Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Marsupial Genome Reveals Insights Into Mammalian Evolution

Reconstructing an Ancestral Mammalian Immune Supercomplex from a Marsupial Major Histocompatibility Complex. 2006. Katherine Belov et al. Public Library of Science Biology 4(3)

From the Public Library of Sciene press release:

The genetic code of marsupials has now been documented for the first time. An international team led by Kathy Belov from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Veterinary Science published an analysis of the marsupial genome in the open access journal PLoS Biology. The paper details the evolution of an important cluster of immune genes known as the MHC using available genome sequences of the gray, short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica), a marsupial found in South America.

Belov et al. found that while the size and complexity of the opossum MHC is closer to eutherian (placental) mammals, its organization is closer to fish and birds. "The clues we unearthed by looking at different genomes are also helping us to understand how our own intricate immune system evolved from the relatively simple immune system seen in lower vertebrates such as birds and fish," says Belov.

"Interest in marsupial and monotreme genomes comes from their important positions in vertebrate evolution," says Belov. (Monotremes are egg-laying mammals, represented today by only the platypus and echidna.) "Comparing genes of placental mammals, such as the human and the mouse, is not very efficient because their genes can be so similar it is hard to pinpoint regions that remain unchanged because they serve a particular purpose. In contrast, comparison of distantly related genes, such as the chicken and human, can be difficult, because the sequences are so different."

Figure 4. A Model of the Evolution of the Mammalian MHC.© 2006 Belov et al.
Organization of the MHC in the mammalian ancestor is similar to that of non-mammals. Class I and II regions are adjacent and the antigen processing genes are found within Class I. Class Ib genes are located outside the MHC but on the same chromosome. The framework and extended regions have assembled. The framework gene order is conserved in both the opossum and eutherians. After the divergence of the eutherian lineage, Class I genes relocated to the framework region. MYA = million years ago.

National Gorilla Suit Day

It's all explained HERE.

From Today In Science History: On this date in 1961, the U.S. launched a 4-year-old male chimpanzee named Ham on a Mercury-Redstone 2 rocket into suborbital flight. During his 16.5 minute suborbital flight, Ham experienced about 7 minutes of weightlessness, reached an altitude of 108 miles and a speed of 13,000 mph. Ham was recovered safely 1,425 miles downrange.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Only Link You Need Today

Palaeo-grad student meal: deluxe version.

Published Today (1868): Darwin’s ‘Variation’

From Today In Science History:

In 1868, Charles Darwin's book - Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication - was published. He was 58. It is probably the second in importance of all his works. This was a follow-up work, written in response to criticisms that his theory of evolution was unsubstantiated. Darwin here supports his views via analysis of various aspects of plant and animal life, including an inventory of varieties and their physical and behavioral characteristics, and an investigation of the impact of a species' surrounding environment and the effect of both natural and forced changes in this environment.

Kubert's Cretaceous Chaos

Tor & art © Joe Kubert

No one knows what the end of the Cretaceous was like 65 Ma years ago, but I suspect that this scene by Joe Kubert from one of his (fairly) recent volumes of 'Tor' is a pretty close approximation.

Shanghai’s New Fossil Exhibit

Paleontologist Di Yeli restores the giant-lip rhinoceros at Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.

From the Shanghai Daily News comes this report:

127 pieces of million-year-old animal fossils from Hezheng County in Gansu Province will be exhibited in Shanghai from tomorrow for two months. The displays will include a shovel-tusk elephant (15 Ma) eating plants; a Hezheng goat (12 Ma) standing on a mountaintop, plus an ancient samoth giraffe, a giant-lip rhino and a three-toed horse “playing happily together”. Also on display will be the skulls, jaws, teeth and limbs of dozens of different prehistoric mammals.

Hezheng, now located in the semi-arid areas bordering the Loess Plateau and the Tibet Plateau in China's northwestern region, was at that time a verdurous and humid paradise for various species of ancient mammals such as giraffe, deer, antelope, goat and hyena.

"It is the first time for these precious fossils — indeed, 'China's national treasure' — to leave the place where they were unearthed some 50 years ago and travel far for an exhibition," says paleontologist Di Yeli, who is the chief engineer for arranging the exhibition. "The fossils not only show us changes of mammal dynasties in Hezheng and its adjacent areas 15 million years ago, but they also provide us with clues to understand the environmental variation in that region. They open a new window for us to look into the evolution of life."

