Monday, February 27, 2006

Chasmosaurus CMN 8801

photo © M. Ryan

The nose of CMN 8801 photographed while I've been working at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Gatineau, QC, recently.

The Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN; in french it's called Musée Canadien de la Nature) used to be called the 'National Museum of Canada' and houses Canada's federal collection of fossils, including dozens of types of various dinosaurs. The Powers That Be tell me that the proper way to list a CMN specimen number in a publication is to use 'CMN' not 'NMC'; hence the above specimen is 'CMN 8801' not 'NMC 8801'.

Back when all the fossils were part of the Geological Survey of Canada all the specimens used 'GCS', and you'll see that in older publications.

Everything, The Universe and Life

From UC Davis:

If the history of life were to play out again from the beginning, it would have a similar plot and outcomes, although with a different cast and timing, argues UC Davis paleontologist Geerat Vermeij in the new paper, Historical contingency and the purported uniqueness of evolutionary innovations, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Evolution at this level, like the rest of history, is predictable, perhaps more predictable than people want to imagine," Vermeij (below) said. "Many traits are so advantageous under so many circumstances that you are likely to see the same things again and again.

Vermeij's view contrasts with that put forward by the late Stephen Jay Gould and others, who argued that the history of life is so dependent on improbable events and includes so many possible paths that the chances of repetition are vanishingly small. Vermeij argues that some innovations, such as photosynthesis, plant seeds, mineralized bones and even human language are just such good ideas that they would reappear, although at different times and in somewhat different forms.

Vermeij reviewed 23 evolutionary innovations thought to be unique, including the genetic code, sex, human language and feathers, and another 55 that turn up repeatedly. Most of the unique innovations -- with the exception of human language -- are ancient, more than half a billion years old. Many of the repeated innovations are known only from a few specimens that were part of much larger groups. Vermeij said that many of life's "unique" developments might just appear to be so because other species died out and were not preserved as fossils.

A "unique" innovation might also be the result of intense natural selection. For example, once the genetic code appeared, primitive organisms readily swapped genes, as bacteria still do today. Any variants or competitors to the genetic code that arose later would have been unable to spread and establish.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Rand McNally's Dinosaur World

Here's a not-quite-perfect photo of an artifact from my childhood, still hanging proudly in my parents basement. I suspect that this puzzle must have been associated with some other publication that Rand McNally put out but I've yet to find any reference to it. If anyone has any more info about it please drop me a line.

Argentinian Fossils Seized From Tucson Gem Show

From the Free New Mexican:

Federal agents seized three fossil dinosaur eggs, each the size of a small watermelon, and some 14,000 lbs of other fossils during the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase this month after authorities determined the cache may have been smuggled illegally out of Argentina.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began investigating after receiving a tip from Interpol suggesting that an exhibitor, the Rhodo Co., may have been selling fossils belonging to the Argentine government.

The company's Web site bills it as a supplier of Argentinean rhodocrosite, a pink mineral often used in jewelry, decorative bowls and other items. Customs agents acting undercover took digital photos of the fossils and conferred with paleontologists from Argentina. Interpol said the fossils probably came from Argentina and had significant scientific value.

No arrests have been made, Customs Supervisory Special Agent Lisa Fairchild said.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tor's Dimetrodon

Tor and art © Joe Kubert. Click to enlarge.

Another fun page from Joe Kubert's 'Tor'.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Behaviour of Sabre-Toothed Cats

Inferred behaviour and ecology of the primitive sabre-toothed cat Paramachairodus ogygia (Felidae, Machairodontinae) from the Late Miocene of Spain. 2006. M. J. Salesa et al. Journal of Zoology Vol268: 243

© Frank Frazetta

From the abstract: The Late Miocene (Late Vallesian, MN 10, about 9 Mya) carnivore trap of Batallones-1 (Madrid, Spain) has yielded a large sample of two species of sabre-toothed cats: the puma-sized Paramachairodus ogygia and the tiger-sized Machairodus aphanistus.

Results suggest that P. ogygia was a solitary felid with a low sexual dimorphism index, which in turn indicates low competition between males for access to females, and some degree of tolerance between adults, so that young adults were allowed to share the territory of their mothers for some time after maturity. The machairodont adaptations of P. ogygia indicate that this species was able to subdue and kill prey in less time than pantherines do, thus minimizing the risk of injury and the energetic costs of this action.

Giant Prehistoric Beaver

Illo of Castorocauda lutrasimilis. The artwork of the reconstructed animal is 50 percent of actual fossil size. Credit: Mark A. Klingler/CMNH

A Swimming Mammaliaform from the Middle Jurassic and Ecomorphological Diversification of Early Mammals. 2006. Qiang Ji et al. Science 311: 1123 – 1127.

