Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Juvenile Diplodocus Skull

Description of a nearly complete juvenile skull of Diplodocus (Sauropoda: Diplodocoidea) from the Late Jurassic of North America. J.A. Whitlock, et al. JVP 30: 442–457.

Diplodocus carnegii adult and juvenile feeding,
Illo: Mark A Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The skull of a juvenile sauropod dinosaur, rediscovered in the collections of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History, illustrates that some sauropod species went through drastic changes in skull shape during normal growth.

"Diplodocus had an unusual skull," said Jeff Wilson, "Adults had long, square snouts, unlike the rounded or pointed snouts of other sauropods. Up until now, we assumed juveniles did too."

The small Diplodocus skull, however, has a pointed, rather than square, snout like the adults. This gives us a whole new perspective on what these animals may have looked like at different points in their lives."

The researchers believe these changes in skull shape may have been tied to feeding behavior, with adults and juveniles eating different foods to avoid competition. Young Diplodocus, with their narrower snouts, may also have been choosier browsers, selecting high quality plant parts.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trackways Made By Two Dinosaurs, Probably Megalosaurus

I have not posted any music links for a long time now. So, go download this lost beauty by Chris Newman at Mutant Sounds

Monday, March 29, 2010

Premiered This Day: Gorgo

Gorgo premiered on this day in 1961. Directed by Eugène Lourié from a script by John Loring and Daniel Hyat, it featured a man in a rubber suit ala Toho’s Godzilla.

Over at Atomic Surgery the good doctors present a double bill to commemorate the day: a story by Steve Ditko from Gorgo #15 and a Gorgo filmbook from Famous Monsters of Filmland #50.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Diet of Giant Dino-Eating Crocs

A Deinosuchus lunges at an Albertosaurus in an artist's conception.
Illustration by Raul D. Martin, National Geographic Stock

Rock-hard feces and oddly bitten bones are helping to flesh out one of the biggest crocs of prehistory, researchers say.

"We're pretty sure it was the apex predator in this region," said Samantha Harrell, an undergraduate at Columbus State University in Georgia, who presented her research March 17 at a Geological Society of America meeting in Baltimore.

Read the story at National Geographic News.

1st Southern Tyrannosaur

A Southern Tyrant Reptile. 2010. R. B. J. Benson, et al. Science 327: 1613

A 30 cm long pubis (above) found at Dinosaur Cove in Victoria, Australia has been identified as belonging to an ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex. The find sheds new light on the evolutionary history of this group of dinosaurs. It also raises the crucial question of why it was only in the north that tyrannosaurs evolved into the giant predators like T. rex.

"Although we only have one bone, it shows that 110 million years ago small tyrannosaurs like ours might have been found worldwide. This find has major significance for our knowledge of how this group of dinosaurs evolved." says Dr Benson.

The bone would have come from an animal about 3m long and weighing around 80 kg, similar to a human, and would have had the large head and small arms that make tyrannosaurs so distinctive.

Compared with T. rex, which lived about 70 million years ago at the end of Cretaceous period, NMV P186069 lived earlier during the Cretaceous, around 110 million years ago.

While answering the question of whether or not tyrannosaurs lived in both the southern and northern hemispheres, the new find leaves another, deeper mystery: why did tyrannosaurs evolve into giant predators such as T. rex only in the northern hemisphere? link

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Born This Day: Richard Denning

Denning (March 27, 1914 – Oct. 11, 1998) had a long career in Hollywood before moving into TV (notably Hawaii Five-O) in the 1960’s.

He had starring roles in a number of Sci-Fi flicks including Unknown Island (1948), Day the World Ended (1955), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) and Black Scorpion (1957), but he takes a bow here for playing the greedy Dr. Mark Williams in 1954’s, Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Died This Day: James Hutton

Hutton (June 3, 1726 – March 26, 1797) is the 'Father of Uniformitarianism' which explains the features of the Earth's crust by means of natural processes over geologic time. Link

More Info Here

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Unknown Hominin from Siberia

The complete mitochondrial DNA genome of an unknown hominin from southern Siberia. 2010. J. Krause, et al. Nature, published online 24 March.

Hmm..., we haven’t featured a Turok cover for a while. Let’s fix that right now...

Abstract: With the exception of Neanderthals, from which DNA sequences of numerous individuals have now been determined, the number and genetic relationships of other hominin lineages are largely unknown.