Read the rest HERE.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Marusan Vinyl Dinos

Click to enlarge

Ages ago my co-worker at the CMNH, Mark Kollecker, sent me the above photo of these vintage vinyl toys made by the Japanese company Marusan in 1966 for the release of the movie One Million Years BC. Apparently there is even a scarce giant sea turtle that you can add to your collection. Hopefully I can convince Mark to supply me with more photos from his collection.

Sunday Comics

Frank Cho draws some dinos over at the Liberty Meadows archives.

Goat updates his blog at Pearls Before Swine.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dino Sculptor Jim Gary Passes Away

From Cleveland’s Plain Dealer:

Jim Gary, an artist who used junkyard car parts to make playful dinosaur skeletons that were exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and other leading museums around the world, died Jan. 14. He was 66. Gary's exhibit, "Twentieth Century Dinosaurs," toured the United States, Australia and Asia for more than 20 years starting in the late 1970s.

He built many of his sculptures from the worn-out parts of hulking American cars of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. He turned old brake shoes into dinosaur feet, oil pans into faces, axles into legs. Generator fans as dinosaur eyes allowed for huge lashes. He and his art were featured in Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic World and a number of other science and nature publications.

See more of his work HERE.

Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists

Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS) is a club for scientists who have, or believe they have, luxuriant flowing hair.

HOW TO JOIN THE CLUB: To propose yourself (and your hair) for membership in the club, please send info to: LUXURIANT HAIR CLUB c/o marca@chem2.harvard.edu

Please include a photograph -- or a URL that points to a photograph -- in which the luxuriant, flowing hair is CLEARLY evident. Also please include a URL pointing to your credentials as a scientist. You may nominate someone else whose hair you admire, provided that you have first consulted that person.

NOTE: Each new member is entitled, should he or she request it, to a free issue of the Annals of Improbable Research.

PUBLIC ADMIRATION: The public loves to see and applaud scientists who have luxuriant flowing hair. Therefore, all LFHCfS members who come to Improbable Research events are invited to take a bow, allowing the audience to shower them and their hair with applause.

PALAEOBLOG NOTE: Paleontologists seem to be underepresented in this club. I can think of at least one paleontologist in Alberta who should be inducted. Let the paleo-nominations begin!

Born Today: Eugene Dubois, Father of ‘Java Man’

Jan. 28, 1858 - Dec. 16, 1940.

Dubois joined the Dutch Army as a medical officer, and used spare time from his medical duties to search for fossils, first in Sumatra and then in Java. He searched on the banks of the Solo River, with two assigned engineers and a crew of convict labourers to help him. In September 1890, his workers found a human, or human-like, fossil at Koedoeng Broeboes. This consisted of the right side of the chin of a lower jaw and three attached teeth. In August 1891 he found a primate molar tooth.Two months later and one meter away was found an intact skullcap, the fossil which would be known as Java Man. In August 1892, a third primate fossil, an almost complete left thigh bone, was found between 10 and 15 meters away from the skullcap.

In 1894 Dubois published a description of his fossils, naming them Pithecanthropus erectus (now Home erectus), describing it as neither ape nor human, but something intermediate. In 1895 he returned to Europe to promote the fossil and his interpretation. A few scientists enthusiastically endorsed Dubois' work, but most disagreed with his interpretation. Many scientists pointed out similarities between the Java Man skullcap and Neandertal fossils.

Around 1900 Dubois ceased to discuss Java Man, and hid the fossils in his home while he moved on to other research topics. geology and paleontology. It was not until 1923 that Dubois, under pressure from scientists, once again allowed access to the Java Man fossils. That and the discovery of similar fossils caused it to once again become a topic of debate.

Skull cap (Trinil 2, holotype of Home erectus) from HERE.

The first two Peking Man skulls were found in 1929 and three more in 1936. In the late 1930s, other pithecanthropine fossils were found in Java at Sangiran. It was clear to everyone else that all these fossils were very similar to Dubois' original find, but Dubois fiercely resisted this idea.

Info from Here, Here and HERE. Dubois from HERE.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Art © Manny Carrasco

I recently came across this interview with Clayburn Moore talking about this latest sculpting collaboration with Frank Cho. Frank’s an old friend of this blog, as are the two people who hooked him up with Clay, Mark Schultz and Manny ("Space Jam," "Anastasia") Carrasco, a very talented artist and animator in the videogame and animation business. While I’ve plugged both Frank and Mark here from time to time, I’ve never mentioned Manny before. Well that ends now.

