Monday, February 28, 2005

Birdsongs of The Mesozoic

While working into the wee hours of the morning revising a manuscript or casting the arcane runes that will become next year’s budget, every palaeontologist has the appropriate music running in the background. Birdsongs of the Mesozoic produce the right combination of fiery energy wrapped up in icy melodies that keep one’s mind focused while letting the imagination soar.

From Prefect Sound Forever:
Since their embryonic years as the upshot of Roger Miller and Martin Swope's Mission of Burma careers, to their current lineup – Michael Bierylo (guitar), Ken Field (wind instruments), Rick Scott (synthesizers), and Erik Lindgren (piano) – several cambric layers have amassed, but the strength of Birdsongs' conceptual music remains. What's more, they've gotten better over the ages. They're the opposite of Kraftwerk insofar as their music speaks to the prehistoric era; they live up to their name. Any of their seven studio albums will strand you like a time traveler in a desolate Jurassic Park, and you'll relish the experience of this beautiful and unique music, a virtual posit of Steve Reich as a Neanderthal
Their latest disc "2001 Live Birds"is a fine addition to the palaeoblog’s ever shifting musical tableau and we recommend that you go to NearFest Records and pick up a copy for yourself.

Download an MP3 of "Dancing on A'A" at Nearfest Records

Sunday, February 27, 2005

T. rex Skeleton Uncovered In Pixar Film

Any fan of the wonderful Pixar films will be familiar with Rex the dinosaur from Toy Story I & II. But how many of you spotted the T. rex skeleton that made a cameo appearance in their 2001 film, Monsters, Inc.? The Palaeoblog thinks that the skeleton is the AMNH display specimen but anyone with more information is welcome to drop us a line.

Thanks to our friends at Digital Dream Machine for providing the screen capture for the Palaeoblog. Go check out their blog!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

New Miocene “Bear-Dog” found in California

California's San Joaquin Valley that has produced the remains of a new genus of mustelid, the mammalian family that includes modern badgers and skunks.
"It just blew me out of my mind," Xiaoming Wang, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said after seeing the fossil of the badger-like animal. "It looks like it was very ferocious."

A team led by paleontologist J.D. Stewart recovered bones from 25 species of vertebrates, as well as birds and snails, that date to roughly 15 million years ago. The best-preserved 1,200 specimens now make up a permanent collection at the University of California, Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology.

The dig is a legacy of California's power crisis of 2000-2001. The fossils were unearthed during construction of new electricity transmission lines at the so-called Path 15, the infamous utility bottleneck in the state's north-south electricity conduit near Los Banos

Thai Police Arrest Dinosaur Smuggler

CTV reports an Associated Press article that a Thai man who offered dinosaur fossils and valuable antiques for sale on the Internet has been arrested for illegally trading in ancient artifacts and art.
Acting on a tip-off from U.S. authorities, undercover police arrested Piriya Wachachitphan, 25, on Monday and confiscated 108 large dinosaur fossils and five boxes containing smaller pieces from his home in Bangkok, said police Lt. Gen. Thani Somboonsab.

"It is the first time that police have arrested a smuggler of dinosaur fossils in Thailand," he said.

40 Million Year Old Crocodile Found

A new species of crocodile which lived 40 million years ago has been discovered in tropical Australia, filling a gap in the evolution of the prehistoric-looking crocodile. Read the article from CNN.

Mayr at 100 on Evolution

In celebration of his 100th birthday last July the late evolutionary biologist, Ernst Mayr, contributed the following essay to Science. It is available for viewing in their on-line archive of essays, and is well worth the read.

80 Years of Watching the Evolutionary Scenery
Ernst Mayr
Science, Vol 305, Issue 5680, 46-47, 2 July 2004

Mayr concludes his essay with these thoughts:
It would seem justified to assert that, so far, no revision of the Darwinian paradigm has become necessary as a consequence of the spectacular discoveries of molecular biology. But there is something else that has indeed affected our understanding of the living world: that is its immense diversity. Most of the enormous variation of kinds of organisms has so far been totally ignored by the students of speciation. We have studied the origin of new species in birds, mammals, and certain genera of fishes, lepidopterans, and molluscs, and speciation has been observed to be allopatric (geographical) in most of the studied groups. Admittedly, there have been a few exceptions, particularly in certain families, but no exceptions have been found in birds and mammals where we find good biological species, and speciation in these groups is always allopatric. However, numerous other modes of speciation have also been discovered that are unorthodox in that they differ from allopatric speciation in various ways. Among these other modes are sympatric speciation, speciation by hybridization, by polyploidy and other chromosome rearrangements, by lateral gene transfer, and by symbiogenesis. Some of these nonallopatric modes are quite frequent in certain genera of cold-blooded vertebrates, but they may be only the tip of the iceberg. There are all the other phyla of multicellular eukaryotes, the speciation of most of them still quite unexplored. This is even truer for the 70-plus phyla of unicellular protists and for the prokaryotes. There are whole new worlds to be discovered with, perhaps, new modes of speciation among the forthcoming discoveries.”

