‘The most dangerous place in the history of planet earth’ revealed

Scientists have revealed “the most dangerous place in the history of planet earth.” An international team of paleontologists says that 100 million years ago, ferocious predators such as flying reptiles and crocodile-hunters made the Sahara no place for the faint-hearted. The research is published in the journal ZooKeys. Experts based the study on 100 years of fossil vertebrate discoveries in an area of rock formations in southeastern Morocco, known as the Kem Kem Group. “This was arguably the most dangerous place in the history of planet Earth, a place where a human time-traveller would not last very long,” said lead author Dr. Nizar Ibrahim, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Detroit Mercy and visiting researcher from the U.K.’s University of Portsmouth, in a statement. Experts explain that 100 million years ago, there was a vast river system in the area, and fossils from the three largest predatory dinosaurs have been discovered at Kem Kem. These include the sabre-toothed Carcharodontosaurus, which was over 26 feet long and the raptor Deltadromeus, which was around 26 feet in length. The river system meant that there was a steady supply of fish for predators. “This place was filled with absolutely enormous fish, including giant coelacanths and lungfish,” said co-author Professor David Martill, from the University of Portsmouth, in the statement. “The coelacanth, for example, is probably four or even five times [larger] than today’s coelacanth. There is an enormous freshwater saw shark called Onchopristis with the most fearsome of rostral teeth, they are like barbed daggers, but beautifully shiny.” Experts from the universities of Detroit, Chicago, Montana, Leicester, Casablanca and McGill participated in the research, as did the Paris Museum of Natural History. In a separate study, paleontologists recently announced the discovery of a new species of meat-eating dinosaur in Utah. Last year, scientists also unveiled stunning research that sheds light on the 24 hours that followed the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Fascinating!!  For more, click on the text above.     🙂

Tyrannosaurus Rex’s little arms may have been used for ‘vicious slashing’, scientist claims

The Tyrannosaurus Rex was one of the scariest killers in the history of Planet Earth. But its fearsome image was undermined a little by the ridiculousness of its puny arms, which were among the smallest of all dinosaurs when considered proportionally against the size of its body. Now one scientist has claimed the tiny arms were actually “vicious weapons” equipped with four-inch claws which would have allowed it to eviscerate its unfortunate prey. Steven Stanley, a palaeontologist working at the University of Hawaii, gave a presentation to The Geological Society of America last week in which he claimed nature equipped the monster with “formidable weaponry”. The research flies in the face of previous suggestions that the T-Rex was a lover as well as a fighter, which used its little arms to clasp its partner close during sex. “Its short, strong forelimbs and large claws would have permitted T-Rex, whether mounted on a victim’s back or grasping it with its jaws, to inflict four gashes a metre or more long and several centimetres deep within a few seconds,” said Stanley, according to New Scientist. “And it could have repeated this multiple times in rapid succession.” Other scientists have cast doubt on these claims, with Jakob Vinther, a paleobiologist from the University of Bristol, suggesting Stanley’s argument was “illogical”. The T-Rex’s stubby extremities were just three feet long, meaning it would have needed to get extremely close to its victims if it wanted to rend them limb from limb. And the arms really were used for lovemaking, the claws would hardly have made the encounter very comfortable. Previous research suggested the T-Rex was more of a sensitive lover than you might think. The terrifying meat-eater, which stood 20 feet tall and had jaws bristling with serrated teeth up to nine inches long, was believed to have had a snout as sensitive to touch as human fingertips. A team of researchers suggested two rexy beasts would rub their noses together during foreplay, before getting down to the monstrous act of physical love.

..and I think I need therapy to get that visual out of my head.  No..  I’m inclined to think that Mr. Stanley is on to something.  But, who knows?  Me may never truly learn..