In addition to his many talents, Manny has been an active falconer for many years and is currently working on his own illustrated book on the subject. A few weeks ago Manny sent along this t-shirt design that he had whipped up in “about an hour”. Since the palaeoblog likes to cover dinosaurs both extinct and extant I thought I’d share it with you all. Manny promises to send along photos of some of his birds in action and I’ll post some of the best here. One of these days, Manny, Mark and I are going to hunt for fossils on Manny’s family ranch in Mexico.

Platypterygius longmani

Cranial morphology of Platypterygius longmani Wade, 1990 (Reptilia: Ichthyosauria) from the Lower Cretaceous of Australia. 2005. B. P. Kear. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society,Vol 145: 583-622.

Image from HERE.

Abstract: Exceptionally well-preserved remains belonging to the Australian Early Cretaceous (Albian) ichthyosaur Platypterygius longmani Wade, 1990 are described in detail. The material is used to reconstruct some of the cranial musculature and provide a brief functional analysis of the skull and mandible. Preparation of specimens using acetic acid and application of high-resolution X-ray computed tomographic analyses has revealed many previously unrecorded anatomical details, including the absence of a coronoid and squamosal, and the presence of well-developed epipterygoid facets on the pterygoid and parietal (possibly indicating retention of an unossified epipterygoid element).

Reconstruction of the jaw musculature suggests a well-developed m. adductor mandibulae internus pterygoideus (serving to close the jaws against inertia and drag of the surrounding water), and possibly an m. intramandibularis (acting to accentuate static pressure along the elongate mandible when the jaws were closed).

Despite its large size (maximum total body length of around 7 m), the long, narrow snout of P. longmani (together with preserved gut contents) indicates selective feeding on relatively small prey such as fish, small tetrapods and probably cephalopods.

Jack Horner Named Montana's State Paleontologist

From the Bozman Daily Chronicle:

Jack Horner has been reappointed state paleontologist by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who praised the Museum of the Rockies' curator for bringing "exceptional recognition to Montana for its significant contributions to the science of paleontology."

"State paleontologist" is an honorary title that has been given to Horner by every administration since Gov. Ted Schwinden.

In the past, Horner worked in his capacity as state paleontologist with the state historic office in evaluating state lands. More recently he has helped federal agents with issuing fossil-collecting permits on federal lands.

"They still make the designation so I can help the federal agencies evaluate all sorts of things," he explained Wednesday.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

More Than Half of Britian Does Not Fully Accept Evolution

From BBC News comes this report:

More than half the British population does not fully accept the theory of evolution, according to a survey. Furthermore, more than 40% of those questioned believe that creationism or intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons. The survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI for the BBC's Horizon series.

Its latest program, A War on Science, looks into the attempt to introduce intelligent design into science classes in the US.

Over 2000 participants took part in the survey, and were asked what best described their view of the origin and development of life:

• 22% chose creationism
• 17% opted for intelligent design
• 48% selected evolution theory
• and the rest did not know.

The findings prompted surprise from the scientific community. Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, said: "It is surprising that many should still be sceptical of Darwinian evolution. Darwin proposed his theory nearly 150 years ago, and it is now supported by an immense weight of evidence.

"We are, however, fortunate compared to the US in that no major segment of UK religious or cultural life opposes the inclusion of evolution in the school science curriculum."

Born This Day: Roy Chapman Andrews

Jan. 26, 1884 – March 11, 1960.

Photo from Charles Knight’s article, “Parade of Life Through The Ages”, National Geographic, Feb. 1942.

From the American Museum of Natural History web site:

Adventurer, administrator, and Museum promoterAndrews spent his entire career at the American Museum of Natural History, where he rose through the ranks from departmental assistant, to expedition organizer, to Museum director. He became world famous as leader of the Central Asiatic Expeditions, a series of expeditions to Mongolia that collected, among other things, dinosaur eggs. But on these expeditions, Andrews himself found few fossils, and during his career he was not known as an influential scientist. Instead, Andrews filled the role of promoter, creating immense excitement and successfully advancing the research and exhibition goals of the museum.

Learn about the Roy Chapman Andrews Society HERE.

