fossil news from issue 60

Horned dinosaurs seem to gain a new relative quite often, in fact every 1-2 million years states a researcher in the Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History who has found the latest - Judiceratops tigris. This species lived approximately 12 million years before the commonly known Triceratops & Torosaurus adding up to 75 millions ago. This tri-horned dinosaur had a different frill arrangement which was possibly used in mating rituals and or aggressive acts. The cerotopsids evolved rapidly so we can expect to hear about another species soon.

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rock and gem magazine issue 60 summer 2013


Fallen but now re-instated, Archaeopteryx was thought to have been the forefather of all birds. Since 1861 it was thought to be from the group known as Avialae, from where our feathered birds originate.
In 2011 Chinese researchers announced that they had discovered a feathered dinosaur that had lots of characteristics in common with Archaeopteryx so it was decided Archaeopteryx belonged to the Deinonychus class of dinosaurs.

Now further researchers in China have discovered Aurornis xui a very primitive bird, further re-examination and analysis has shown that indeed Archaeopteryx was also a bird. However some parties would like further authentication to be performed as Aurornis was found by farmers and subsequently obtained from a fossil dealer.

It could be the making of Jurassic Park V (part 4 is already in the making! Shh but you might catch a glimpse on location Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA) Russian scientists have found a part well preserved woolly mammoth including some muscle & blood...from approximately 10-15000 years ago, the adult animal was the first female of the species to be discovered. The abdomen and fore legs in great condition whilst the remainder of the creature was part skeleton and part presumed eaten!
It must be noted that in 2012 a Russian university had signed an agreement with the Korean foundation that's famed for the 1st cloned dog.

Technological advances have enabled researchers to develop a method to analysis fossil teeth which can show the feeding habits of infants, from mothers milk through the weaning stages and dietary change. In order to validate the techniques results teeth were examined from monkeys with recorded feeding history and children over an eight year period.

Albertadromeus syntarsus was named as the smallest dinosaur discovered in Canada, it weighs in at approximately 16kg, from the Late Cretaceous (75+ million years ago). The little fellow would have been fast on his feet (to avoid predation) and had a vegetarian diet. Evidence and subsequent knowledge of smaller dinosaurs is harder to research due to the size of remains and the effect of fossilisation, so although recent thinking suggests they were more abundant than we originally thought, finding fossil proof is difficult.

Deltas of the Amazonas and the Urumaco rivers were home to 14 different species of crocodiles 5 million years ago. Adapted to specific eco environments this number of co-existing crocs have never been recorded at any other time. New species were also found, Globidentosuchus brachyrostris noted for it's spherical teeth and Crocodylus falconensis which allegedly grew to over 4 metres long. The differences in jaw shape between species suggests they evolved to have niche diets, only the giant 12m crocodiles fed on other crocs and large turtles. The unique conditions of the area changed after a tectonic event changing the habitats ability to support such a range of creatures.

As part of a joint research team Bristol University's Earth Sciences department have been able to study the growth of a Dysalotosaurus dinosaurs brain, using CT scanners and 3D imaging. Brain fossil samples of differing aged creatures, has resulted in evidence of sizable changes with age possibly due to metabolic and environment circumstances.

It’s been sometime since we mentioned a naming of a fossil but we couldn't miss Kooteninchela deppi a 505 million year old lobster ancestor with thin scissor like claws.
The 4cm creature would have lived in warm shallow costal waters (off what is now British Columbia) and scavenged for food. Named after the hollywood movie Edward ScissorHands starring Johnny Depp.

After a new study a revised evolutionary history of bony fish specifically gobies has emerged, lead palaeontologist Professor Bettina Reichenbacher examined well preserved fossils and in particular their otoliths more commonly known as ear stones, these growths are mostly comprised of aragonite with some organic matter allowing researchers to analyse their genetic codes.

The East African Rift has yielded more valuable information to Ohio University researchers not just an older than before example of a hominoid named Rukwapithecus fleaglei but also an early cercopithecoid called Nsungwepithecus gunnelli. The study shows that during the Oligocene epoch the two primate groups were already evolving separately.

As examples of these two groups have been particularly hard to find, finding examples of both with the use of dating mineral content of the host rocks does show the benefit of a diverse team combining geologists with palaeontologists.