Friday, February 25, 2005

Feathered Dinosaur Show Opens in Cleveland

Feathered Dinosaurs: The Bird/Dinosaur Connection Exhibition
opens February 25 at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and runs through May 29, 2005. The largest of the dinosaurs is a huge female Tyrannosaurus rex built by Kokoro Dinosaurs of Woodland Hills, California, who growls as she swings her head and tail back and forth. The 4,500-square-foot exhibition presents the latest findings and investigates the dinosaur/bird evolution through the use of robotic and stationary models, text and graphics.

“From Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird, to Tyrannosaurus rex, the world’s greatest predator, visitors will learn how and why these two animals are literally ‘birds of a feather,’” explained Dr. Michael Ryan, the Museum’s new curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, who hails from Alberta, Canada. “Most paleontologists now believe that ‘all birds are dinosaurs’ even if ‘not all dinosaurs are birds’. Living birds are the descendants of small, carnivorous dinosaurs.” He said, “Some of the earliest fossils of each of these groups appear in the fossil record at approximately the same time, indicating that the evolution of flight was an important early step for one group of carnivorous dinosaurs. Throughout the next 150 million years, birds took to the skies while their cousins dominated the ground with sharp teeth or beaks, and claws.”

Even earth-bound predatory dinosaurs retained evidence of their shared ancestry with birds. Ryan pointed out, “Some, like Caudipteryx and Sinosauropteryx, have well-developed feathers with elaborate patterning, similar to those seen in many living birds. Others, like Oviraptor, show evidence for brooding eggs on a nest, and even controlling the temperature of these eggs by shading them with her body or drawing a fine layer of sand over them. All of them, even T. rex, have hollow bones, important for reducing weight for flight.”

Ryan added, “Other bird-like behavior, such as nesting, was probably common to most dinosaurs, even plant-eating duck-billed dinosaurs like Maiasaura. This ‘good-mother’ dinosaur was so named because she appears to have carefully tended to the early development of her young as they hatched in her nest.”

To complement this dramatic exhibition, the Museum is planning two dinosaur-related planetarium programs during the exhibition venue, a Dino-Mite Dino Camp-In from March 11, 7 p.m. to March 12, 8 a.m., student and teacher classes, programs for members and the general public, plus a Creature Feature Weekend called Festival of Feathers on Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17.

Museum admission fees for the run of this exceptional exhibition are: $9 adults, 18 years and older; $7 ages 5-17, college students with IDs and senior citizens; $6 children 3-6 years of age; free children 2 and under. Group rates (12 or more) are also available. Shafran Planetarium shows are $3 per person with admission fee. Museum members receive free admission to the Museum and planetarium.

Oldest Known Feathered Embryo

In honor of the opening of the new feathered dinosaur show at the CMNH the palaeoblog reaches back into the October, 2004 archives to present this news article from BBC News about the oldest known fossil bird embryo with feathers.

The 121-million-year-old baby arboreal bird was fossilized while still curled in its egg. Researchers know the bird, found in northeast China, was an embryo because the fossil is tucked up in a very characteristic way for an unhatched chick.

"The tucked posture of the fossil is consistent with a late-stage embryo rather than with a hatchling, in which case the head would have raised beyond the vicinity of the feet," said authors Zhonghe Zhou and Fucheng Zhang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China.

The research was published in:

Precocial Avian Embryo from the Lower Cretaceous of China.
Zhou and Zhang, Science 2004 306: 653

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Polar Dinosaurs In Australia

The Christian Science Monitor reports in an article entitled “In hot pursuit of polar dinosaurs” about the work being done by Dr. Tom Rich and his colleagues collecting and researching dinosaurs in southeastern Australia. On a narrow stretch of beach two hours southeast of Melbourne they are finding one of the most species-rich collection of polar dinosaur fossils in the world. 115 million years ago this portion of Australia lay well within the Antarctic Circle.