Learn more about the man and his advenutures at Whales, Camps and Trails.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

New Ghost Ranch Archosaur Described

Extreme convergence in the body plans of an early suchian (Archosauria) and ornithomimid dinosaurs (Theropoda). 2006. Sterling J. Nesbitt and Mark A. Norell. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Published on-line Jan. 25.

illo probably © the journal

Abstract: Living archosaurs comprise birds (dinosaurs) and crocodylians (suchians). The morphological diversity of birds and stem group dinosaurs is tremendous and well-documented. Suchia, the archosaurian group including crocodylians, is generally considered more conservative. Here, we report a new Late Triassic suchian archosaur with unusual, highly specialized features that are convergent with ornithomimid dinosaurs. Several derived features of the skull and postcranial skeleton are identical to conditions in ornithomimids. Such cases of extreme convergence in multiple regions of the skeleton in two distantly related vertebrate taxa are rare. This suggests that these archosaurs show iterative patterns of morphological evolution. It also suggests that this group of suchians occupied the adaptive zone that was occupied by ornithomimosaurs later in the Mesozoic.

From RedOrbit.com comes this article:
A toothless, two-legged crocodile ancestor that walked upright and had a beak instead of teeth was discovered in the basement of New York's American Museum of Natural History, according to a report published on Wednesday. The 210 million-year-old fossil had sat in storage at the museum for nearly 60 years and was found only by accident, the paleontologists said.
The 2 meter long archosaur is interesting because it closely resembles a completely unrelated dinosaur called an ostrich dinosaur that lived 80 million years later. Its skull and skeleton were very similar to those of ostrich dinosaurs, with a beak, a long tail, and two-legged stance. Its ankle, however, shows its relationship to crocodilians.

It was discovered in blocks of rock from the Ghost Ranch Quarry, New Mexico that were excavated in 1947 and 1948. Scientists thought that all the specimens were Coelophysis, a small, carnivorous dinosaur that lived at the same time.

Norell and Sterling Nesbitt named the new animal Effigia okeeffeae. The name recalls both the ranch and painter Georgia O'Keefe, who had an interest in the quarry.

Born This Day: Theodosius Dobzhansky

Jan.25, 1900–Dec. 18, 1975

Dobzhansky is noted for being one of the architects of the modern Synthetic Theory of evolution. During the first 20 years of the 20th century, Darwin's theory of natural selection had fallen out of favor among scientists. Many thought it insufficient to explain the origin of adaptations, while new discoveries of gene mutations seemed to them to be incompatible with Darwinian models of change.

But in 1937 Dobzhansky published his book, Genetics and the Origin of Species, that was the first systematic overview view encompassing organic diversity, variation in natural populations, selection, isolating mechanisms (a term he coined) and species as natural units.

Later, working with Sewall Wright, he went on to demonstrate how evolution can produce stability and equilibrium in populations rather than constant directional change. link. image.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Function of Duck-Billed Dino Crests

From the U of Toronto press release:
After decades of debate, a U of T researcher has finally determined that duck-billed dinosaurs' massive but hollow crests had nothing to do with what many scientists suspected -- the sense of smell.

Speculation about their function has led to theories that the crests functioned as everything from brain coolers to snorkels for underwater feeding. Now, David Evans, a PhD student in zoology at the University of Toronto, has been able to use a reconstructed brain cavity to rule out one historically popular theory: that the crests evolved to increase the animal's sense of smell. "From the brain case, there's no indication that the nerves curled upwards into the crest, as we would expect if the crest was used for the sense of smell," Evans says.

"It appears that the brain changed very little from their non-crested dinosaur ancestors, and that the primary region of the sense of smell was located right in front of the eyes – and coincidentally, that's where it is in birds, crocodiles, mammals and basically all four-legged animals."

Evans studied fossils from a group of herbivorous dinosaurs called lambeosaurs, which are often referred to as crested duck-billed dinosaurs. Lambeosaurs are easily recognizable for their large cranial crests, which contain elongated nasal passages and loop over their skull. Duck-billed dinosaurs are sometimes referred to as the "Cows of the Cretaceous period" and lived 85 million to 65 million years ago.

Evans reconstructed the dinosaurs' brain cavity using well-preserved fragments of fossilized bone and created the first-ever cast of the lambeosaur brain, which is approximately the size of a human fist. The findings add weight to two currently popular theories: that the crests were used to create resonant sounds to attract mates or warn of predators, or that they were used for visual display in mate selection or species recognition, similar to feather crests in some birds.

The study appears in the January issue of the journal Paleobiology. Evans is now examining how the crests developed during the life spans of different lambeosaur species, which could shed further light on their purpose.