Abstract: A docodontan mammaliaform from the Middle Jurassic of China possesses swimming and burrowing skeletal adaptations and some dental features for aquatic feeding. It is the most primitive taxon in the mammalian lineage known to have fur and has a broad, flattened, partly scaly tail analogous to that of modern beavers. We infer that docodontans were semiaquatic, convergent to the modern platypus and many Cenozoic placentals. This fossil demonstrates that some mammaliaforms, or proximal relatives to modern mammals, developed diverse locomotory and feeding adaptations and were ecomorphologically different from the majority of generalized small terrestrial Mesozoic mammalian insectivores.

Castorocauda lutrasimilis fossil record. Photo: Zhe-Xi Luo/CMNH

From the article at news by Michael Hopkin:

Castorocauda lutrasimilis (meaning beaver-tailed and otter-like) was found by palaeontologists trawling the collections of the Jinzhou Museum of Palaeontology in China.

Like today's river otter, C. lutrasimilis probably lived in a burrow and hunted fish. And, a bit like a modern beaver, it sported a broad, flat, scaly tail. At almost half a metre long, the animal is the biggest-known mammal-like creature of its time, and shows a hitherto unsuspected diversity in the shapes and sizes of the earliest mammals.

The discovery shows that early mammals and their relatives were experimenting with different lifestyles from the start, rather than waiting for the decline of the dinosaurs before diversifying.

According to researchers, Castorocauda lutrasimilis didn't evolve into beavers, otters, or baseball players. Credit: Mark A. Klingler/CMNH

Neanderthals Pushed Out Quickly

From Michael Hopkin at news:

Advances in the science of radiocarbon dating - a common, but oft-maligned palaeontological tool - have narrowed down the overlap between Europe's earliest modern humans and the Neanderthals that preceded them.

Previous estimates suggested that at least 7,000 years elapsed between H. sapiens arriving in eastern Europe more than 40,000 years ago, and the disappearance of the last known Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) from western France. But newly calculated dates shrink the overlap to 5,000 years.

Carbon dating is based on the rate of decay of radioactive carbon-14 atoms found in living matter such as bones. Because carbon-14 decays to a non-radioactive form over time, older samples give off less radiation.

But carbon-14's half-life is 5,730 years. So any sample older than about 30,000 years will have only 3% of its original carbon-14. For such samples, even tiny amounts of contamination can yield wildly inaccurate results.

Two key advances have put carbon dating back on the map. By 'ultrafiltering' bone samples to get rid of smaller molecules and retain only the larger ones, researchers can prepare far purer samples. And recent analysis of sea sediments from the Cariaco Basin near Venezuela have provided the most accurate record yet of how environmental carbon-14 levels have fluctuated, allowing the technique to be calibrated back to around 50,000 years.

All this means that modern humans' displacement of the Neanderthals was probably swifter than previously thought. Previous dating had suggested that H. sapiens arrived in Europe 43,000 years ago, and covered the continent by 36,000 years ago. But the refined figures are 46,000 and 41,000 years, says Mellars - just 5,000 years to colonize an entire continent.

He suspects that our bulky cousins, despite being well adapted to cold, were killed off by a "double whammy" of competition with humans and a climatic cold snap that occurred at around the same time. "I would be surprised if the two species coexisted in any one place for more than around 1,000 years," Mellars says.

Mid-Cretaceous Cold Not Hot

Recognizing the Albian-Cenomanian (OAE1d) sequence boundary using plant carbon isotopes: Dakota Formation, Western Interior Basin, USA. 2006. Darren R. Gröcke Geology 34: 193–196

High-resolution stable-isotope analysis of fossil wood from a mid-Cretaceous (~100 m.y. ago) terrestrial section in Nebraska provides us with the ability to precisely correlate terrestrial with detailed oceanic records in a way that was not previously possible. Based on matching the shape of the oceanic and terrestrial curves it is evident that a portion was missing in the terrestrial curve, representing less than 500,000 yr. A global regression (sea-level fall) is known to have occurred during this time interval and would explain the missing part of the terrestrial curve. This short-lived regressive phase coincides with a breakdown in oceanic stratification and a marine extinction event. Gröcke et al. interpret this rapid change in sea level as a result of glacier formation; this is contrary to the current understanding of the mid-Cretaceous period, which is considered as a super-greenhouse period. Further investigation of terrestrial sequences will provide a greater understanding of the extent and duration of this sea-level event and whether in fact it was caused by glacial cycles in a greenhouse Earth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Lampreys Hold Key To Vertebrate Evolution

Lamprey type II collagen and Sox9 reveal an ancient origin of the vertebrate collagenous skeleton. 2006. GuangJun Zhang et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published on-line.

From the University of Florida (UF) press release:
Lovable Lamprey holds clues to skeletal evolution
Lampreys, long thought to have taken a different evolutionary road than almost all other backboned animals, are not so different after all, especially in terms of the genetics that govern their skeletal development.