This Week in Nature: New Cretaceous Raptor

New evidence on deinonychosaurian dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia
Nature 433, 858 - 861 (24 February 2005)

Novas and Poh report on the discovery of a new, Late Cretaceous maniraptoran, Neuquenraptor argentinus gen. et sp. nov. The presence of this deinonychosaurian theropod in the Southern Hemisphere shows that the Cretaceous theropod faunas from the southern continents (South America and Africa) shared greater similarity with those of the northern landmasses than previously thought, and suggests that deinonychosaurians were probably distributed worldwide at least by the beginning of the Cretaceous period. Read more about the new dinosaur here at BBC News.

Today In History: 1st Dinosaur Embyo and Darwin

From Today in Science History:

Published this Day, 1989: a 150-million-year-old fossil egg discovered in Utah was found by CAT scan to contain the oldest dinosaur embryo. The egg was still inside the mother, in , Hirsch, K.F.; Stadtman, K.L.; Miller, W.E. & Madsen, J.H.Jr. 1989. Upper Jurassic dinosaur egg from Utah. Science 243: 1711-1713.

Published this Day,1871: Charles Darwin's Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex is published in London.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

More Dinos from Frank Cho's Shanna

copyright Marvel Comics
By popular request, Palaeoblog presents a detail from a page of art from Frank Cho's "Shanna the She-Devil", out now from Marvel Comics.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Cretaceous Dinosaur Eggs Found in Zhejiang Province

From China News.

The Lishui Geological Prospecting Team of Zhejiang Province reported that numerous dinosaur egg fossils from the Cretaceous were discovered at a construction site at the foot of Baiyun Mountain in northern Lishui City. More than one hundred egg fossils were found in the purple rocks, dispersed amongst different nests. Each nest contained between five to seven eggs, with many eggs being recovered from outside of the nests. The large (10-16 cm) eggs are ellipsoid and spheroid in shape with one to three millimeter thick shells. In 1958 farmers had previously found the skeletal remains of dinosaurs in the same region. More recently the remains of sauropod dinosaurs were discovered during the construction of the Jinhua-Wenzhou Expressway.

Today In History: Charles Lyell Died 1875

From Dr. Paul E.Olsen's Dinosaurs and the History of Life Course:
Sir Charles Lyell's monumental book, "Principles of Geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth's surface by reference to causes now in operation", was published in 1830. The frontispiece (above) shows the temple of Serapis at Puzzuoili, Italy as it appeared in the early 19th century. The pillars are covered by several generations of marine animal encrustations (visible as different bands) showing that since its construction there had to be multiple episodes of vertical movement at the scale of several meters, alternately submerging and exposing the pillars to different levels.
Lyell argued that the natural processes (e.g., sediment deposition and erosion)occurring today logically also happened in the geologic past, that geological change is slow and steady, rather than quick and sudden, and that the natural laws are constant and eternal, operating at about the same intensity in the past as they do today.

Lyell's "Principles" was influental in helping Darwin formulate his theory of evolution through natural selection. Darwin is quoted saying, "The greatest merit of the Principles was that it altered the whole tone of one's mind, and therefore that, when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it through his eyes."

Monday, February 21, 2005

Today In History: DNA Structure discovered

Discovered this day,1953: Francis Crick (right)and J. Watson (left) discovered the structure of the DNA molecule.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Today In History: Raymond Cecil Moore

From Today in Science History, Feb. 20, 2005

Happy Birthday! to:

Raymond Cecil Moore
Born 20 Feb 1892; died 16 Apr 1974.

American paleontologist known for his work on Paleozoic crinoids, bryozoans, and corals. Moore was the founder and editor of the landmark multi-volume Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Fossil Honors Legandary Film Maker

A recent fax from Ray Harryhausen reminded the palaeoblog that Christopher Boyko has named a fossil sand crab from the Oligocene of Italy is his honor. In a paper published in the July issue of Palaeontology Boyko reassigned the material recently described as the fossil albuneid Paralbunea galantensis De Angeli and Marangon to the new genus, Harryhausenia. Boyko was no doubt inspired by the giant crab that Harryhausen animated in his classic film Mysterious Island in 1961.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Saskatchewan T. rex To Tour Japan

A replica of “Scotty” the T.rex, discovered just outside of Eastend Saskatchewan in 1991 will be heading to Japan for a year long tour. The original bones will also be heading over but will return to Canada from Tokyo in July. The T. rex was disarticulated prior to fossilization and the individual bones had to be painstaking excavated from rock so hard that it regularly bent the tips of pick axes. I had an opportunity to work for a few days in the quarry with Tim Tokaryk from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and his crew, and broke more than a few tools while digging in the iron-hard matrix.