Here we report a complete mitochondrial (mt) DNA sequence retrieved from a bone excavated in 2008 in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. It represents a hitherto unknown type of hominin mtDNA that shares a common ancestor with anatomically modern human and Neanderthal mtDNAs about 1.0 million years ago.

This indicates that it derives from a hominin migration out of Africa distinct from that of the ancestors of Neanderthals and of modern humans. The stratigraphy of the cave where the bone was found suggests that the Denisova hominin lived close in time and space with Neanderthals as well as with modern humans.

The Unknown Hominin sings the "homininah" song with The Muppets:

Hillary Maddin Talks Dinosaurs...

... to a kindergarden class in Calgary.

Hillary is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Calgary and a long time field colleague helping to collect dinos in Alberta. When my friend Lisa Z. e-mailed me if I knew someone in town who could talk to her son's class, I immediately thought of Hillary. A great time was had by all!

Lisa's son Markus.

Thanks for the pix Lisa!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seitaad ruessi, New Sauropodomorph from Utah

A New Basal Sauropodomorph Dinosaur from the Lower Jurassic Navajo Sandstone of Southern Utah. 2010. J. J. W. Sertich & M. A. Loewen, PLoS ONE 5(3): e9789.

Image by Luis Rey
Utah’s red rocks have yielded a rare skeleton of a new species of sauropodomorph, Seitaad ruessi, that lived 185 million years ago and may have been buried alive by a collapsing sand dune. The discovery confirms the widespread success of sauropodomorph dinosaurs during the Early Jurassic Period.

Seitaad ruessi (SAY-eet-AWD ROO-ess-EYE), is derived from the Navajo word, “Seit’aad,” a sand-desert monster from the Navajo (Diné) creation legend that swallowed its victims in sand dunes (the skeleton of Seitaad had been “swallowed” in a fossilized sand dune when it was discovered); and Ruess, after the artist, poet, naturalist and explorer Everett Ruess who mysteriously disappeared in the red rock country of southern Utah in 1934 at age 20.

In life, Seitaad would have stood about about 1 m tall at the hips and was 3 to 4.5 m long. It would have weighed approximately 70 to 90 kg, and could walk on two or four legs. Like its later gigantic sauropod relatives, Seitaad most likely ate plants.

Life on the edge of the Navajo Erg by Russell Hawley
The closest relatives of Seitaad are known from similar-aged rocks in South America and southern Africa. Other, less complete, fossils from northern Arizona hinted at the presence of sauropodomorphs like Seitaad, but none were complete enough to understand exactly what species was living in the American Southwest. The discovery of Seitaad confirms that this group of dinosaurs was extremely widespread and successful during the Early Jurassic, approximately 175 million to 200 million years ago.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Born This Day: Adam Sedgwick

From Today In Science History:

Adam Sedgwich (March 22, 1785 - January 27, 1873) was an English geologist who first applied the name Cambrian to the geologic period of time, now dated at 570 to 505 million years ago. In 1818 he became Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge, holding a chair that had been endowed ninety years before by the natural historian John Woodward.

He lacked formal training in geology, but he quickly became an active researcher in geology and paleontology. Many years after Sedgwick's death, the geological museum at Cambridge was renamed the Sedgwick Museum of Geology in his honor. The museum is now part of the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New Chinese Dromaeosaur, Linheraptor exquisitus

A new dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous Wulansuhai Formation of Inner Mongolia, China. 2010. Xu Xing, et al. Zootaxa, March 19. Download the PDF.

Linheraptor exquisitus
was approximately eight feet long and 50 pounds, and would have been a fast, agile predator that preyed on protoceratopsians. Within the Dromaeosauridae family, Linheraptor is most closely related to another recently discovered species Tsaagan mangas. Tsaagan's skull indicates that it is more primitive than Velociraptor, and the skeleton of the new species should help reconstruct the series of evolutionary changes within the Dromaeosauridae.