On the theme of rewriting histories, a 1950's ichthyosaur found in Kurdistan by BP geologists as part of a track has become a significant find. Named Malawania anachronus it is currently the latest ichthyosaur discovered which was thought to have been extinct over 66 million years earlier. After examination of preserved spores and pollen the researchers were able to conclude that the alleged Jurassic extinction event didn't occur for ichthyosaurs, making them stand apart from other marine reptiles. A later find (2012) Acamptonectes densus validates that ichthyosaurs were around in the early Cretaceous period.

Previously we reported on the illegal export and sale of dinosaur remains from Mongolia, now the headline 70-millionyear- old Tyrannosaurus bataar near complete skeleton has been returned to the Mongolian authorities, apparently other significant remains are also due to be returned. Mongolia's minister of culture is quoted as saying a new museum will be built to house the important artifacts.

Eric Prokopi is awaiting sentencing after a guilty plea deal involving the surrender of at least four further dinosaur skeletons.

A new study of ankylosaurs validates previous research from the early 1900's.
Researchers had examined skull armour & tail clubs from various specimens concluding that 4 different species were present. However later in the 1970's this work was dismissed labelling all the fossils from one group called Euoplocephalus.
University of Alberta grad students determined that the 4 species existed for a long period of 10 million years, 3 species during the same time, which leaves questions to be researched about how they successfully co-existed.

Canada is also the home for a new bone headed dinosaur species discovery, called pachycephalosaur. The creature is thought to have grown to 6 feet long and up to 40kg.
The finds are thought to be the oldest known of their type in North America.
Researchers suggest that due to the size and density of the bony mass many more examples could be found.

A fifth theropod has been discovered in the Wucaiwan China, the small theropod called Aorun zhaoi would probably have fed on lizards and small mammals, it was estimated to be 3 feet in length and weighing approximately 3 kg.

It's not often the term 'living fossil' is used in conjunction with fossils! But a frog not only declared extinct in 1996 but incorrectly classified as a member of the Discoglossus group was found live and well in 2011.
Further tests prove that the amphibian belongs to the Latonia group, this Hula painted frog survived it's relatives who died out 15000 years ago. Not only is the creature celebrated in it's native country of Israel elusive as it is, but the fact it has survived is quite remarkable.

Ever wondered how a turtles shell evolved?
A 260 million year old turtle ancestor Eunotosaurus has aided researchers in determining the make up of a modern turtles shell the specimen collected over 100 years ago itself shows a transition period.

The creature like modern day turtles had 9 pairs of T shaped ribs but no broad spines on it's vertebrae nor intercostals muscles or bony scales. Gradually over time everything fused together to form the complete shell and the turtles developed an abdominal muscle to breath replacing the intercostals and rib cage muscles.

A further 210 million year old specimen from China called Odontochelys semitestac also helped in this study; it had a incomplete smaller shell or carapace.

"Wessie" a small amphibian discovered on the Isle of Wight appeared in a transition period between the earlier albanerpetontids from elongated and bell shaped frontals to triangular shape. Wesserpeton was small similar to a newt in size with sharp teeth and existed in the early Cretaceous period.
Although a complete fossil has yet to be found many partial pieces have been uncovered on the Island.

A Queensland (Australia) Heritage Trails Network project and the site to the largest dinosaur trackway in the world, seeing the 3,000 - 4,000 foot prints of smaller dinosaurs at lark quarry would definitely prod your imagination into running from a giant meat eating ferocious predator. In fact that’s the story re-told on the guided tour.
However a graduate palaeontology student pondered an 'outside of the box' thought and proposed the theory that the dinosaurs were actually just moving around in a water environment with their weight supported and feet touching the ground leaving the prints.
Obviously this theory needs to be substantiated as established thought has yet to totally accept it, do footprints if made in mud underwater create sufficiently deep impressions to stand the test of time?

A smaller theropod relative of T-Rex called Allosaurus didn't feed in the same way as its famed sibling according to an Ohio University study. After careful computer modelling based on CT scans of the creatures' bones and studying it's neck and skull. They proposed that Allosaurus used an up and down motion to rip flesh from it's victims similar to some birds of prey.

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