CORRECTION: The replica skull was assembled by our good friends at PALAIOS in East Coulee Alberta, not the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Be sure to take in the 12th Annual East Coulee Spring Fest on April 9,2005.

This Week In Science: The World's Oldest Rabbit

This week in Science 18 February 2005 Vol. 307 Number 5712

Stem Lagomorpha and the Antiquity of Glires
Robert J. Asher, Jin Meng, John R. Wible, Malcolm C. McKenna, Guillermo W. Rougier, Demberlyn Dashzeveg, and Michael J. Novacek
Science 18 February 2005: 1091-1094.

The discovery of a new member of the rabbit family, Gomphos elkema, in Mongolia pushes back the oldest known rabbit from 35 to 55 million years. It had some very rabbit-like features such as a long hind foot, but it also had a long tail and squirrel-like teeth. Gomphos supports the hypothesis that rabbits are not closely related to the zalambdalestid mammals that lived during the Cretaceous with the dinosaurs. This suggests that placental mammals evolved after the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Shanna's Dinosaurs

copyright Marvel Comics
Maryland artist Frank Cho made a name for himself drawing his own syndicated newspaper strip, Liberty Meadows, in the late 1990's. Cho often let his Krenkelian penmanship take over the strip whenever characters like King Kong (the original 1933 version, thank you very much) would stumble through battling a T. rex in an unannounced cameo. After he retired that strip from syndication (but it's still being published in comic book-style collections) he began drawing for the legendary Marvel Comics. In January Marvel published the first of a six-issue series featuring Cho's version of the character, Shanna the She-Devil. Originally a generic 'Jungle Girl', Frank has 'reimagined' Shanna and placed her in a world of non-stop Jurassic Park-style dinosaur action.

Palaeoblog recommends the book for Cho's beautiful depiction of dinosaurs, but warns the reader that the lead character does take her fashion sense from the heroines of old films like When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. While there is no nudity in the book, poor Shanna does come very close to losing what little she does wear at least once an issue.

For an interview with Frank Cho grab a vine and swing on over to SBC Interviews.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

New Fossil Crocodile Unveiled in Brazil

Uberabasuchus terrificus (=terrible crocodile of Uberaba), a new genus and species of crocodile from the Late Cretaceous of Brazil,was unveiled Wednesday at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. It lived 70 million years ago and was smaller than today's crocodiles - only about three meters (10 feet) long and weighing about 300 kilograms (650 pounds), said paleontologist Ismar de Souza Carvalho. Despite some similarities with modern-day crocodiles, Uberabasuchus became extinct when the other great dinosaurs died out, and it has no relation to today's crocodiles. Fossils similar to Uberabasuchus have been found in Africa and in Antarctica, which possibly were linked to South America.
Carvalho said Uberabasuchus lived on land -- it was named because the fossil was found near Uberaba, an inland city in southeastern Brazil. It probably carried its body high off the ground on sturdy legs and was a strong and voracious.

This Week In Nature

In the Current issue of Nature: Vol 433 No 7027 pp669-784:

Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia
Nature 433, 733 - 736 (17 February 2005)

The Oldest Homo Sapiens
A new study of a 1967 fossil site at Kibish, Ethiopia, indicates the earliest known members of Homo sapiens lived in Africa about 195,000 years ago, 65,000 years older than the previously published date. The discovery adds yet more weight to the argument that Africa, and Ethiopia in particular, was the birthplace of humans. The dating sits well with genetic analyses of modern populations, which suggest that H. sapiens first appeared in Africa around 200,000 years ago.
"It pushes back the beginning of anatomically modern humans," says geologist Frank Brown, a co-author of the study and dean of the University of Utah's College of Mines and Earth Sciences. "These are the oldest well-dated fossils of modern humans (Homo sapiens) currently known anywhere in the world," the scientists say in a summary of the study.
The researchers dated mineral crystals in volcanic ash layers above and below layers of river sediments that contain the early human bones. The fossils, called Omo I and Omo II, were found in 1967 at Kibish, near Ethiopia's Omo River, by the famed fossil-hunter Richard Leakey. They conclude the fossils are much older than a 104,000-year-old volcanic layer and very close in age to a 196,000-year-old layer.