Linheraptor was found by the researchers in approximately 75 million year-old red sandstone rocks during a 2008 field expedition in Inner Mongolia, China. It is the fifth dromaeosaurid discovered in these rocks, which are famous for their preservation of uncrushed, complete skeletons. These red sandstones are best known from the Flaming Cliffs field site in outer Mongolia, the location where Velociraptor was discovered and dinosaur eggs and nests were first found. link

Early Human Tree-Dwellers Were Also Bipedal

Laetoli Footprints Preserve Earliest Direct Evidence of Human-like Bipedal Biomechanics, 2010. PLoS; will be published on Monday, March 22.
Fossil footprints made 3.6 million years ago are the earliest direct evidence of early hominids using the kind of efficient, upright posture and gait now seen in modern humans

Three dimensional scans of experimental footprints and a Laetoli footprint, A, modern human footprint walking with a normal, extended limb, B, modern human footprint walking with a bent-knee, bent-hip gait, C, Laetoli. footprint.
A trackway of fossil footprints preserved in volcanic ash deposited 3.6 million years ago was uncovered in Laetoli, Tanzania, more than 30 years ago. The significance of those prints for human evolution has been debated ever since.

The only individuals that could have produced these footprints are Australopithecus afarensis, the only bipedal species alive in the area at that time. A. afarensis includes the famous fossil"Lucy," a cast of whose skeletal remains can be seen at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

A number of features in the hips, legs, and back of this group indicate that they would have walked on two legs while on the ground. But the curved fingers and toes as well as an upward-oriented shoulder blade provide solid evidence that Lucy and other members of her species also would have spent significant time climbing in trees.

To resolve how the fossil trackways were made, scientists this built a sand trackway in filmed human subjects walking across the sand. The subjects walked both with normal, erect human gaits and then with crouched, chimpanzee-like gaits. Three-dimensional models of the footprints were collected and examined. It was found that the relative depth of footprints at the heel and toe, and found that depths are about equal when made by a person walking with an erect gait. In contrast, the toe print is much deeper than the heel print when produced by a crouched gait, a product of the timing of weight transfer over the length of the foot.

"Based on previous analyses of the skeletons of Australopithecus afarensis, we expected that the Laetoli footprints would resemble those of someone walking with a bent knee, bent hip gait typical of chimpanzees, and not the striding gait normally used by modern humans," Raichlen said. "But to our surprise, the Laetoli footprints fall completely within the range of normal human footprints." link

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fedexia striegeli

Image: Mark A. Klingler/Carnegie Museum
An interesting "rock" initially tossed aside at a FedEx site near Pittsburgh International Airport turns out to be the skull of a meat-eating, early terrestrial amphibian that lived 70 million years before the first dinosaurs emerged, according to a paper released today in Annals of Carnegie Museum.

The approximately 300-million-year-old carnivorous amphibian has been named Fedexia striegeli, after the well-known shipping service and Adam Striegel, who spotted the animal's well-preserved, five-inch-long fossil skull while he was a University of Pittsburgh student on a field trip.

Striegel originally threw it aside, thinking it wasn't important, but then he and class lecturer Charles Jones noticed pointy teeth and tusks, so the skull was brought to experts at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

"Fedexia might have resembled, using modern analogies, an overgrown or giant newt salamander about 2 feet long, including the tail, with a coarse, granular skin texture," co-author David Berman, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the museum, told Discovery News. link

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cavemen by Kurtzman & Stout

© Kurtzmanm & Stout
Read the story by Mad magazine's creator, Harvey Kurtzman, and one of the palaeoblog's favourite artists, Bill Stout, over at Atomic Surgery

The Evolution of Wing Folding

The asymmetry of the carpal joint and the evolution of wing folding in maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs. 2010. C. Sullivan, et al. Proc. Roy. Soc. B, published online before print March 3.

Abstract [edit]:In extant birds, the hand is permanently abducted towards the ulna, and the wrist joint can bend extensively in this direction to fold the wing when not in use.

Anatomically, this asymmetric mobility of the wrist results from the wedge-like shape of one carpal bone, the radiale, and from the well-developed convexity of the trochlea at the proximal end of the carpometacarpus.

Among the theropod precursors of birds, a strongly convex trochlea is characteristic of Coelurosauria, a clade including the highly derived Maniraptora in addition to tyrannosaurs and compsognathids.

The shape of the radiale can be quantified using a ‘radiale angle’ between the proximal and distal articular surfaces. The radiale angle progressively increased still further within Maniraptora, with concurrent elongation of the forelimb feathers and the forelimb itself.

Carpal asymmetry would have permitted avian-like folding of the forelimb in order to protect the plumage, an early advantage of the flexible, asymmetric wrist inherited by birds.

DNA From Fossil Eggshell

Fossil avian eggshell preserves ancient DNA. 2010. C.L. Oskam, et al. Proc. Roy. Soc. B, published online before print March 10.