UF scientists found the same essential protein that builds cartilage in this odd animal is collagen, the same structural molecule that is found in all vertebrates with backbones and jaws.

"It was thought collagen was a relatively recent invention in vertebrate evolution that unites us with reptiles, amphibians, sharks and bony fishes, while the lamprey skeleton was based on quite different proteins," said Martin Cohn, an associate professor with UF. "Knowing that lampreys also use collagen to build their skeletons makes sense. Lampreys and jawed vertebrates inherited the same genetic program for skeletal development from our common ancestor."

The results indicate the collagen-based skeleton evolved before the jawed and jawless vertebrates split into different paths, not afterward.

"One of the classic characters in the scientific literature for the past 100 years that has been argued to link all vertebrates, to the exclusion of lampreys and hagfishes, is bone, pure and simple," Michael Caldwell (U of Alberta) said. “An entire taxonomy was created for animals that basically have a head at one end and cartilage to hold it together, but no bone. But this work says the common feature of vertebrates is not the presence or absence of bone, but the presence of a shared gene system that produces cartilage. This conclusion is illuminating and extremely important."

Images from HERE and HERE.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Birds With Teeth

The Development of Archosaurian First-Generation Teeth in a Chicken Mutant. 2006. Harris et al. Current Biology 16: 371–377.
Gone does not necessarily mean forgotten, especially in biology. New evidence shows that the ability to form previously lost organs--in this case, teeth--can be maintained millions of years after the last known ancestor possessed them.
Birds do not have teeth. However, their ancestors did--about 70–80 million years ago. The evolutionary loss of teeth corresponded to the formation of the beak that is present in all living birds. Nonetheless, it has been known that if mouse tooth-forming tissue is in contact with bird jaw tissue, the bird tissue is able to follow the instructions given by the mouse tissue and participate in making teeth, and that these teeth look very much like those of mammals. However, Drs. Matthew Harris and John F. Fallon and colleagues have found that modern birds retain the ability to make teeth even without instruction from their tooth-bearing cousins.

In the new work, the researchers show that the talpid2 strain of chicken harbors a genetic change that permits tooth formation in both the upper and lower jaw of embryonic birds. These teeth show similar developmental position as mammalian teeth and are associated with similar molecular instructions. Furthermore, when comparing the initial development of the structures, the researchers realized that the teeth forming in the chicken did not look like mammalian teeth, but resembled those of the alligator, the closest living relative of modern birds.

The findings strongly suggest that the birds were initiating developmental programs similar to those of their reptilian ancestors. In addition, the authors found that the capacity to form teeth still resides in normal chickens and can be triggered experimentally by molecular signals. Taken together, the new findings indicate that even though modern birds lost teeth millions of years ago, the potential to form them persists.

Info from HERE.

Monday, February 20, 2006

This Day In 1824: Megalosaurus Debuts

Image from HERE.

Don Glut, in his excellent resource, “Carbon Dates”, points out that on this date in 1924 William Buckland read to the Geological Society of London his paper entitled, “Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield”, that was published later that year.

Archaeopteryx An Albatross?

The Jackson Hole Star Tribune has an article looking into the acquisition and availability for study of the new Archaeopteryx specimen purchased by the Wyoming Dinosaur Museum:
The fossil was found in Bavaria some 30 years ago, according to Scott Hartman, science director at the Wyoming museum. It was kept in a private collection unknown to scientists for years until the original owner died and his widow decided to sell it, he said.

The Senckenberg museum was interested in the fossil but couldn't afford to pay the asking price, Hartman said.

Pohl wouldn't disclose the price sought or the amount paid. But Kirk Johnson, chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, said the rarity and completeness of the skeleton leads him to believe "it must be worth millions. How many, I don't know."
Read the rest of the article HERE.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

More T.rex Info from AAAS Meetings

In addition to the work of Dr. Peggy Ostrom previously reported on the Palaeoblog, summarizes some of the other dinosaur( =T. rex) presentations at last week's AAAS annual meeting:

CMNH VP Dept. volunteer, Delina, visits ‘Sue’.
Jack Horner: The bones of maturing tyrannosaurs appear to follow a pattern much more similar to those of birds rather than crocodiles, strengthening the link between the extinct species and present-day birds. Paleontologist Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., said the evidence can be seen by slicing T. rex bones into thin cross-sections, then analyzing the spaces that were once taken up by blood vessels. "The blood that went through the dinosaur bones is equal to or higher than what went through bird bones," Horner said. In contrast, modern-day crocodilians have much lower blood flow.

Larry Witmer: T. rex appears to have had sensory systems that were "even more heightened than we thought," said Ohio University paleontologist Lawrence Witmer. That's based on CT scans of fossilized dinosaur skulls that can indicate the size of areas devoted to particular tasks. Such an analysis indicates that T. rex had "an inner ear structure consistent with a dynamic lifestyle involving rapid tracking movements of the eyes and head," Witmer said. Based on brain size, the senses of smell, sight, hearing and balance were also relatively well-developed.