Today In History: Horace de Suassure

From Today in Science History, Feb. 17, 2005

Happy Birthday! to:

Horace Bénédict de Saussure
Born 17 Feb 1740; died 22 Jan 1799.

A Swiss physicist and geologist, he introduced the term geology into the scientific literature in the first volume of Voyages dans les Alpes (1779-96).

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Today In History: Ernst Haeckel

From Today in Science History, Feb. 16, 2005

Happy Birthday! to:

Ernst Heinrich August Haeckel
Born 16 Feb 1834; died 9 Aug 1919.
German zoologist and evolutionist was a strong proponent of Darwinism and proposed new notions of the evolutionary descent of man. He coined many words commonly used by biologists today, such as phylum, phylogeny, and ecology. Noted for the book, The evolution of man: a popular exposition of the principal points of human ontogeny and phylogeny,

and to,

Jean-Baptiste-Julien d' Omalius d'Halloy
Born 16 Feb 1783; died 15 Jan 1875.
Belgian geologist who was an early proponent of evolution and was acknowledged by Charles Darwin in his preface to ‘On The Origin of the Species’ for his opinions on the origin of new species through descent with modification. He determined the stratigraphy of the Carboniferous and other rocks in Belgium and the Rhine provinces, and also made detailed studies of the Tertiary deposits of the Paris Basin

On this day in 1923, archaeologist Howard Carter opened the sealed doorway to the sepulchral chamber of King Tutankhamen's tomb in Thebes, Egypt.

Boris Karloff as The Mummy

Monday, February 14, 2005

Asteroid Impact Simulator

Most scientists believe that an asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous brought about significant, world-wide environmental changes that killed of the dinosaurs (but not their still living relatives, the birds, of course!). Now you can use the Earth Impact Effects Program developed by the Department of Planetary Sciences, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona to simulate your own asteroid impact. This program will estimate the ejecta distribution, ground shaking, atmospheric blast wave, and thermal effects of an impact as well as the size of the crater produced.

Dr. Peter Dodson Describes New Sauropod From Montana

Dr. Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania is the lead author of a new article in Acta Paleontologica Polonica describing a new sauropod, the 50-ft long Suuwassea emilieae, that lived 150 million years ago not far from the Sundance Sea. It is a smaller relative of Diplodocus and Apatosaurus and is the first named sauropod dinosaur from the Jurassic of southern Montana.
"Suuwassea is the first unequivocal new sauropod from the Morrison Formation – a 150-million-year-old geological formation extending from New Mexico to Montana – in more than a century. It has a number of distinguishing features, but the most striking is this second hole in its skull, a feature we have never seen before in a North American dinosaur," said Peter Dodson. “While its Diplodocus relatives have a single hole on the top of the skull related to the nasal cavity, paleontologists have yet to come up with a plausible use for this second hole."

The Demon-Haunted World

Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)
"I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true".

Today In History: Georg Füchsel

From Today in Science History, Feb. 14, 2005

Happy Birthday! to:

Georg Christian Füchsel
Born 14 Feb 1722; died 20 Jun 1773.

The originator of the idea of stratigraphic formations, he was one of the first to make recorded measurements of sections of stratified rock. His major work, "Historia terrae et maris, ex historia Thuringiae, per montium descriptionem, eruta" (1861), contains the general principles of historical geology.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Classic Comic Strips: Alley Oop

One of the first and best of the original newspaper comic strip serials is ALLEY OOP. Created by Vincent T. Hamlin, and first published in 1932, it chronicles the adventures of the an enlightened, but still rough and tumble, caveman from the prehistoric land of Moo. Through the actions of a well-the meaning modern intentor, Doc Wonmug, Alley Oop and his girl friend, Ooola (as in “O-la-la!"), have traveled both time and space getting into and out of adventures with the most colorful characters of history.

Alley Oop is a hold over from the early days of the classic newspaper comics when artistry reined and the beautiful craftmenship of the illustrated strip could fill an entire page. Hamlin retired in 1971 and passed away in 1993. The strip is carried on today by the artist-writer team of Jack and Carole Bender. It continues the bubbly mix of action, heart, humor that Hamblin made the strip noted for. Find a newspaper that is carrying this great strip and enjoy reading it out loud to a child (of any age).

For more information on this and other strips visit Comiclopedia and Toonpedia

Dinosaurs In Alaska

Ned Rozell at SITNEWS has a short article on some of the work being done researching dinosaurs on Alaska's North Slope.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Frank Zappa Says:

"It isn't necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice; there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia."