Abstract [edit]: Owing to exceptional biomolecule preservation, fossil avian eggshell has been used extensively in geochronology and palaeodietary studies. Here, we show, to our knowledge, for the first time that fossil eggshell is a previously unrecognized source of ancient DNA (aDNA).

We describe the successful isolation and amplification of DNA from fossil eggshell up to 19 ka old. aDNA was successfully characterized from eggshell obtained from New Zealand (extinct moa and ducks), Madagascar (extinct elephant birds) and Australia (emu and owl).

Our data demonstrate excellent preservation of the nucleic acids, evidenced by retrieval of both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from many of the samples. Our quantitative PCR experiments also demonstrate that moa eggshell has approximately 125 times lower bacterial load than bone, making it a highly suitable substrate for high-throughput sequencing approaches.

Importantly, the preservation of DNA in Pleistocene eggshell from Australia and Holocene deposits from Madagascar indicates that eggshell is an excellent substrate for the long-term preservation of DNA in warmer climates.

Happy Birthdy to Steve Bissette

S. R. Bissette’s Tyrant is © & ® S. R. Bissette.
Steve has an always interesting blog over at his home page, that is worth a read.

He also has a new web-comic, King of Monster Island (above).

Image from HERE. Visit the Wall of Fame at TEGNESERIEMUSEET I DANMARK (The Denmark Comics Museum).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Origin of Vision

The evolution of phototransduction from an ancestral cyclic nucleotide gated pathway. 2010. D.C. Plachetzki, et al.Proc. Roy. Soc. B, published online before print March 10.

The Outer Limits
By studying the hydra, a member of an ancient group of sea creatures that is still flourishing, scientists have made a discovery in understanding the origins of human vision. Hydra are simple animals that, along with jellyfish, belong to the phylum cnidaria. Cnidarians first emerged 600 million years ago.

"We determined which genetic 'gateway,' or ion channel, in the hydra is involved in light sensitivity," said senior author Todd H. Oakley. "This is the same gateway that is used in human vision."

The gene, called opsin, is present in vision among vertebrate animals, and is responsible for a different way of seeing than that of animals like flies. The vision of insects emerged later than the visual machinery found in hydra and vertebrate animals. link

Died This Day: Charles Lapworth

From Today In Science History:

Lapworth (Sept. 30, 1842 - March 13, 1920) was an English geologist who proposed what came to be called the Ordovician period (505 to 438 million years old) of geologic strata. Lapworth is famous for his work with marine fossils called graptolites.

By fastidiously collecting the tiny, colonial sea creatures, he figured out the original order of layered rocks that had been faulted and folded in England's Southern Uplands. This method of correlating rocks with graptolites became a model for similar research throughout the world.

In 1879, Lapworth proposed a new classification of Lower Paleozoic rocks with the Ordovician, between the redefined Cambrian and Silurian periods. The name comes from an ancient Welsh tribe, the Ordovices.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Giving Birth to The Genetic Stuff of Life

Intercalation as a means to suppress cyclization and promote polymerization of base-pairing oligonucleotides in a prebiotic world. 2010. E. D. Horowitz, et al. PNAS, Published online before print March 8.

FF © Marvel Comics
Scientists have discovered that small molecules could have acted as "molecular midwives" in helping the building blocks of life's genetic material form long chains and may have assisted in selecting the base pairs of the DNA double helix.

"Our hypothesis is that before there were protein enzymes to make DNA and RNA, there were small molecules present on the pre-biotic Earth that helped make these polymers by promoting molecular self-assembly," said Nicholas V. Hud.

"We've found that the molecule ethidium can assist short oligonucleotides in forming long polymers and can also select the structure of the base pairs that hold together two strands of DNA."

One of the biggest problems in getting a polymer to form is that, as it grows, its two ends often react with each other instead of forming longer chains. The problem is known as strand cyclization, but Hud and his team discovered that using a molecule that binds between neighboring base pairs of DNA, known as an intercalator, can bring short pieces of DNA and RNA together in a manner that helps them create much longer molecules. link

Died This Day: Mary Anning

From Today in Science History:

Mary Anning (May, 21 1799 - March 9, 1847)

English fossil collector who made her first significant discovery at the age of 11 or 12 (sources differ on the details), when she found a complete skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus, from the Jurassic period. The ten-meter (30 feet) long skeleton created a sensation and made her famous. Anning's determination and keen scientific interest in fossils derived from her father's interest in fossil hunting, and a need for the income derived from them to support her family after his death in 1810.