New dinosaur species discovered in American southwest

Scientists have added another dinosaur species to the prehistoric catalog, and this one was found in present-day Utah. Researchers working in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument discovered the new species of dinosaur— a large, horned, herbivorous creature that could have been anywhere from 19 to 26 feet long and weighed in at one to two tons. It took them three field seasons to excavate the fossils. The dinosaur, named Machairoceratops cronusi, is thought to have lived about 77 million years ago. It’s uncommon for a dinosaur of this type to be discovered in this region of the United States, as usually their fossils are found in places like Alaska and Montana. “Even in a place like western North America, where intense work has been conducted over the past 150 years, we are still finding species new to science,” Patrick O’Connor, a coauthor on the study reporting the find, said in a statement. This dinosaur dwelled during the Cretaceous Period in a part of North America that scientists call Laramidia, which was to the west of a sea that divided the continent. This new discovery, found in southern Laramidia, is different from dinosaurs from the same group found in the northern part of Laramidia, suggesting that these dinosaurs lived in two different regions and thus comprised two sub-groups that were shaped differently by evolution. Dinosaurs in this group, called Centrosaurine ceratopsids, had horns, beaks, and neck shields. “Machairoceratops is unique in possessing two large, forward curving spikes off of the back of the neck shield, each of which is marked by a peculiar groove extending from the base of the spike to the tip, the function of which is currently unknown,” Erik Lund, one of the researchers involved in the discovery, said in a statement. Lund is the lead author of the study, which was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

Fascinating!!   🙂

Dinosaur decline started long before asteroid impact

The dinosaurs — the so-called tyrants of the Mesozoic era — weren’t exactly thriving during their last few million years on Earth, a new study finds. The new analysis of the dinosaur family tree reveals that dinosaurs were disappearing even before the asteroid hit about 65.5 million years ago. Roughly 24 million years before that impact, dinosaur extinction rates passed speciation rates, meaning that the animals were losing the ability to replace extinct species with new ones, the researchers said. The findings suggest that these striking extinction rates made the dinosaurs vulnerable to drastic environmental changes, such as the asteroid collision, the researchers said. “This implies that any group of animals that is under prolonged periods of high extinction rate can undergo mass extinction should there be a catastrophic event,” said study lead researcher Manabu Sakamoto, a postdoctoral research assistant of biological sciences at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The study isn’t the first to suggest that dinosaurs were in a major decline before the asteroid event. In previous studies, scientists have recorded the number of species in each geological age and compared those levels to the subsequent ages (each age lasts for millions of years) to get a sense of how diverse the dinosaurs were, Sakamoto said. But that method focuses on snapshots in time and doesn’t take into account the extinction and speciation rate within each branch of the dinosaur family tree. So the researchers of the new study looked at the dinosaur fossil record and the family tree to get a robust picture of when new dinosaur species came onto the scene, Sakamoto said. “Our study is the first to incorporate such phylogenetic [family tree] information when studying speciation and extinction in dinosaurs,” Sakamoto told Live Science. “This is what has allowed us to build a more nuanced and certain picture of dinosaur speciation than has ever before been possible.”

Fascinating!!  To read the rest of this article by Laura Geggel over at LiveScience, click on the text above.    🙂

Scientists closer to CLONING T-Rex after discovering remains of pregnant dinosaur

While dinosaur bones do contain some DNA, the bone known as the medullary bone that grows in female dinosaurs during pregnancy will contain a lot more DNA. Lindsay Zanno, assistant research professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University, said that it “is possible” that the dinosaur and its egg contains the necessary DNA – which is the building blocks for life – to take scientists a step closer to reintroducing dinosaurs to the world. While the technology is not quite there to fully reproduce the likes of a fearsome T-rex, experts hope that the fossils they have harboured may one day come in use to resurrecting them. Ms Zanno told Discovery News: “We have some evidence that fragments of DNA may be preserved in dinosaur fossils, but this remains to be tested further.” Scientists are familiar with the medullary bone as it is also present in the descendants of dinosaurs such as chickens and female reptiles when they are about to give birth. Ms Zanno continued: “It’s a special tissue that is built up as easily mobilised calcium storage just before egg laying. “The outcome is that birds do not have to pull calcium from the main part of their bones in order to shell eggs, weakening their bones the way crocodiles do. “Medullary bone is thus present just before and during egg laying, but is entirely gone after the female has finished laying eggs.” The T-Rex that the team found was discovered in Montana USA and dates back some 68million years and was between 16 and 20 years old. The news that scientists have found some key DNA comes shortly after it was announced that experts from the University of Chile managed to grow dinosaur legs on a chicken. Experts modified the genes in a chicken embryo to develop the dinosaur-esque fibulas in their lower legs. Avian dinosaurs such as the Archaeopteryx had tubular fibulas which reached all the way down to the ankle alongside the tibia – as opposed to chicken fibulas which only go about three quarters of the way down the tibia. Chickens look very similar to dinosaurs when they are developing in the egg, so the researchers shut off a bone maturation gene called IHH or Indian Hedgehog which meant that the chicken developed long, tubular fibulas, like a dinosaur.

