American Journal of Applied Sciences. The horn from this particular specimen, unfortunately, was not recovered.

Researchers think that the individual was part of a group of sibiricum that managed to survive far into the Pleistocene by inhabiting a refugium, or an area protected from environmental disruptions, where it was able to outlive the rest of its species. While the new age range overlaps with dates of human habitation in the area, it is unknown if our ancestors interacted with them.

The researchers who first discovered it are said to have based its name on legends of a giant unicorn roaming the area in ancient times.

Whether that unicorn was large and gray and looked like a rhinoceros, we’ll perhaps never know.

Courtesy: article by Nthaniel Scharping

Key: WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev

A fossilized snake shows its true colors

Ten million years ago, a green and black snake lay coiled in the Spanish undergrowth. Once, paleontologists would have been limited to the knowledge they could glean from its colorless fossil remains, but now they know what the snake looked like and can guess how it acted. Researchers reporting on March 31 in Current Biology have discovered that some fossils can retain evidence of skin color from multiple pigments and structural colors, aiding research into the evolution and function of color.

So far, scientists filling the ancient-Earth coloring book with pigment have been limited to browns, blacks, and muddy reds when melanin lasts as organic material. No other pigments have been shown to survive fossilization. But this snake’s skin was fossilized in calcium phosphate, a mineral that preserves details on a subcellular level.

Preserved Skin in the Fossil Colubrid Snake MNCN 66503 (A) Entire specimen; inset shows anterior. Cream-colored material is fossil skin. Numerals 1–7 indicate sample locations. (B) Overlapping scales. (C–E) Scanning electron micrographs (SEMs) of fractured vertical sections through the skin, showing epidermis (Epi), dermis (De), basement membrane (B), chromatophores (iridophores [I], melanophores [M], and xanthophores [X]), stratum spongiosum (Sp), stratum compactum (Sc), and collagen fibers (C). The voids in SEM images typically represent structures that have separated into the counterpart of the sample during preparation. (F–I) Details of iridophore (F), xanthophore (G), and melanophores (H and I). (J and K) Transmission electron micrographs of xanthophore (J) and melanophore (K).

                                          Preserved Skin in the Fossil Colubrid Snake MNCN 66503
(A) Entire specimen; inset shows anterior. Cream-colored material is fossil skin. Numerals 1–7 indicate sample locations.(B) Overlapping scales.(C–E) Scanning electron micrographs (SEMs) of fractured vertical sections through the skin, showing epidermis (Epi), dermis (De), basement membrane (B), chromatophores (iridophores [I], melanophores [M], and xanthophores [X]), stratum spongiosum (Sp), stratum compactum (Sc), and collagen fibers (C). The voids in SEM images typically represent structures that have separated into the counterpart of the sample during preparation.(F–I) Details of iridophore (F), xanthophore (G), and melanophores (H and I).(J and K) Transmission electron micrographs of xanthophore (J) and melanophore (K).

The fossilized snakeskin maintained the unique shapes of different types of pigment cells, which would have created yellows, greens, blacks, browns, and iridescence while the animal was alive. The pigments themselves are now decayed, but with the cell shapes–specific to each kind of pigment–mineralized, there’s enough information to reconstruct their colors.”When you get fossil tissues preserved with this kind of detail, you’re just gobsmacked when you’re looking at it under the microscope,” says first author Maria McNamara, a paleobiologist at University College Cork. “I was astounded. You almost can’t believe what you’re seeing.”

Color Reconstruction of the Fossil Snake MNCN 66503 (A) Schematic representation of the relative abundance and position of chromatophores in samples of skin from different body regions. Numerals denote samples discussed in the text. See also Tables S1 and S2. (B) Color plate by Jim Robbins.

                                        Color Reconstruction of the Fossil Snake MNCN 66503
(A) Schematic representation of the relative abundance and position of chromatophores in samples of skin from different body regions. Numerals denote samples discussed in the text. See also Tables S1 and S2.
(B) Color plate by Jim Robbins.