Kudos to one of my favourite palaeo-collaborators, David Evans, for publishing this excellent piece of work! The project had its beginnings as an undergraduate project while he was working at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. The illos above are courtesy David with the topmost being the work of his uncle. Evans was also involved in THIS WORK published last year.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Strange Change Machine


Remember the “Strange Change Machine?” If you do (or even if you don’t) check out THIS SITE for more info on this toy (or was it?).

The Blogger engine has been goofy for the past few days, and I’ve been sick (still am), so postings will return to normal shortly.

Born Today: Elmer S. Riggs

January 23, 1869 – March 25, 1963.

Riggs was an American who became Curator of Paleontology at what is now the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Although he collected fossils from around the world he is best remember as the person who in 1903 recognized Brontosaurus as being a juvenile Apatosaurus. He also named Brachiosaurus.

Photo from HERE.

The Brachiosaurus (above) that now stands in Terminal B of the Chicago airport (and once was in the main entrance of the Field Museum before ‘Sue’ moved in) was built by the Palaeoblogger and associates.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Jack Horner To Receive Honorary Degree

John R. Horner, regents' professor and curator of paleontology for the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., and famed consultant for Hollywood's "Jurassic Park" films, will receive an honorary doctoral degree at one of Penn States future commencement ceremonies. The Board of Trustees approved Horner for an honorary-degree on January 20.

Previous to assuming his roles at Montana State University, Horner was an assistant curator of paleontology at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. In addition, he served as technical advisor to director Steven Spielberg for the movies "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World."

A recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship -- sometimes called the "genius grant" -- and numerous research grants from national and international organizations, Horner is the author of more than 45 professional papers and 35 popular articles and co-author of five books. He has presented at more than 700 invited lectures around the world.

Image from HERE.

Lines and Colors

Charley Parker was kind enough to write in and let us know about his LinesandColors.com blog that is about drawing, sketching, painting, comics, cartoons, webcomics, and all things related. The site has a Paleo Art section, which is from where I took the above painting by (and ©) John Sibbeck.

Parker was also the creator of a series of dinosaur cartoons that ran in Asimov's Science Fiction over many years. Parker’s built the site DinosaurCartoons.com around them that includes a "How to Draw Cartoon Dinosaurs" Flash interactive feature. You can check it out by going HERE.

Parker also does a very cool and fun Sci-Fi webcomic called “Argon Zark!” which you can read HERE. And if you like that check out “Azort Starbolt, Space Android” – the radio series HERE.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dinosaur Sanctuary On The Chatham Islands

Dinosaur sanctuary on the Chatham Islands, Southwest Pacific: First record of theropods from the K–T boundary Takatika Grit. 2006. Jeffrey D. Stilwell, et al. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 230: 243-250.

Abstract: Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) boundary (ca. 65 Ma) sections on a Southwest Pacific island containing dinosaurs were unknown until March 2003 when theropod bones were recovered from the Takatika Grit on the remote Chatham Islands, along the Chatham Rise. Tectonic and palaeontologic evidence support the eastward extension of a ca. 900 km land bridge that connected the islands to what is now New Zealand prior to the K–T boundary. The Chathams terrestrial fauna inhabited coastal, temperate environments along a low-lying, narrow, crustal extension of the New Zealand subcontinent, characterised by a tectonically dynamic, volcanic landscape with eroding hills (horsts) adjacent to flood plains and deltas, all sediments accumulating in grabens. This finger-like tract was blanketed with a conifer and clubmoss (Lycopodiopsida) dominated forest. The Chatham Islands region would have, along with New Zealand, provided a dinosaur island sanctuary after separating from the Gondwana margin ca. 80 Ma.

© DC Comics

Woodpeckers 1: Bigfoot 0

LiveScience.com presents an article by Benjamin Radford from the Skeptical Inquirer:

As reported around the world, the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), last known to exist in 1944, was sighted in eastern Arkansas in 2004. The sighting prompted a massive (and secret) follow-up search in 2005 of a sixteen-square-mile area of Arkansas forest. When the bird was confirmed to exist, the discovery spawned international headlines, an article in the journal Science, and a book titled The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

While the search for additional evidence of the woodpecker continues, the investigation is instructive for what it did not find: the alleged and elusive Bigfoot. The search for the woodpecker took months of intensive research in the woods of rural Arkansas. Bigfoot believers try to explain away the lack of evidence by suggesting that Bigfoot are out there in remote areas, but few people are out actively looking or listening.

Though the researchers were not specifically looking for Bigfoot, new discoveries often occur when people look for one quarry but find another. Surely so many trained eyes and ears, with so much equipment, could not have failed to notice hairy bipedal giants living in (and roaming through) the Arkansas woods.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Bigfoot from HERE.

