Paleontology

‘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.     🙂

Ancient mini kangaroos had no hop, they scurried

Two newly described species of tiny kangaroos that lived between 18 million and 23 million years ago scurried rather than hopped, a new study finds. But although these pint-size kangas were short on bounce, they outperformed their fanged kangaroo relatives, which lived alongside them and eventually went extinct, researchers say. In a recent study, researchers described a new kangaroo genus, Cookeroo, and two new species: Cookeroo bulwidarri, dated to about 23 million years ago,and Cookeroo hortusensis, which lived between 18 million and 20 million years ago. Both species were found at the Riversleigh World Heritage area in northwestern Queensland, Australia, a location recognized as one of the richest fossil deposits in the world, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Center. According to Kaylene Butler, the study’s lead author, the new genus occupies a position near the base of the kangaroo family tree that includes all modern kangaroos and wallabies, their close relatives. Butler, a paleontologist at the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Queensland in Australia, told Live Science in an email that the team figured out where to place Cookeroo by comparing 119 different features representing 69 kangaroo species. “Cookeroo is distinguished as a genus by the combination of a number of features on the skull and teeth” — points of comparison that were also used to distinguish between the two new species, Butler said. The newfound minikangaroos are “the size of very small wallabies,” with bodies that probably measured about 17 to 20 inches (42 to 52 centimeters) long, Butler said. The landscape at the time was very different from the arid outback it is today, Butler said. C. bulwidarri and C. hortusensis likely inhabited a dense forest, moving through it on all fours and sharing it with a diverse collection of animals: marsupial moles, feather-tailed possums, ancient koalas and crocodiles. Cookeroo also lived alongside other species of small kangaroos that were part of the ancestral group for kangas alive today, as well as a related group of fanged kangaroos, Butler told Live Science.The fanged kangaroos were also plant eaters, and they probably competed with the ancestors of modern kangaroos over their habitat’s vegetation. “However, the fanged kangaroos went extinct, while the ancestors of modern kangaroos continued to diversify and thrive,” Butler said. The direct competition between the two groups may have contributed to the fanged kangaroos’ extinction, Butler suggested in a statement, though it is not certain what features provided Cookeroo with the advantage. “The fossil record for kangaroos is quite rich,” Butler said. “We have giant kangaroos from the Pleistocene [2.6 million to 11,700 years ago] and Pliocene [5.3 million to 2.6 million years ago], as well as other sites similar in age to Riversleigh where we see our tiny ancestors of modern kangaroos as well as the fanged kangaroos.” However, there is still much to learn about kangaroo evolution, and new fossil finds help to bring this ancient lineage more clearly into focus, Butler said. “Hopefully, further study of these new species will help us understand just what is so special about the ancestors of modern kangaroos — why did they survive when, at the same time, the fanged kangaroos went extinct.”

Fascinating!!   🙂

Fossil of massive crocodile found on edge of Sahara desert

Paleontologists have discovered the fossil remains of the world’s biggest ocean-dwelling crocodile buried on the edge of the Sahara, a creature that was twice the size of anything seen today. Named Machimosaurus rex, this croc would have weighed in at least 6,600 pounds and been around 32 feet long. Other than its size, it would have looked much like a modern day crocodile except for its narrow snout – which was designed to allow it swim in the ocean. It would have been the top predator in what was then an ocean that separated Africa from Europe about 130 million years ago. “This is an incredibly big crocodile. It is twice as big as a present day marine crocodile,” University of Bologna’s Federico Fanti, who was part of the team that made the discovery with support from the National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration, told FoxNews.com. “The skull itself is as big I am,” said Fanti, whose discovery was detailed in a study in the journal Cretaceous Research. “Just the skull is more than five feet long. It’s a massive crocodile.” Tunisia, where the skeleton and some bones were found, would have been a lagoon facing the ocean and the environment would have been filled with huge fish and turtles – all favorite prey of the Machimosaurus rex. “This animal, however, used to feast on the large turtles or big fishes that it found in the ocean,” Fanti said. “He was so big and so powerful that it was absolutely at the top of the food chain.” Beyond its size, Fanti said the significance of the find is what it tells us about a mass extinction event that is believed to have happened between the Jurassic and Cretaceous period about 150 million years ago. Machimosaurus rex was thought to have died out then but the discovery suggests the extinction event was not as widespread as some paleontologist thought. “The fact that Machimosaurus rex (pertaining to a group that was well alive in the Jurassic) lived 130-120 million years ago indicate that there was no mass extinction,” Fanti said. “Everyone thought this group of crocodiles went extinct in the Jurassic but we found it well into the Cretaceous,” he said. “We simply extended the temporal range of the animals. Twenty million years is a lot of time.” Fanti, whose team has discovered 20 new species including a rebbachisaurid sauropod Tataouinea hannibalis in the same area, said there is less to learn about crocodile evolution from this new discovery. The reason, he said, is that crocodiles have changed little over time. “Basically, they are bigger or smaller,” he said of their evolution, adding that even bigger crocodiles lived on land, many of which also have gone extinct. The largest freshwater crocodile, Sarcosuchus imperator, lived 110 million years ago and grew as long as 40 feet (12 meters). It weighed up to 17,500 pounds, according to National Geographic.