Witmer & Horner: T. rex was not particularly agile — even though it's portrayed that way in "Jurassic Park" and other dinosaur movies. Based on the biomechanical evidence, Witmer and Horner agreed that T. rex couldn't jump or run in the sense of having both feet off the ground at once. "We have an animal that looks like it should be agile, but isn't. ... I don't think T. rex could dance," Horner said.
Although there are still plenty of mysteries to be settled about T. rex and its extinct kin, Witmer marveled at how much progress has been made already in figuring out how dinosaurs lived. A decade ago, "nobody would be even asking the kinds of questions that Jack and I are asking," he said. Now, he said, "we're starting to answer them."

Born This Day: William Diller Matthew

Feb. 19, 1871 – Sept. 24, 1930

Matthew was a superb mammalian paleontologist and important biogeographic theorist, and also G. G. Simpson's primary mentor. Matthew published voluminiously on the fossil record of mammals and advocated a fully modern approach to taxonomy that emphasized tying scientific names to natural biological populations. His 1930 paper gives a clear statement of this position. Matthew's key biogeographic theory was that waves of faunal migration repeatedly went from the northern continents southwards. This theory, which had obvious racial and political overtones, was justified by a "stabilist" view of paleogeography (i.e., that the continents had never moved from their modern positions), and by evidence from the relatively young fossil record of mammals, at the expense of other data that would have shown the more ancient interconnections among South America, Africa, India, and Australia. Remarkably, Matthew remained a Darwinian despite working for the autocratic orthogeneticist H. F. Osborn for three decades.

Info from HERE. Image from HERE.

Giant Penguin Found In New Zealand

Children on a fossil hunt have discovered the remains of what may have been the biggest penguin to waddle the planet.

The Traveling Penguin in New Zealand.

The remains were found last month near Kawhia and are thought to be 40 million years old. Experts think it may be the finest example of the long-extinct bird found. They say the Kawhia giant dwarfed the huge emperor penguin, and had it lived today would have looked many men in the eye.

The 22-strong expedition from the Hamilton Junior Naturalists Club were out to find fossils for a natural history museum at Te Kauri Lodge, near Kawhia, when one of them noticed what looked like several bones sticking out from a sandstone platform uncovered by the tide near Te Waitere in the Kawhia Harbour. Group leader and eco-guide Chris Templer had dreamed of making such a discovery since he began digging for fossils as a child.

The Traveling Penguin on stage with BJÖRN AGAIN.

It was several weeks before Mr Templer dared to move it and then only after consultation with Te Papa and local Maori. The sea was already starting to erode some material. "Within a matter of probably 18 months it would have gone or been unsalvagable.

Alan Tennyson, curator of fossils at Te Papa, said the find could be internationally significant. Te Papa has only three bones from the largest ancient giant penguin. They were found near Oamaru by Charles Traill before 1872.

The Traveling Penguin with Paul Stanley of KISS.

Scientists know of about 12 extinct penguin varieties in New Zealand, with most represented by only one or two fossilised bones. The completeness of the Kawhia find made it more valuable.

So, where are all the penguin photos from? Why, The Traveling Penguin Site of course! Waaaay back when the palaeoblogger was starting his first adventures in the field he meet up with a mad motorcyclist named Brian Verch in Drumheller (where The Penguin(RT) is) who spend the better part of two summers helping to dig in the Centrosaurus bone bed (BB43) in DPP. Later Brian married the wonderful Bernie, acquired a penguin, and took of with it around the world.

You can follow The Pengin's adventures and see some of the people it’s met HERE.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gwango the Great

Thanks to I now know about "Gwango the Great”, a kid’s book in production by Justin Patrick Parpan.

Cleveland's Monster Maker

Once again alerts me to the work of another talented artist, James Groman, this time from right here in Cleveland. James has lots of great illustrations and sculptures to check out on his site HERE.

Born This Day: John Ostrom

Feb. 18, 1928 – July 16, 2005

Image from HERE.

John Ostrom was professor emeritus of geology and geophysics and curator emeritus of paleontology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. He sparked a renaissance in the study of dinosaurs with his 1964 discovery of Deinonychus (material from the same animal had been collected from the same region by Barnum Brown in 1931 and 1932 but never described). The small carnivorous dinosaur's remains led Ostrom to suggest dinosaurs might be active and warm-blooded, not cold-blooded as scientists then believed.
"Getting into the mindset of seeing them as active, warm-blooded, bird-like – that's a tremendous transformation in how we see the world, and John's work all jump-started that," said Jacques Gauthier, who took over as curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Peabody when Ostrom retired. "John really brought in the dinosaur renaissance."
Ostrom's theories that dinosaurs were more anatomically similar to birds than lizards were met with sizeable controversy, and scientists questioned the accuracy of his claims for years. Ostrom's hypothesis was recently validated when fossils of a feathered dinosaur were discovered in China.