Kong Major Plot Flaw (Any Version)

©Pete Von Sholly

In response to a previous post, Pete Von Sholly drew up and sent along this cartoon.

Pete also has some Kong art up at the KongisKing.com site HERE.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Vatican Says "intelligent design" Not Science

Tom Heneghan at RedOrbit.com has this report:

The Roman Catholic Church has restated its support for evolution with an article praising a U.S. court decision that rejects the "intelligent design" theory as non-scientific.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said that teaching intelligent design -- which argues that life is so complex that it needed a supernatural creator -- alongside Darwin's theory of evolution would only cause confusion.

The ID movement sometimes presents Catholicism, the world's largest Christian denomination, as an ally in its campaign. While the Church is socially conservative, it has a long theological tradition that rejects fundamentalist creationism.

"Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the demand it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation," said the article in the Tuesday edition of the newspaper.

Evolution represents "the interpretative key of the history of life on Earth" and the debate in the United States was "polluted by political positions," wrote Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at Italy's Bologna University.

Read the rest HERE:

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ears Evolved from Fish Gills

Tetrapod-like middle ear architecture in a Devonian fish. 2006. Martin D. Brazeau and Per E. Ahlberg. Nature 439: 318-321.

This image shows how the hyomandibula, colored red, receded in fish to create a wider ear opening in early land animals. © Nature (click to enlarge)

Abstract: Few fossils show the incipient stages of complex morphological transformations. For example, the earliest stages in the remodelling of the spiracular tract and suspensorium (jaw suspension) of osteolepiform fishes into the middle ear of tetrapods have remained elusive. The most primitive known tetrapods show a middle ear architecture that is very different from osteolepiforms such as Eusthenopteron, with little indication of how this transformation took place. Here we present an analysis of tetrapod middle ear origins that is based on a detailed study of Panderichthys, the immediate sister taxon of tetrapods. We show that the spiracular region is radically transformed from osteolepiforms and represents the earliest stages in the origin of the tetrapod middle ear architecture. The posterior palatoquadrate of Panderichthys is completely tetrapod-like and defines a similarly tetrapod-like spiracular tract. The hyomandibula has lost its distal portion, representing a previously unrecognized advance towards a stapes-like morphology. This spiracular specialization suggests that the middle ear of early tetrapods evolved initially as part of a spiracular breathing apparatus.
From Bjorn Carey at LiveScience.com comes this article:
Humans and other land animals have special bones in their ears that are crucial to hearing. Ancient fish used similar structures to breathe underwater. Scientists had thought the evolutionary change occurred after animals had established themselves on land, but a new look at an old fossil suggests ear development was set into motion before any creatures crawled out of the water.

Researchers examined the ear bones of a close cousin of the first land animals, a 370-million-year-old fossil fish called Panderichthys. They compared these structures to those of another lobe-finned fish and to an early land animal and determined that Panderichthys displays a transitional form.

The fossilized Panderichthys shows the middle step in modern ear development. Credit: Martin Brazeau (click to enlarge)

In the other fish, Eusthenopteron, a small bone called the hyomandibula developed a kink and obstructed the gill opening, called a spiracle. However, in early land animals such as the tetrapod Acanthostega, this bone has receded, creating a larger cavity in what is now part of the middle ear in humans and other animals. The new examination of the Panderichthys fossil provides scientists with a critical "missing link" between fish gill openings and ears.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Congrats to up and coming Canadian Student, Martin Brazeau, and his advisor (and old Palaeoblogger buddy) Per Ahlberg!

Neanderthals Not Numbskulls

Once again the Palaeoblog squeezes some physical anthropology under the wire and onto the page:

The disappearance of Neanderthals is frequently attributed to competition from modern humans, whose greater intelligence has been widely supposed to make them more efficient as hunters. However, a new study forthcoming in the February issue of Current Anthropology argues that the hunting practices of Neanderthals and early modern humans were largely indistinguishable, a conclusion leading to a different explanation, also based on archaeological data, to explain the disappearance of the Neanderthals. This study has important implications for debates surrounding behavioral evolution and the practices that eventually allowed modern humans like us to displace other closely-related species.

The researchers use new archaeological data from a Middle- and Upper-Paleolithic rock shelter in the Georgian Republic dated to 60,000–20,000 years ago to contest some prior models of the perceived behavioral and cognitive differences between Neanderthals and modern humans. Instead, the researchers suggest that developments in the social realm of modern human life, allowing routine use of distant resources and more extensive division of labor, may be better indicators of why Neanderthals disappeared than hunting practices.