Very cool!!   🙂

Iguana relative shows how lizards spread worldwide

An 80-million-year-old lizard discovered in southern Brazil has provided a surprising clue about how these reptiles evolved, and where they once lived, according to a new study. Until now, researchers had found acrodontans only in the Old World, including Africa and Asia. (This is a type of lizard is called an iguanian that has teeth fused to the top of its jaws, a group that includes chameleons and bearded dragons.) But the newfound fossil, a partial lower jaw of a new species of acrodontan, shows that they lived in the New World much earlier than thought. The fossil suggests that acrodontans managed to distribute themselves worldwide before the ancient supercontinent Pangaea broke up about 200 million years ago, the researchers said. “This fossil is an 80-million-year-old specimen of an acrodontan in the New World,” study co-author Michael Caldwell, a biological sciences professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, said in a statement. “It’s a missing link in the sense of the paleobiogeography and possibly the origins of the group, so it’s pretty good evidence to suggest that back in the lower part of the Cretaceous, the southern part of Pangaea was still a kind of single continental chunk.” Paleontologists discovered the fossil in the rock outcrops of desert that dates to the late Cretaceous in the Brazilian municipality of Cruzeiro do Oeste. The researchers named the new species Gueragama sulamericana — guera meaning “ancient” in native Brazilian; “agama” in reference to agamid, a family of iguanian lizards; and “sulamericana” meaning “from South America” in Portuguese. The jaw is missing a few teeth, but has room for 18 of them, and the teeth almost uniformly increase in size from the front to the back of the mouth, the researchers found. During the Late Cretaceous, G. sulamericana lived in an arid desert environment, although evidence of ancient wetlands suggests that water was available seasonably, the researchers said. G. sulamericana also had company. Other fossil findings, including “hundreds of bones” of the pterosaur species Caiuajara dobruskii, show that larger animals lived there, too, the researchers wrote in the study. G. sulamericana may have lived in burrows to avoid extreme daytime heat, just as some modern lizards do today, the researchers added. Among living lizards, iguanians comprise one of the most diverse groups, with more than 1,700 species. Previous research has found that acrodontan iguanians dominated the Old World, and nonacrodontan iguanians (such as iguanas) dominated the New World, particularly the American South, Caldwell said. The oldest known acrodontans are from the early to middle Jurassic period in present-day India. However, now researchers know that acrodontans had spread elsewhere in the world by the late Cretaceous, the researchers said. “This Gueragama sulamericana fossil indicates that the group is old, that it’s probably southern Pangaean in its origin,” Caldwell said. “After the [Pangaean] breakup, the acrodontans and chameleon group dominated in the Old World, and the iguanid side arose out of this acrodontan lineage that was left alone on South America.” Eventually, nonacrodontans replaced acrodontans in the Americas. But nonacrodontans remain as natives in the Old World, the researchers said. “This is an Old World lizard in the New World at a time when we weren’t expecting to find it,” Caldwell said. “It answers a few questions about iguanid lizards and their origin.” The research was published online Aug. 26 in the journal Nature Communications.

Fascinating!! 🙂

9-foot ‘butcher crocodile’ likely ruled before dinosaurs

A 9-foot-tall beast with bladelike teeth once stalked the warm and wet environs of what is now North Carolina some 230 million years ago, before dinosaurs came onto the scene there, scientists have found. Now called Carnufex carolinensis, the crocodile ancestor likely walked on its hind legs, preying on armored reptiles and early mammal relatives in its ecosystem, the researchers say. They named it Carnufex, meaning “butcher” in Latin, because of its long skull, which resembles a knife, and its bladelike teeth, which it likely used to slice flesh off the bones of prey, said lead study author Lindsay Zanno, of NC State University and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. “‘Butcher’ seemed a very appropriate way to get that into the minds of people,” Zanno told Live Science in an interview. The large creature reveals not only one of the earliest crocodylomorphs, a group that includes today’s crocodiles and their close relatives, but also highlights the diversity of top predators of the time. “People don’t think about how many different predators were around in the Triassic, and that crocs really ruled before dinosaurs,” Zanno said

Very cool!!    🙂

Prehistoric ‘sea monster’ had more legs than thought

A 480-million-year-old fossil is giving paleontologists new insights into a sea monster-like creature called an anomalocaridid, which is an ancestor of modern-day arthropods such as lobsters and scorpions, a new study finds. The 7-foot-long fossil reveals that the extinct giant had two sets of legs, not one, as researchers previously thought. It also had a filter-feeding system that likely allowed it to consume plankton, the researchers found. The researchers named the species Aegirocassis benmoulae after its discoverer, Mohamed Ben Moula, who found the fossil in southeastern Morocco in 2011. [See photos of anomalocaridid fossils and illustrations] The fossil was “dirty and dusty” when the study’s lead researcher, Peter Van Roy, a paleontologist at Yale University, got it into the lab. Van Roy was cleaning the specimen when he realized it had two sets of flaps on each body segment — indicating that the creature had two sets of legs. “I was totally shocked” to see the two sets of legs, Van Roy told Live Science. “For a week on end, I actually went back to the specimen every day just to look at it again, to make sure that I wasn’t seeing things,” Van Roy told Live Science. The fossil has helped researchers place the anomalocaridid within the arthropod family tree because it gives researchers an unfettered view of the beast, whose anatomy has stumped paleontologists for ages, he said.

Very cool!!   🙂

‘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?   🙂