Photo of Dr. Ostrom from HERE.

Ostrom first joined the Yale faculty in 1961, only one year after receiving his Ph.D. in geology and vertebrate paleontology from Columbia University, and he remained at the University until his retirement in 1992. Colleagues described Ostrom as a quiet but meticulous scientist who worked diligently to build a body of evidence to convince other paleontologists that dinosaurs were indeed warm-blooded.

From the

Born This Day: Harry Govier Seeley

Feb. 18, 1839 – Jan. 8, 1909

Seeley attended Cambridge University, but quit before earning a degree. He began working as an assistant to Adam Sedgwick at the Woodwardian Museum in 1859 and was later offered positions with both the British Museum and the Geological Survey of Britain. Rather than accept either, he worked on his own, and only accepted a position with King's College much later in life.

In 1887, Seeley divided dinosaurs the Ornithischia and Saurischia based on the pelvic structure of dinosaurs known at the time. At the time Seeley also argued for argued for the separate origins of the groups even though O.C. Marsh had identified many characteristics common to all dinosaurs.

Seeley was also an authority of pterosaurs, and in 1901 published a popular book on the subject, Dragons of the Air.

Info from HERE. Image from HERE

Friday, February 17, 2006

Harri Kallio's Dodos

Photographer Harri Kallio has brought the Dodo back to life in the wonderful book, "The Dodo and Mauritius Island: Imaginary Encounters".
Fascinated by this mysterious creature, Kallio decided to create his own visual reconstruction of the dodo in its natural habitat. "My idea," he writes, "was not so much to carry out a scientific reconstruction, but rather to place back into the landscape of Mauritius the Dodo of Alice in Wonderland—a character faithful to its appearances in art history, a character that is part myth and part real."
You can watch a slide show of his Dodo's in their natural habitat courtesy of by clicking HERE. The slide show should start automatically.

Read the complete article about Kallio and his Dodos HERE.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Next Big Dino News Will Be Small

From the Michigan State University press release:
The next big answers about dinosaurs is predicted to come from some very small remains.
"Molecules are fossils, too," said Dr. Peggy Ostrom from the Dept. of Zoology at Michigan State University. "We've shown that proteins survive in very old fossils, and proteins can tell us about diseases, about where prehistoric animals fit in the food chain, what they ate and who they are related to."

Ostrom joins six other scientists engaged in various versions of CSI: Jurassic Park. The symposium, "New Approaches to Paleontological Investigation," at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting Friday explores cutting edge technology used to divine new information from ancient bits of bone and tissue.

One of the field's hottest topics is whether proteins and DNA survive the test of time. Ostrom is putting her bet on proteins and is working with an international team from Michigan, the Smithsonian and York and Cardiff Universities in the UK to track down these building blocks of bone.

"It just takes two or three pinches of bone powder to find molecular evidence," Ostrom said. "We have protein sequences from material believed to be in range of half a million years old. We are carefully working our way back in time."

She said it appears some proteins can endure longer than DNA. In a recent study Ostrom's students found that a protein in bone in an environment void of oxygen (say, if it's been resting in a swamp) can last for 200 hours at temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius.

"If we have a protein sequence from bone, we can tell if the material is an original part of the organism that will provide interesting information about its past. We can know where it came from." Ostrom said. "Our goal is to use a variety of technologies new to paleontology to develop a deeper understanding of prehistoric life -- and everyone dreams of embellishing our understanding of dinosaurs."

Note: I’ll be posting more from this conference over the next 48 hours as the various talks are given and the embargos come off the press releases.

Dr. Ostrom (above, with her husband, Dr. Ostrom) and the palaeoblogger are collaborating on several projects right now looking at the information that can be derived from the isotopic make up of various dinosaur bones. I’ll be visiting Peggy’s lab in late April and giving a couple of talks on campus while I'm there.

Introducing the Marsh Pick

From Popular Science August, 1932:

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tor's Stegosaurus

Tor and art © Joe Kubert.

Another fun page from Joe Kubert's 'Tor'.

Darwin's "Warm Little Pond"

Life on Earth was unlikely to have emerged from volcanic springs or hydrothermal vents, according to a leading US researcher.
The findings are being discussed at an international two-day meeting to explore the latest thinking on the origin of life on Earth. David Deamer, emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said ahead of his presentation: "It is about 140 years since Charles Darwin suggested that life may have begun in a 'warm little pond'. We are now testing Darwin's idea, but in 'hot little puddles' associated with the volcanic regions of Kamchatka [Russia] and Mount Lassen [California, US]."

"The results are surprising and in some ways disappointing. It seems that hot acidic waters containing clay do not provide the right conditions for chemicals to assemble themselves into 'pioneer organisms.'"