Steven M. Stanley Wins NAS Medal

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has selected 15 individuals to receive awards honoring their outstanding scientific achievements. The awards will be presented on April 23 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., during the Academy's 143rd annual meeting.

Congratulations go out to STEVEN M. STANLEY, research professor, department of geology and geophysics, University of Hawaii, Honolulu who will be presented with the MARY CLARK THOMPSON MEDAL – a medal and prize of $15,000 awarded every three years to recognize important services to geology and paleontology.

Stanley was chosen "for research and leadership in bivalve functional morphology and the macroevolution of disparate animals, including hominids, in the context of Earth's physical and chemical history." The medal was established by a gift of Mary Clark Thompson and has been presented since 1921.

Image from HERE. Stanley from HERE

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Happy (belated) Birthday: Popeye

Popeye was the creation of E.C. Segar who introduced the character into his newpaper strip, “Thimble Theatre”, on Jan. 17, in 1929 (yup, this post is a day late). The character quickly gained in popularity and eventually the strip was named after him. Growing up I was never all that fond of Popeye until I eventually discovered Segar’s brilliant cartooning much later in life. Sadly, Segar died in 1938 at the young age of 44. Most of the people who carried on the strip never managed to match Segar’s wit and style, although Bobby London gave the character a good run back in the late ‘80’s.

Image from HERE.

The Fault Line Between Faith and Science

E. O. Wilson as some thoughts on ‘intelligent design” posted at Enotes.com. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the explanation of evolution, and especially of the human mind, might intelligent design provide a compromise between biology and religion? This now-famous proposal asserts that evolution is real but guided by a supernatural intelligence.The evidence, however, consists solely of a default argument followed by a non sequitur. Its logic is this: Biologists have not explained how some complex systems, such as the human eye and brain, could have evolved by random mutations and natural selection. More important, proponents say such an explanation is impossible. Therefore, they claim, a higher intelligence must have guided evolution.

Unfortunately, no positive evidence exists for such a claim. No scientific theory has been proffered or even imagined to explain the transcription from a supernatural force to organic reality. This absence of the elementary requirements of science is why intelligent design is better taught as religion or science fiction. Thankfully, educators and administrators -- including most recently those in Dover, Pa. -- are arriving at a similar conclusion.

Scientists are not opposed to the search for intelligent design, only to the claim that it is supported by scientific evidence. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the culture of science. Discoveries and the testing of discoveries are the currency of science; they are our silver and gold.”

Read Wilson’s complete article HERE.

Photo (and a short interview with Wilson) from Salon.com

Chilly Findings For Cope’s Rule

From the UCSD press release:
Results published in an early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the maxim known as “Cope’s Rule” may be only partly true.

Dunnies, David Horvath and Dalek, USA (2004), from HERE.

Biologists have long believed that bigger is better when it comes to body size, since many lineages of animals, from horses to dinosaurs, have evolved into larger species over time.

The research found that populations of tiny crustaceans retrieved from deep-sea sediments over the past 40 million years grew bigger and evolved into larger species, as might be predicted from Cope’s Rule. However, the changes in the sizes of these clam-like crustaceans commonly known as ostracodes —from the genus Poseidonamicus — increased only when the global ocean temperature cooled. When temperatures remained stable, not much happened to body size.

“These data show a very nice correlation between temperature and body size,” said Kaustuv Roy, a professor of biology at UCSD and a coauthor of the paper.

The data suggest that Cope’s Rule—named for Edward Cope, a 19 th century American paleontologist who claimed the fossil record showed that lineages became larger over time—may simply be an evolutionary manifestation of Bergmann’s Rule, which holds that animals increase in mass in colder environments.

Biologists had long assumed that Bergmann’s Rule—named after the 19 th century German biologist Christian Bergmann—reflected the adaptation of warm-blooded animals to become larger when they move in colder environments. The reason: Bigger animals have smaller surface to volume ratios and can more effectively conserve heat in cold environments. Similarly, smaller animals with larger surface to volume ratios are better adapted to warmer environments where they can more effectively dissipate heat.

Photo shows increase in body size of deep-sea ostracode Poseidonamicus from 40 million years ago to 900,000 years ago. Photo by Gene Hunt, UCSD.