McNamara first came across the fossilized snake while conducting her PhD research on fossils from the Libros site in Spain, but she only recently analyzed the specimen. Her team discovered the mineralized skin cells when viewing the fossil under a high-powered scanning electron microscope and then matched the shapes up with pigment cells in modern snakes to determine what colors they might have produced.

“For the first time, we’re seeing that mineralized tissues can preserve evidence of color,” says McNamara. The researchers determined that the fossilized snakeskin had three types of pigment cells in various combinations: melanophores, which contain the pigment melanin; xanthophores, which contain carotenoid and pterin pigments; and iridophores, which create iridescence. All told, the snake was a mottled green and black, with a pale underside–colors that likely aided in daytime camouflage.

“Up until this discovery, the only prospect for skin color being preserved in fossils was organic remains related to melanin,” says McNamara. “But now that we know color can be preserved even for tissues that are mineralized, it’s very exciting.”

Calcium phosphate mainly shows up in fossil bones and shells, but records do exist of so-called phosphatized skin. This discovery opens the door for re-analysis of these fossils, occurring across a wide range of creatures and locations, for evidence of color preservation. And knowing the color of an animal can also clue researchers in to some aspects of its behavior and evolution.

“It’ll mean re-evaluating a lot of specimens that might have been overlooked,” says McNamara.

Citation :Cell Press. “A fossilized snake shows its true colors.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160331133402.htm

Key: WFS,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev,World Fossil Society

Aquilonifer spinosus, an arthropod that lived about 430 million years

Scientists have discovered an ancient animal that carried its young in capsules tethered to the parent’s body like tiny, swirling kites. They’re naming it after “The Kite Runner,” the 2003 bestselling novel.

The miniscule creature, Aquilonifer spinosus, was an arthropod that lived about 430 million years ago. It grew to less than half an inch long, and there is only one known fossil of the animal, found in Herefordshire, England. Its name comes from “aquila,” which means eagle or kite, and the suffix “fer,” which means carry.

Aquilonifer spinosus, the Kite Runner, was an arthropod that lived about 430 million years ago. It carried its young in capsules or pouches tethered to its body. Credit: D. Briggs, D. Siveter, D. Siveter, M. Sutton, D. Legg

Aquilonifer spinosus, the Kite Runner, was an arthropod that lived about 430 million years ago. It carried its young in capsules or pouches tethered to its body.
Credit: D. Briggs, D. Siveter, D. Siveter, M. Sutton, D. Legg

Researchers from Yale, Oxford, the University of Leicester, and Imperial College London described the new species in a paper published online the week of April 4 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Modern crustaceans employ a variety of strategies to protect their eggs and embryos from predators — attaching them to the limbs, holding them under the carapace, or enclosing them within a special pouch until they are old enough to be released — but this example is unique,” said lead author Derek Briggs, Yale’s G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Geology and Geophysics and curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. “Nothing is known today that attaches the young by threads to its upper surface.”

The Kite Runner fossil shows 10 juveniles, at different stages of development, connected to the adult. The researchers interpret this to mean that the adult postponed molting until the juveniles were old enough to hatch; otherwise, the juveniles would have been cast aside with the shed exoskeleton.

The adult specimen’s head is eyeless and covered by a shield-like structure, according to the researchers. It lived on the sea floor during the Silurian period with a variety of other animals including sponges, brachiopods, worms, snails and other mollusks, a sea spider, a horseshoe crab, various shrimp-like creatures, and a sea star. The juvenile pouches, attached to the adult by slender, flexible threads, look like flattened lemons.

Briggs said he and his colleagues considered the possibility that the juveniles were parasites feeding off a host, but decided it was unlikely because the attachment position would not be favorable for accessing nutrients.

“We have named it after the novel by Khalid Hosseini due to the fancied resemblance of the juveniles to kites,” Briggs said. “As the parent moved around, the juveniles would have looked like decorations or kites attached to it. It shows that arthropods evolved a variety of brooding strategies beyond those around today — perhaps this strategy was less successful and became extinct.”