Professor Deamer said that amino acids and DNA, the "building blocks" for life, and phosphate, another essential ingredient, cling to the surfaces of clay particles in the volcanic pools.

"The reason this is significant is that it has been proposed that clay promotes interesting chemical reactions relating to the origin of life," he explained.

"However," he added, "in our experiments, the organic compounds became so strongly held to the clay particles that they could not undergo any further chemical reactions."

This seems to contradict this previous Palaeoblog entry.

Read the rest HERE.

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy V Day from Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine, and the crocodiles.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Are Protochordates Chordates?

Image from HERE.

Are protochordates chordates? 2006. M. Raineri. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society Vol. 87: 261

Abstract:This paper challenges the widely accepted view that protochordates (lancelets and tunicates) should be included together with vertebrates within the monophyletic assemblage of the chordates since they share a few distinguishing characters, such as a dorsally located notochord and central nervous system (CNS). The homology of these axial structures is not supported convincingly by morphology and molecular biology. Besides, for notochord and CNS to be dorsal, the embryos of protochordates, unlike those of vertebrates, should be orientated with the blastopore coincident with the dorsal side. This embryonic orientation is never reported in other bilaterians and is inconsistent with the genetic control of the body axes. Alternatively, protochordates could be orientated just as the vertebrates according to the regulation of axial patterning. In this case, the notochord and CNS appear to be located on the ventral side. As suggested by molecular and structural data, they may correspond to the stomodaeal/ventral midline cells and CNS of gastroneuralians. This conclusion may have far-reaching implications concerning the origin of the vertebrates and the evolution of nervous systems and neural crest/placodes.

b, adult; c, larval tunicate. Image from HERE.

Hooke's Lost Manuscript Valued at £1million

A "lost" science manuscript from the 1600s found in a cupboard in a house during a routine valuation is expected to fetch more than £1m at auction.
The hand-written document - penned by Dr Robert Hooke - contains the minutes of the Royal Society from 1661 to 1682, experts said. It was found in a house in Hampshire, where it is thought to have lain hidden in a cupboard for about 50 years.

Dr Robert Hooke, who died in 1703, has been described as the unsung hero of science and "England's Leonardo". As one of the original Fellows of the Royal Society, Dr Hooke recorded hundreds of inventions, demonstrations and experiments by leading scientists, but his name is often forgotten. He published the world's first comprehensive illustrated book on microscopy and coined the word "cell".

He pioneered the modern watch, designed scientific instruments and devices, as well as the sash window, the velocipede, and the universal joint used in motorized vehicles. He also helped pave the way for the steam engine and, with Sir Christopher Wren, was responsible for rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666.

Image and article from the site.

Spinosaurus Snout

Photos © William Monteleone

Here are some photos of a cast of the snout (displayed upside down) of what appears to be the Spinosaurus specimen MSNM V4047 discussed in this previous article. The photos were taken at the Tucson fossil show in 2002. It looks like they restored the teeth back to a more complete state.

Thanks to paleo-artist William Montelone for these. Visit his web site as

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Seeing The Fossil Universe

Cosmological Magnetic Field: A Fossil of Density Perturbations in the Early Universe. 2006. K. Ichiki, et al. Science 311: 827 – 829.

Go to Mission Control.

From the abstract: The origin of the substantial magnetic fields that are found in galaxies and on even larger scales, such as in clusters of galaxies, is yet unclear. If the second-order couplings between photons and electrons are considered, then cosmological density fluctuations, which explain the large-scale structure of the universe, can also produce magnetic fields on cosmological scales before the epoch of recombination. By evaluating the power spectrum of these cosmological magnetic fields on a range of scales, we show here that magnetic fields of 10–18.1 gauss are generated at a 1-megaparsec scale and can be even stronger at smaller scales. These fields are large enough to seed magnetic fields in galaxies and may therefore have affected primordial star formation in the early universe.

Born This Day: Barnum Brown

Feb. 12, 1873 – Feb. 5, 1963

Image from HERE.

From the AMNH bio:

The greatest dinosaur hunter of the twentieth century was Barnum Brown, who began his career at the American Museum of Natural History in 1897 as an assistant to Henry Fairfield Osborn. Brown traveled all over the world collecting dinosaurs and fossil mammals. Some consider him to be the last of the great dinosaur hunters.

Brown was always impeccably dressed, often wearing a tie and topcoat even in the field. He was a shrewd "horse trader" when it came to wheeling and dealing for fossil specimens. Many of Brown's greatest discoveries, including the first specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex ever found, are displayed in the Museum's Dinosaur Halls.

Read more about Brown HERE.