How crazy is this?!  Did these guys see Jurassic Park?  Just sayin…

One tough bite: T. rex’s teeth had secret weapon

Secret structures hidden within the serrated teeth of Tyrannosaurus rex and other theropods helped the fearsome dinosaurs tear apart their prey without chipping their pearly whites, a new study finds. Researchers looked at the teeth of theropods — a group of bipedal, largely carnivorous dinosaurs that includes T. rex and Velociraptor — to study the mysterious structures that looked like cracks within each tooth. The investigation showed that these structures weren’t cracks at all, but deep folds within the tooth that strengthened each individual serration and helped prevent breakage when the dinosaur pierced through its prey, said study lead researcher Kirstin Brink, a postdoctoral researcher of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. The new study upends one from the early 1990s, Brink said. Researchers first noticed these cryptic cracks on the tooth of a T. rex cousin named Albertosaurus about two decades ago. Initially, the researchers thought the cracks were signs of damage, likely acquired when the dinosaur ate a hearty meal. But the new analysis finds that isn’t the case, Brink said. “I sectioned teeth from eight other theropods besides Albertosaurus, and found that the structure is actually in all theropods, and it’s not actually a crack,” she told Live Science. The study actually began with a Dimetrodon, a Paleozoic animal with serrated teeth that lived before the time of the dinosaurs. When Brink sliced the Dimetrodon tooth in half and compared it with the serrated teeth of dinosaurs, she found they had different internal structures. “They look very similar on the outside,” Brink said. “It’s only when you cut them open [that you see] that they’re completely different.” Curious, she obtained two to three teeth from eight different theropods species, including T. rex, Coelophysis bauri and Carcharodontosaurus saharicus. She also looked at specimens of theropod teeth that had not yet fully matured and erupted past the gum line, meaning, “they had not been used for feeding,” Brink said. An analysis using a scanning electron microscope and a synchrotron (a microscope that helps determine the chemical composition of a substance) showed that each tooth, even the ones that had not yet erupted, had these cracklike structures next to each serration, she said. This debunked the idea that the cracks were artifacts of eating a meaty meal, she said. Furthermore, each structure has a few extra layers of calcified tissue, called dentine, under the tooth’s outer enamel coating, making it tough and hard. “We proposed a developmental hypothesis that these are structures created when the tooth is first forming,” Brink said. “It actually helps to deepen the serration within the tooth and strengthen each serration and the tooth overall.” Serrated teeth help animals pierce through flesh and hold onto chunks of meat. The formations, which the researchers call “deep interdental folds,” strengthen the serrations. In fact, they likely helped theropods survive as top predators for about 165 million years, Brink said. Serrated teeth still exist today in Komodo dragons. However, Komodo dragon teeth don’t have deep interdental folds, nor do they have the extra layers of dentine that would strengthen their bite, Brink added. She called the toothy finding fascinating and “unexpected.”

Fascinating, indeed!! 🙂

‘Fake’ fossil is actually 189 million-year-old remains of undiscovered species

For 30 years, an overlooked dinosaur fossil at the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery in Doncaster, U.K. was believed to be a plastic replica of an ichthyosaur, a prehistoric aquatic reptile. Thanks to the work of one young paleontologist, not only was the fossil found to be real, but it is the 189 million-year-old remains of a previously unknown species of the ancient reptile. Dean Lomax, 25, came across the fossil in 2008, coming to the conclusion that it was not a synthetic replica, but the real deal. Lomax recently published his findings in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. “We could see tiny hook-shaped features that were actually the hooks from the tentacles of squid,” Lomax told the BBC. “So we know what its last meal was.”

Very cool!!   🙂

Dinos got high, oldest grass fungus fossil hints

Millions of years before LSD and rock and roll, dinosaurs munched on psychedelic fungus, a new study suggests. The hints that dinos got high come from the first amber fossil ever found of ergot, a grass parasite that can have poisonous and mind-altering effects on animals that nibble the dark fungi. Ergot provided the precursor to LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). And people who eat ergot-contaminated rye (or other ergot-tainted grains) develop powerful muscle spasms and hallucinations. The phrase “St. Anthony’s Fire” refers to both ergotism and the horrible burning feeling that ergot triggers by constricting blood vessels. Now, it turns out that ergot has plagued grass-eaters since dinosaurs stomped the Earth. The hunk of amber from Myanmar encases an exquisitely preserved ergot fungus, perched atop a grass spikelet that grew about 100 million years ago, researchers report in the 2015 issue of the journal Palaeodiversity.

How crazy is this?   🙂