Back to work on my budget while I listen to The Beatles....

Today in History

From Today in Science History, Feb. 12, 2005

Happy Birthday! to:

Edward Forbes
Born 12 Feb 1815; died 18 Nov 1854.

British naturalist, a pioneer in the field of biogeography, who analyzed the distribution of plant and animal life of the British Isles as related to certain geological changes. Forbes devoted much of his life to an extensive study of mollusks and starfishes, participating in dredgings and expeditions in the Irish Sea (1834), France, Switzerland, Germany, Algeria (1836), Austria (1838), and the Mediterranean (1841-42). During this period, he pursued the study of life in the littoral zones (the ocean from the shore to the continental shelf) and developed an interest in the geographical distribution of animals.

and our very own,

Charles Darwin
Born 12 Feb 1809; died 19 Apr 1882.

Charles Robert Darwin was an English naturalist renowned for his documentation of evolution and for his theory of its operation, known as Darwinism. His evolutionary theories, propounded chiefly in two works--On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.

Illustration by Rick Geary

Friday, February 11, 2005

Dr. Michael J. Ryan Talks on the Evolution of Birds

On Saturday, Febraury 12, Dr. Michael J. Ryan will speak at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's 1st Annual Teacher's Symposium, "Teaching Evolution and the Diveristy of Life", in Classroom 'A' at 9.45am.

Ryan will be discussing the origin of birds from theropod dinosaurs and be presenting information on the new 'feathered dinosaur' fossils that have been found in China since 1996.

Other talks include "Evolution of the Vertebrate Eye" by Dr. Stephan Weeks, and "Science and Intelligent Design" by Dr. Mano Singham. The symposium begins with a keynote address by Dr. Bruce Latimer, the Director of the CMNH, on "The Importance of Teaching Evolution".

To register please contact Pam Keiper at 216-231-2075 or

T. rex voted out

On Thursday, February 3, 2005, the Aberdeen News reported an Associated Press article by Brad Perrgiello that the state legislators in South Dakota rejected17-13 the measure to have T. rex proclaimed as the official state dinosaur.

This week in SCIENCE

In the current issue of Science 11 February 2005, Vol 307 No 5711

Independent Origins of Middle Ear Bones in Monotremes and Therians
Thomas H. Rich, James A. Hopson, Anne M. Musser, Timothy F. Flannery, and Patricia Vickers-Rich
science 11 February 2005: 910-914.

News.Com.Au reports that a 115 million-year-old fossil dentary(lower jaw) of a monotreme was found on Victoria's south-east coast by a team of researchers and volunteers from Monash University and Melbourne Museum in 2002. Teinolophos has a large groove on its dentary which indicates that the smaller bones that would become the middle ear bones of modern mammals had not yet detached (modern mammals have three while birds and reptiles have only one).

Teinolophos lived after monotremes split from the more derived placental and marsupial mammalian groups. Its dentary structure, along with its place in the evolutionary tree, hints that a common ancestor to all these mammals lacked the special three-bone ear structure and that this complex structure evolved twice in two separate mammalian lineages.

New Study Affirms Reliability of Fossil Record

Shell Composition Has No Net Impact on Large-Scale Evolutionary Patterns in Mollusks
Susan M. Kidwell
Science 11 February 2005: 914-917.

Dr. Susan Kidwell of the University of Chicago reports that the 500 million year old record of marine bivalues gives an accurate picture of the pattern of evolution in these animals. Her work did not support the previously expressed opinions that a differential resistance to decay amongst the various types of shells would bias the groups recovered from the fossils record.
"The broad outlines of the bivalve record can be counted on as a reliable picture of evolutionary history," said Kidwell, whose work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Gliding Ants Show The Widespread Evolution of Wingless Flight

Excerpts from a media release by Robert Sanders, University of California, Berkeley, for an article in the Feb. 10, 2005 issue of Nature.
Stephen P. Yanoviak, Robert Dudley, Michael E. Kaspari report on the discovery of flightless ants in Central and South America that have the ability to glide showing that wingless flight has evolved numerous times throughout the animal kingdom.