She sold large fossils to noted paleontologists of the day, and smaller ones to the tourist trade. In 1823, Anning made another great discovery, found the first complete Plesiosaurus. Later in her life, the Geological Society of London granted Anning an honorary membership.
FYI, my schedule is not back to normal yet. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Born This Day (1930): Stanley Lloyd Miller

From Today in Science History:

Miller is an American chemist who made a series of famous experiments beginning in 1953, to determine the possible origin of life from inorganic chemicals on the primeval earth. He passed electrical discharges (simulating thunderstorms) through mixtures of reducing gases, such as hydrogen, ammonia, methane and water, that were believed to have formed the earliest atmosphere. An analysis days later showed that the resulting chemicals included glycine and alanine, the simplest amino acids & the basic building blocks of proteins. Other compounds included urea, aldehydes and carboxylic acids. Thus, a "primeval soup" is the currently accepted most plausible explanation, though incomplete, of the origin of the complex organic molecules of life.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Premiered This Day (1954): The Creature From The Black Lagoon

On this day in 1954, director Jack Arnold let loose The Creature from his Devonian-aged Amazonian lagoon. The Creature was actually played by two different men in two different suits; Ricou Browning did the underwater work and Ben Chapman was the Gill Man on land. Browning went on to produce the successful Flipper TV show in the mid-60’s.

Snowball Earth Heats Up Again

Calibrating the Cryogenian. 2010. F. Macdonald, et al. Science 327: 1241 – 1243.

Tales of Asgard (c) Marvel Comics
Geologists have found evidence that sea ice extended to the equator 716.5 million years ago, bringing new precision to a "snowball Earth" event long suspected to have taken place around that time.
The new findings -- based on an analysis of ancient tropical rocks that are now found in remote northwestern Canada -- bolster the theory that our planet has, at times in the past, been ice-covered at all latitudes.

"This is the first time that the Sturtian glaciation has been shown to have occurred at tropical latitudes, providing direct evidence that this particular glaciation was a 'snowball Earth' event," says lead author Francis A. Macdonald. "Our data also suggests that the Sturtian glaciation lasted a minimum of 5 million years."

The survival of eukaryotic life throughout this period indicates sunlight and surface water remained available somewhere on the surface of Earth. The earliest animals arose at roughly the same time, following a major proliferation of eukaryotes.
Even in a snowball Earth, Macdonald says, there would be temperature gradients on Earth and it is likely that ice would be dynamic: flowing, thinning, and forming local patches of open water, providing refuge for life.

Scientists don't know exactly what caused this glaciation or what ended it, but Macdonald says its age of 716.5 million years closely matches the age of a large igneous province stretching more than 1,500 km from Alaska to Ellesmere Island in far northeastern Canada. This coincidence could mean the glaciation was either precipitated or terminated by volcanic activity. link

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Asteroid Impact Did Kill Dinos

The Chicxulub Asteroid Impact and Mass Extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary. 2010. P. Schulte, et al. Science 327: 1214 – 1218.

New Gods (c) DC Comics
Responding to challenges to the hypothesis that an asteroid impact caused a mass extinction on Earth 65 million years, a panel of 41 scientists re-analyzed data and provided new evidence, concluding that an impact in Mexico was indeed the cause of the mass extinction.

Thirty years ago, Luis Alvarez, Jan Smit and their coworkers suggested a large meteorite slammed into Earth 65 million years ago and caused one of the most severe mass extinctions in Earth's history, ending the age of the dinosaurs. In 1991, a more than 200-kilometer-wide impact crater was discovered in Yucatan, Mexico, that coincided with the extinctions. Since then, the impact hypothesis has gained overwhelming acceptance within the scientific community.

Still in recent years, a few scientists have challenged this hypothesis. To address their claims, a panel of 41 experts from Europe, the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Japan provide new data from the analysis of ocean drilling and continental sites and re-analyze the relevant literature in the field, including the most recent research. They find that alternative hypotheses are inadequate to explain the abrupt mass extinction and that the impact hypothesis has grown stronger than ever.

The fossil record clearly shows a mass extinction event across the planet at about 65.5 million years ago. Because this change is so dramatic, geologists use it to define the end of the Cretaceous period and the start of the Paleogene period (formerly called the Tertiary period). They refer to the time of the extinctions as the K-Pg boundary.