Born This Day: Charles Darwin

Feb. 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882

From the AMNH introduction to their exhibit on Darwin:
Keenly observing nature in all its forms—from fossil sloths to mockingbirds, primroses to children—Darwin saw that we all are related. Every living thing shares an ancestry, he concluded, and the vast diversity of life on Earth results from processes at work over millions of years and still at work today. Darwin's explanation for this great unfolding of life through time—the theory of evolution by natural selection—transformed our understanding of the living world, much as the ideas of Galileo, Newton and Einstein revolutionized our understanding of the physical universe.

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection underlies all modern biology. It enables us to decipher our genes and fight viruses, and to understand Earth's fossil record and rich biodiversity. Simple yet at times controversial, misunderstood and misused for social goals, the theory remains unchallenged as the central concept of biology. Charles Darwin, reluctant revolutionary, profoundly altered our view of the natural world and our place in it.
Watch the American Museum of Natural History video on Darwin HERE, part of their current exhibit running to May 29, 2006.

Darwin’s biography from the British Library HERE.
Learn more about Darwin Days HERE.
Get you Darwin Birthday Party pins HERE.
The Darwin Awards are HERE.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My World? My Word!

Click to enlarge.

By all accounts Wally Wood led a troubled life but he created some of the best art to ever grace a comic book page. ‘My World’ is one of Wally’s most famous stories done for the EC Comics line back in the 50’s before McCarthy’s witch hunt shut them down. ‘My Word’ was Wally’s cynical reworking of that story done in the 1970’s for Flo Steinberg’s “Big Apple Comix" (Wally’s cover below). But man, could Wally ever draw dinosaurs!

For more info on the man, and a ton of great artwork, pick up the book, “Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood”.

Party Like It’s 1809!

From LiveScience:

Tomorrow is Darwin’s Birthday so Defenders of Darwin's theory of natural selection are planning hundreds of events around the world Sunday, the 197th anniversary of his birth, saying recent challenges to the teaching of evolution have re-emphasized the need to promote his work.

"The people who believe in evolution ... really just sort of need to stand up and be counted,'' said Richard Leventhal, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and the museum's celebration will include birthday cake, a little badminton (reportedly a favorite game of Darwin's) and a reading of his "The Origin of Species" by student Bill Wames, who volunteered to dress up as the 19th-century naturalist.

"Come to my party!" Wames, in costume, bellowed Wednesday while handing out fliers around campus. "Sunday at one o'clock!"

At the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, philosophy students will got a jump-start on Darwin Day on campus Friday by singing Darwin carols they composed.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Spinosaurus Rex?

New information on the skull of the enigmatic theropod Spinosaurus, with remarks on its size and affinities. 2005. C. Dal Sasso, et al. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 25: 888-896

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From the London Telegraph comes this report:

Newly obtained remains of Spinosaurus suggest it stretched about 56ft from nose to tail and weighed about eight tons, dwarfing its closest rival meat-eaters.

The vicious behemoth preyed among the swamps, bogs and muddy river banks of the Sahara during the Cretaceous Period - about 100 million years ago. Unusually for a large predator, fossil evidence suggests most of its diet consisted of fish.

Analysis of skull fragments suggest that when Spinosaurus squared up to T.rex in the 2001 film Jurassic Park III, its gigantic proportions were under-estimated. Dr Paul Barratt, a dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum, said: "These measurements would make Spinosaurus considerably larger than T rex and the largest land-based predator ever to have lived."

Cristiano Dal Sasso and colleagues of the Civic Natural History Musuem in Milan, Italy, have carried out an examination of a spinosaur snout measuring 3ft 3in that was unearthed in Morocco. They also analysed previously unidentified bones from the upper rear of the skull. From these the researchers calculated that the skull was 5ft 9in long.

Note: Without having read the paper I'd suggest that extrapolating total body length (or even skull length) based on a few skull fragments is problematic at best.

3D Museum Now On-Line

Dr. Ryosuke Motani from the University of California and his colleagues have just launched, a website displaying 3D shapes of bones and shells, both fossil and recent.

Whether you are a Mac, Windows, or Linux user, you should be able to play with 3D shapes as long as you have Java enabled (chances are you already have done so).

He hopes that this website will become a useful teaching and PR resources for our field, as the collection grows. Three different 3D file formats are provided, one of which is usable in PowerPoint presentations for your classes (unfortunately, this format (*.3dc) cannot reproduce vertex colors, so the objects are monotone). See the website for details.

The project is a part of an NSF grant, and the website is hosted by the Department of Geology, UC Davis.

Image: A 3D reconstruction of the shoulder girdle of the genus Ichthyosaurus (probably I. communis), used by McGowan and Motani (2003). It is impossible to make the coracoids contact the clavicles, as has been traditionally believed. Go to the web site to manipulate it in 3d space.