By painting the ants' rear legs with white nail polish, [Yanoviak] was able to track their fall and establish that they come in backwards to the tree, hit and hang on, though they often tumble down the trunk a few feet and occasionally bounce off. They can actually make 180 degree turns in midair, however, so even when they fail the first time, they can execute a mid-air hairpin turn and glide in for another try.
"I noticed this five years before in Panama, but it was at that moment in Peru 18 months ago that I realized why they do it: They're trying to get back to the tree, they're trying to not get lost in the understory of the forest," he said. Once they hit the forest floor, he added, they're unlikely to find a chemical trail back to the nest, and most likely will be eaten by predators.

"That's what I think is the major evolutionary driving mechanism behind the behavior," he said. "In Amazon forests, you really don't want to fall out of your tree and in the water, because then you're definitely dead.
All told, Yanoviak has dropped about 60 species of ants from the treetops, and has found some form of gliding — what he and his colleagues call directed aerial descent — in 25 species representing five separate genera. It is the norm in only two groups, however: the Cephalotini tribe, which includes Cephalotes atratus, and the arboreal Pseudomyrmecinae ants.

"Steve's first observation may be leading to a whole Pandora's Box of gliding arthropods," added Kaspari. "Steve, Robert and I right now are exploring how pervasive such directed descent might be — we are, in fact, finding it in a variety of wingless arthropods that glide in using a variety of techniques. Plummeting to the earth may be the exception, not the rule."
For a four minute streaming REAL video of gliding ants click here.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Today In History: Nicolaus Steno

From Today In Science History:

In 1667, a classic paleontological paper by Nicolaus Steno was published by the Royal Society, London. His topic, Head of a shark dissected, represented the first such scientific paper to recognise that fossils were the remains of creatures who had died and subsequently had become petrified. Controversy resulted. The same claim had been made in the time of the ancient Greeks, two millennia earlier.

Charles Darwin Speaks at CMNH

As part of its on-going Explorer Series the Cleveland Museum of Natural History will present the man himself on Friday, February 11, 2005 at 7:30 pm in a presentation entitled "Darwin Remembers".

Dr. Floyd Sandford, professor of biology at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, performs his one-man play, in which he portrays Charles Darwin at age 72. Sandford relates aspects of Darwin's early years, his education, historic five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle, family and prolific scientific career, punctuated by natural history research that culminated in the publication of numerous books, including The Origin of Species. Sandford also recounts Darwin's personal views of life and describes the controversy following the publication of his theory of evolutionary change by natural selection.

This week in NATURE

In the current issue of Nature Vol 433 No 7026 pp557-668:

Palaeoecology: Down to the woods yesterday p.588
What were European forests like following the last ice age and before the advent of agriculture? The pollen record in Ireland provides a unique perspective from which to examine ideas on the question.

Desk Top Dinos

Anyone interested in well made dinosaur models should look for the series released by X-Plus USA in the past few years. Sadly, the company no longer has them for sale but they should be easy to find on the internet.

UPDATE FEBRUARY 12, 2005: The Styracosaurus and Albertosaurus models can be found for sale here

posted by Michael Ryan

Canada’s Oldest Fossil Forest

Although this is coming a little late, last October the CBC reported the discovery of Canada’s oldest fossil forest.

Ron Pickerill, a UNB Fredericton professor found the fossilized forest of over 700 trees in Norton, New Brunswick while looking for roadside fish fossils with a geology class in 2000. Dr. Randy Miller, a palaeontologist with the New Brunswick Museum later brought in Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang from the University of Bristol to work on the material.

The Mississippian lycopsid forest was exposed during construction of a new section of highway between St. John and Sussex, and the fossil material is visible for about 10 kilometres. Although the rock strata has been turned over on its side, it is clear that the trees, mostly lycopsids of the ProtostigmariaLepidodendropsis-type, were still rooted when they were buried in floodwater silt 435 million years ago.

The full abstract of the article is available here:
Early Mississippian lycopsid forests in a delta-plain setting at Norton, near Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada
By H.J. Falcon-Lang
Journal of the Geological Society, 2004, vol. 161, no. 6, pp. 969-981(13)

This find is of particular interest to me as my mother and her family are from the small town of Norton where this find was made. It’s possible that I crawled over these very rocks as a small boy while visiting my grandparents. I hope that the people involved are successful in getting the area declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

For a nice article on the fossils of New Brunswick by Dave Young from The Saint John Times-Globe and Randy Miller of the New Brunswick Museum, click here

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ernst Mayr (1904-2005)

Any student of biology, or anyone with an interest in the natural world, will be familiar with Ernst Mayr who passed away on February 3rd in Bedford, Mass. Born in Kempton, Germany he joined the American Museum of Natural History as a curator in 1931. In 1953 he left the museum to work at Harvard University where he stayed until his retirement in 1975.