Biologists are uncertain what may be triggering this biological response to larger size from cool environments. Nevertheless, the UCSD study is important because it establishes a firm link between climatic change and the body size of organisms, paving the way for a better understanding of the evolution of body size in fossil organisms as well as in environments that are now being impacted by global warming [ Ed.note: notice that more and more palaeo papers are now being tied to global wamring?.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth

Sam Hughes over at Livescience.com posted this article last May. I missed it then and chances are you did to. But it’s a fun read. I like #4 the best as it also has the most potential for uncovering an enormous number of dinosaurs on our way to the end.

Art by Jack Kirby. Galactus © Marvel Comics.

#4: Meticulously and Systematically Deconstructed

You will need: a powerful mass driver, or ideally lots of them; ready access to roughly 2*1032J

Method: Basically, what we're going to do here is dig up the Earth, a big chunk at a time, and boost the whole lot of it into orbit. Yes. All six sextillion tons of it. A mass driver is a sort of oversized electromagnetic railgun, which was once proposed as a way of getting mined materials back from the Moon to Earth - basically, you just load it into the driver and fire it upwards in roughly the right direction. We'd use a particularly powerful model - big enough to hit escape velocity of 11 kilometers per second even after atmospheric considerations - and launch it all into the Sun or randomly into space.

If we wanted to and were willing to devote resources to it, we could start this process RIGHT NOW. Indeed, what with all the gunk left in orbit, on the Moon and heading out into space, we already have done.

Earth's final resting place: Many tiny pieces, some dropped into the Sun, the remainder scattered across the rest of the Solar System.

Earliest feasible completion date: Ah. Yes. At a billion tons of mass driven out of the Earth's gravity well per second: 189,000,000 years.

Born This Day: Gaspard Bauhin

Jan. 17, 1560 - Dec. 5, 1624.

From Today In Science History:

Bauhin was a Swiss physician, anatomist, and botanist who introduced a scientific binomial system of classification to both anatomy and botany. In 1623 Bauhin produced the Pinax Theatri Botanici, the first attempt to summarize a confusing array of names. It was a monumental compilation that pulled together uncoordinated plant names and descriptions of 6000 species that had appeared in Theophrastus and Dioscorides, as well as in later herbals and other plant records. By accepting Bauhin's compilation, Linnaeus was able to avoid many of the complications of the ancient literature.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Discovery Day At The CMNH

Here in the U.S. of A. it’s "Martin Luther King Day". It’s also the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s annual “Discovery Day”. This means that all the curators, volunteers, & other staff take to the galleries to meet the public (free admission today!) and talk about what we do. That’s Dale, Gary, & David from the VP Dept. keeping the visitors entertained and informed (Joe & Delina were taking a break when this photo was snapped).

A young visitor tries on a T. rex tooth for size.

Roberta (from the Vertebrate Zoology Dept.) in the shadow of some big bones.

Gary Jackson fits the Triceratops puppet on a young dinosaur enthusiast.

Photos © M. Ryan. Thanks to Tim for stopping by to say ‘hi’!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Opened To The Public (1759): The British Museum

Image from HERE.

From Today In Science History:

On this day in 1759, the British Museum, in Bloomsbury, London, the world's oldest public national museum, opened to the public who were admitted in small groups, by ticket obtained in advance, for a conducted tour. It was established on June 7, 1753 when King George II gave his royal assent to an Act of Parliament to acquire the collection of Sir Hans Sloane. In his will, he had offered the nation his lifetime collection of 71,000 objects, mostly plant and animal specimens. In return, he requested £20,000 for his heirs (which today would be over £2,000,000). The present museum buildings date from the mid-19th century. Its natural history collection moved to its own museum in 1881.

The Sand Sculptures of Carl Jara

Another reason I go to work each day is that I get to work with a lot of very cool people. In addition to my great staff (Gary Jackson – ace preparator, & David Chapman – guru of casting and molding), the museum is full of very talented people like Carl Jara (right). Carl works in Exhibits and he’s also a world renowned Sand Sculptor, having won awards in more places then most of us will ever hope to go.

Above and below is the ‘Sandosaurus’ he did for the Cleveland Children’s Museum.

Above are the life-size dinos that were carved with Rob Tobey at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Vermont. I love the “Gwangi” texture that they’ve used for the skin!

And this is Father Time in his Time Machine.

Above is Carl’s first place entry in “The Sand Castle Days” competition at South Padre Island, Texas last October 30, 2005.

Go check out all the great sculptures at Carl’s page HERE. Carl even reveals his secrets HERE.

All photos from Carl’s site