Some scientists have suggested that the Chicxulub ("chik-shoo-loob") impact in Mexico happened 300,000 years before the K-Pg boundary and therefore, came too early to have been the major cause of extinctions.

They point to deposits at sites around the Gulf of Mexico with a layer of tiny glass-like blobs of melted impact material that, according to their interpretation, was deposited at about 300,000 years before the K-Pg boundary mass extinction. As an alternative, they suggest the Deccan Traps —unusually active volcanoes in what is now India—led to global cooling and acid rain, and were the major cause of mass extinction, not the Chicxulub impact in Mexico.

However, the reviewers find that what appears to be a series of layers neatly laid down over 300,000 years near the impact site were actually violently churned and then dumped in a thick pile in a very short time. Models suggest the impact at Chicxulub was a million times more energetic than the largest nuclear bomb ever tested. An impact of this size would eject material at high velocity around the world, cause earthquakes of magnitude >10, continental shelf collapse, landslides, gravity flows, mass wasting and tsunamis and produce a relatively thick and complex sequence of deposits close to Chicxulub.

The reviewers find that despite evidence for relatively active volcanism in India, marine and terrestrial ecosystems showed only minor changes within the 500,000 years before the K-Pg boundary. Then, precisely at the boundary, there was an abrupt and major decrease in productivity (a measure of the sheer mass of living things) and species
•The asteroid was about 12 km wide. In the UK, the city of Bristol, the Isle of Wight and Jersey are all about that size.

•The asteroid was about 10,000 times more massive than the total mass of the human world population. In other words, the asteroid was about 3x10^15 kilograms (or about 3x10^12 tonnes).

•At impact, the asteroid is estimated to have been traveling at 20 km per second , roughly 20 times the speed of a rifle bullet.

•The impact released about a billion times more energy than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and a million times larger than the largest nuclear bomb ever tested.

•The initial impact crater was about 100 km wide and 30 km deep.

•Impacts of this size on Earth are thought to happen on average about once every hundred million years.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Died This Day: Sewell Wright

From the ever eloquent Today In Science History:

Wright (Dec. 21, 1889 – March 3, 1988) was an American geneticist who was one of the founders of modern theoretical population genetics. He researched the effects of inbreeding and crossbreeding with guinea pigs, and later on the effects of gene action on inherited characteristics. He adopted statistical techniques to develop evolutionary theory.

Wright is best known for his concept of genetic drift, called the Sewell Wright effect - that when small populations of a species are isolated, out of pure chance the few individuals who carry certain relatively rare genes may fail to transmit them. The genes may therefore disappear and their loss may lead to the emergence of new species, although natural selection has played no part in the process.

Check out genetic drift at The Biology Project at The University of Arizona.

Learn more about Wright HERE. Image from HERE

Dinosaurs Older Than Previously Thought?

Ecologically distinct dinosaurian sister group shows early diversification of Ornithodira. 2010. S. Nesbitt, et al. Nature 464: 95-98.

Asilisaurus kongwe. Image by M.H. Donnelly (Field Museum).
Paleontologists announced the discovery of a dinosaur-like animal—one that shared many characteristics with dinosaurs but fell just outside of the dinosaur family tree—living 10 million years earlier than the oldest known dinosaurs. The researchers conclude that dinosaurs and other close relatives such as pterosaurs might have also lived much earlier than previously thought.

At least 14 individuals of the new species Asilisaurus kongwe (a-SEE-lee-SOAR-us KONG-way) were recovered from a single bone bed in southern Tanzania. The individuals stood about 0.5 to 1 m tall at the hips and were 1 to 3 m long. They weighed about 10 to 30 kg. Asilisaurus walked on four legs and most likely ate plants or a combination of plants and meat. They lived about 240 million years ago.

Asilisaurus is part of a sister group to dinosaurs known as silesaurs. Silesaurs are considered dinosaur-like because they share many dinosaur characteristics but still lack key characteristics all dinosaurs share. Even though the oldest dinosaurs discovered so far are only 230 million years old, the presence of their closest relatives 10 million years earlier implies that silesaurs and the dinosaur lineage had already diverged from common ancestors by 240 million years ago. Silesaurs continued to live side by side with early dinosaurs throughout much of the Triassic Period (between about 250 and 200 million years ago).