The researchers were able to describe Aquilonifer spinosus in detail thanks to a virtual reconstruction. They reconstructed the animal and the attached juveniles by stacking digital images of fossil surfaces revealed by grinding away the fossil in tiny increments.

Co-authors of the paper were Derek Siveter of the University of Oxford and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, David Siveter of the University of Leicester, Mark Sutton of Imperial College London, and David Legg of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Natural Environmental Research Council, the John Fell Oxford University Press Fund, and the Leverhulme Trust supported the research.

Citation:Yale University. “Chasing after a prehistoric Kite Runner.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160404152916.htm>

Key: WFS,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev,World Fossil Society

Evolution of some of the largest dinosaurs explained

Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev,World Fossil Society,WFS

Scientists from the University of Liverpool have developed computer models of the bodies of sauropod dinosaurs to examine the evolution of their body shape.

Sauropod dinosaurs include the largest land animals to have ever lived. Some of the more well-known sauropods include Diplodocus, Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus. They are renowned for their extremely long necks, long tails as well as four thick, pillar-like legs and small heads in relation to their body.

To date, however, there have been only limited attempts to examine how this unique body-plan evolved and how it might be related to their gigantic body size. Dr Karl Bates from the University’s Department of Musculoskeletal Biology and his colleagues used three-dimensional computer models reconstructing the bodies of sauropod dinosaurs to analyse how their size, shape and weight-distribution evolved over time.

This is a Giraffatitan model of a Sauropod. Credit: Dr Peter L Falkingham (Liverpool John Moores University)

This is a Giraffatitan model of a Sauropod.
                                                                 Credit: Dr Peter L Falkingham (Liverpool John Moores University)

Evolutionary history

Dr Bates found evidence that changes in body shape coincided with major events in sauropod evolutionary history such as the rise of the titanosaurs. The early dinosaurs that sauropods evolved from were small and walked on two legs, with long tails, small chests and small forelimbs. The team estimate that this body shape concentrated their weight close to the hip joint, which would have helped them balance while walking bipedally on their hind legs.

As sauropods evolved they gradually altered both their size and shape from this ancestral template, becoming not only significantly larger and heavier, but also gaining a proportionally larger chest, forelimbs and in particular a dramatically larger neck.

The team’s findings show that these changes altered sauropods’ weight distribution as they grew in size, gradually shifting from being tail-heavy, two-legged animals to being front-heavy, four-legged animals, such as the large, fully quadrupedal Jurassic sauropods Diplodocus and Apatosaurus.

The team found that these linked trends in size, body shape and weight distribution did not end with the evolution of fully quadrupedal sauropods. In the Cretaceous period — the last of the three ages of the dinosaurs — many earlier sauropod groups dwindled. In their place, a new and extremely large type of sauropod known as titanosaurs evolved, including the truly massive Argentinosaurus and Dreadnoughtus, among the largest known animals ever to have lived.

Front heavy

The team’s computer models suggest that in addition to their size, the titanosaurs evolved the most extreme ‘front heavy’ body shape of all sauropods, as a result of their extremely long necks.

Dr Bates said: “As a result of devising these models we were able to ascertain that the relative size of sauropods’ necks increased gradually over time, leading to animals that were increasingly more front-heavy relative to their ancestors.”

Dr Philip Mannion from Imperial College London, a collaborator in the research, added: “These innovations in body shape might have been key to the success of titanosaurs, which were the only sauropod dinosaurs to survive until the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, 66 million years ago.”

Dr Vivian Allen from the Royal Veterinary College London, who also collaborated in the research, added: “What’s important to remember about studies like this is that there is a very high degree of uncertainty about exactly how these animals were put together. While we have good skeletons for many of them, it’s difficult to be sure how much meat there was around each of the bones. We have built this uncertainly into our models, ranging each body part from emaciated to borderline obesity, and even using these extremes we still find these solid, trending changes in body proportions over sauropod evolution.”

Citation: University of Liverpool. “Scientists explain evolution of some of the largest dinosaurs.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 March 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160330085622.htm