Polygon counts: Original 1,157,652; 30,000 before compression
Time: Early Jurassic(Sinemurian?)
Locality: Dorset, UK
Specimen: Cast

Furby As A Dinosaur

Watch the video HERE

This cute dino toy has 8 microprocessors that control 14 servomotors and respond to signals from 38 sensors. The dino also moves fluidly - it’s destined to be the must have toy of 2006!

Ugobe designers and engineers studied the long extinct Camarasaurus, a dinosaur from the Jurassic period. Pleo, a Ugobe Life Form is the authentic recreation born from that study. UGOBE's designers and engineers recreated Pleo's physiology from the fossils of the original. His height and weight are consistent with that of a one-week old infant Camarasuarus.

Pleo is equipped with senses for sight, sound, and touch. He learns as he explores his environment. He will exhibit genuine reactions to sensory stimuli. Every Pleo begins life with certain tendencies but, interaction with his environment has subtle effects on his behavior. Every Pleo eventually exhibits a unique personality.
Get more info from the Ugobe web site.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Voice of Gojira Silenced

From Arts & Entertainment:

Prolific Japanese composer Akira Ifukube, best known for writing many musical scores for the Godzilla film franchise, has died at the age of 91.

Over his lifetime, Ifukube composed hundreds of musical works, including 1935's Japanese Rhapsody, an early piece that won a young composers prize established by Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin and helped bring him to international attention.

Born in 1914, Ifukube grew up in the city of Kushiro, located on Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido. He was highly influenced by the island's indigenous Ainu people and, after teaching himself to compose music as a teen, chose to weave the Ainu's improvisational musical style with that of his favourite Western classical composers, such as Igor Stravinsky.

In the late 1940s, Ifukube began composing film scores. His most famous was the score he composed for Ishiro Honda's 1954 black-and-white classic Gojira (a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla and whale). Translated to Godzilla in English, the movie spawned many installments and became a cult hit franchise around the globe.

The classical composer also had a hand in creating two of the monster franchise's most famous sound effects: the giant lizard's roar and its heavy footfalls. Over the years, Japan bestowed several honours on Ifukube, the most recent of which was in 2003 when he was named a person of cultural merit — one of the country's most distinguished honours.

Images from HERE and HERE

New Crested Tyrannosaur

A basal tyrannosauroid dinosaur from the Late Jurassic of China. 2006. Xing Xu, James M. Clark, Catherine A. Forster, Mark A. Norell, Gregory M. Erickson, David A. Eberth, Chengkai Jia and Qi Zhao. Nature 439: 715-718

Illustration courtesy Zhongda Zhang/IVPP

Abstract: The tyrannosauroid fossil record is mainly restricted to Cretaceous sediments of Laurasia, although some very fragmentary Jurassic specimens have been referred to this group. Here we report a new basal tyrannosauroid, Guanlong wucaii gen. et sp. nov., from the lower Upper Jurassic of the Junggar Basin, northwestern China. G. wucaii is the oldest known tyrannosauroid and shows several unexpectedly primitive pelvic features. Nevertheless, the limbs of G. wucaii share several features with derived coelurosaurs, and it possesses features shared by other coelurosaurian clades. This unusual combination of character states provides an insight into the poorly known early radiation of the Coelurosauria. Notably, the presumed predatory Guanlong has a large, fragile and highly pneumatic cranial crest that is among the most elaborate known in any non-avian dinosaur and could be comparable to some classical exaggerated ornamental traits among vertebrates.

From National
The earliest in a line of dinosaurs that gave rise to Tyrannosaurus rex has been discovered in China.
Scientists say the 160-million-year-old Guanlong wucaii ("crowned dragon") which had simple feathers and an elaborate head crest, is the oldest known tyrannosaur—a group of swift, flesh-eating dinos that culminated in T. rex some 90 million years later. The diminutive dinosaur stood 1.1 meters tall and measured 3 meters long.

Two specimens of the previously unknown dinosaur have been found in the fossil-rich badlands of Xinjiang province in northwest China. The primitive tyrannosaurs were discovered together. They appeared to have become fatally trapped in a prehistoric mud pit, according to Xing Xu, professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, China. The carnivores were possibly lured to their deaths by other mud-stricken animals, which also left behind fossil remains.

About as thick as a tortilla and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) high, the crest certainly wouldn't have been much use as a weapon, said study co-author James M. Clark, biology professor at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Fossil bone-growth rings suggest one animal died at age 12, while the other was only 6. This younger specimen, yet to reach sexual maturity, had a much smaller crest.

The team identified Guanlong as a tyrannosaur based on a number of physical characteristics, including U-shaped front teeth, the makeup of its pelvis, and the shape of its skull. Unlike T. rex, however, the animal had three finger-claws instead of two, a shallow snout, and long arms. "Guanlong represents a specialized lineage very early in the evolution of tyrannosauroids, so it has only a few features of this group," study co-author Clark said.

Read the Florida State University Press release for more information and the part that Dr. Greg Erickson played in the research.