This new animal suggests that at least three times in the evolution of dinosaurs and their closest relatives, meat-eating animals evolved into animals with diets that included plants. These shifts all occurred in less than 10 million years, a relatively short time by geological standards. link

Released This Day (1959): The Giant Behemoth

Behemoth, the Sea Monster (1959) is an American-British science-fiction film co-production, which is an unacknowledged remake of Ray Harryhausen's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), also co-scripted and directed by Eugène Lourié. Released in the United States as The Giant Behemoth, the film starred Gene Evans and André Morell. From wiki

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Born This Day: Willis O'Brien

A tip of the fedora to the late, great Willis O'Brien who breathed life into the fur and armature that become King Kong, the 8th Wonder of the World!

His biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:

Willis O'Brien (March 2, 1886 - November 8, 1962)
Special effects wizard best known to the world as the man who
created King Kong.
O'Brien was a sculptor and cartoonist for the San Francisco "Daily News" before he first dabbled in the medium of film during the 'teens. His work caught the attention of the Edison company, for whom he produced several short subjects with a prehistoric them. Titles include The Dinosaur and the Missing Link, RFD 10,000 B.C and Prehistoric Poultry. His method of animating small rubber figures, carefully molded over metal skeletons with movable joints, by moving them a fraction of an inch for each frame of film exposed, became the standard process of live-action animation.

In 1918 he made his most ambitious film yet, The Ghost of Slumber Mountain paving the way for The Lost World (1925), a major Hollywood feature which told of a search for prehistoric creatures. O'Brien's dinosaurs were his most realistic yet, and still impress today, even in the wake of Jurassic Park Still, Obie (as he was known) kept experimenting.

When producer Merian C. Cooper saw his work, he hired O'Brien to animate King Kong (which, up to that point, was to have been shot with an actor in a gorilla suit). The extraordinary success of King Kong (1933) spawned an immediate sequel, The Son of Kong (also 1933), and made O'Brien a hero to several generations of fantasy filmmakers to come. O'Brien won his only Oscar for his effects in Mighty Joe Young (1949), another giant-monkey movie, on which his protégé (and successor) Ray Harryhausen worked.

O'Brien worked on other giant-monster movies (including 1957's The Black Scorpion his last) before dying in 1962. Today, O'Brien would be kingpin of his own studio, but even in the wake of King Kong he had trouble launching other film projects, and many promising ideas languished on studio drawing boards for decades to follow. One of the RKO staff with whom he'd worked in the 1930s, Linwood Dunn, gave O'Brien his final employment, doing stop-motion figures for It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963).

In 1950 O'Brien received (finally!) a special Oscar for his work on Mighty Joe Young which was the first such award ever given for special effects. This film also launched the career of the next great stop-motion animator, Ray Harryhausen.

Fossil Snake from India Fed on Hatchling Dinosaurs

Predation upon Hatchling Dinosaurs by a New Snake from the Late Cretaceous of India. 2010. J. Wilson, et al. PLoS Biology

The snake Sanajeh indicus, n. gen. n. sp., in association with a partial clutch of three titanosaur eggs (oogenus Megaloolithus) and a titanosaur hatchling.
The remains of a nearly complete snake Sanajeh indicus were found preserved in the nest of a sauropod dinosaur in 67-million-year-old sediments from Gujarat, western India. The snake was coiled around a recently hatched egg adjacent to a hatchling sauropod. Remains of other snake individuals associated with egg clutches at the same site indicate that the newly described snake made its living feeding on young dinosaurs.

Working with the sediment-covered and inscrutable specimen in 1987, Mohabey recognized dinosaur eggshell and limb bones but was unable to fully interpret the specimen. In 2001, Wilson visited Mohabey at his office at the Geological Survey of India and was astonished when he examined the specimen.

"I saw the characteristic vertebral locking mechanism of snakes alongside dinosaur eggshell and larger bones, and I knew it was an extraordinary specimen---but I also knew we needed to develop it further," Wilson said.

The new snake, which was named Sanajeh indicus or "ancient-gaped one from the Indian subcontinent," because of its lizard-like gape, adds critical information that helps resolve the early diversification of snakes. Modern large-mouthed snakes are able to eat large prey because they have mobile skulls and wide gapes. Sanajeh bears only some of the traits of modern large-mouthed snakes and provides insight into how they evolved. link

Thanks Lisa!