While working on the problem of speciation in the birds of New Guinea, Mayr realized that the multitude of species and and subspecies that he saw could best be explained as being a snapshot of evolution in action. He suggested that new species could arise when the range of one species was fractured long enough for members in different parts of the range to evolve characters that would not allow individuals to reproduce when they were brought back together again. This lead to him developing the “biological species concept” in which species are defined as populations of interbreeding organisms rather than just a collection of characters. This idea, along with his theory of “allopatric speciation” was published in his book “Systematics and the Origin of the Species” (1942) and later contributed to the “Punctuated Equilibrium” theory of Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould.

Ernst Mayr was himself inspired by the work of geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky on the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and his book “Genetics and the Origin of the Species” (1937). These two men, together with the paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, combined the sciences of genetics, zoology and paleontology into what is now known as “the new synthesis” that provides the modern experimental underpinning to the concepts that Charles Darwin presented in his book, “On the Origin of the Species” .

For anyone interested in learning more about modern evolutionary theory I’d recommend Mayr’s recent book “What Evolution Is” (2002). It’s written in an engaging and readable format from the perspective of someone who’s thought about evolution all his life.

Son of Citizen Kong?

In an article on January 23, 2005, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times in his Answer Man column responds to a writer’s question about films recycling sounds and stock footage from older movies. He notes that in Citizen Kane,

“… when Kane and Susan take their guests on a picnic, … a band plays, and in the background, between trees, if we look closely we can see pterodactyls, the prehistoric flying dinosaurs. The back-projection footage for these shots was borrowed from "Son of Kong" (1933).”

So, dinosaur film buffs now have one more movie to add to their “must see” list.

And, I’m sure many people pointed out to Roger that pterodactyls are not dinosaurs.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Teachers Symposium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Teaching Evolution and the Diversity of Life

It has been hard to miss the uproar that led up to the Ohio Board of Education's final vote in December, 2002 that approved the new science standards for public schools. At the cornerstone of the debate was the new Life Science Standards involving the teaching of evolution and the diversity of life. In response, the Museum will now offer an annual symposium for teachers. The goals of the Teachers Symposium are to increase teachers' content knowledge in a wide variety of science topics and to connect teachers with local experts in those fields. Each year we will target a different topic and grade level. Aimed at 10th grade biology teachers this first Teachers Symposium will center on the Teaching of Evolution and the Diversity of Life.

The Symposium will begin on the evening of Friday, February 11, 2005 with the Explorer Series event “Darwin Remembers ” featuring Mr. Floyd Sandford performing as Charles Darwin. Saturday, February 12 will find teachers attending talks by local evolution experts. Topics include vertebrate eye evolution, human evolution, common misconceptions about evolution held by undergraduates, and more. The morning keynote speaker will be the Museum's executive director, Dr. Bruce Latimer, speaking on the importance of teaching evolution. Dr. Latimer is a physical anthropologist who has worked on important paleoanthropological finds and is an expert on evolution. The afternoon's keynote address will be given by Mr. Richard Benz, an award-winning science teacher from Wickliffe High School. Mr. Benz authored the NSTA press book, Ecology and Evolution , advised on the PBS series “Evolution ” and was a member of the Science Academic Content Standards Advisory Committee and Writing Team for Ohio. Mr. Benz will speak about the teaching evolution in the Ohio classroom. Other invited speakers come from the Museum and local universities.

A resource booklet created especially for the Symposium and will be given to teachers. The booklet will include a bibliography, web site suggestions, a CD of Power Point presentations and an interactive CD-ROM created by Mr. Benz entitled Voyage of the Beagle.

A thematic teaching kit that includes early hominid skulls, videos, books and teacher's guides will also be created in conjunction with the Symposium. Teachers with membership to the SRC will be able to borrow the kit for use in their classroom. The kit will be on exhibit during the Symposium.

The first 60 teachers to register will pay just $15. They will receive a ticket to the Friday night lecture, admission to the Symposium proceedings, a complimentary continental breakfast and luncheon, free parking for both days, a 1-year free membership to the SRC, and a resource booklet. All teachers registering after that will pay $45 and receive everything except the SRC membership.

Teachers may register by calling the SRC (216-231-2075).

Financial support for this event has been provided by the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.

Testing, testing, testing.....

Keep watching the skies!

Monday, February 07, 2005

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