Tag Archives: Paleontology

Attenborough’s Flying Monsters 3D Is Going To Be Good

How does David Attenborough crawl through a marshy Cycad forest toward an exposed rocky ledge overlooking a vast plain of grazing dinosaurs, drawing ever closer to a nesting colony of Quetzalcoatlus Pterodactlyoids (known in the business as “Flying Giraffes”) camera crew in tow, nearly out of breath, turning to the camera and speaking of how his adrenalin is surging as he can feel the breeze caused by wingbeats of one of the larger males taking off down an historically ancient Pterosaur runway, and noting a few interesting facts about their physical adaptations to flight and their behavior … when pterosaurs went extinct sixty-five million years ago?

By making 3D models of the beasts, then making a 3D model of himself, and then putting together a convincing script? Quite possibly. But there is more to it than that, as it turns out.
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A Very Cool Ancient Crocodile

ResearchBlogging.orgI have never actually seen a snake eat a crocodile or a crocodile eat a snake, but I am pretty sure I’ve seen a snake planning to eat a Nile Croc. And that was in the geological present.

In the geological past, about 60 million years ago (during the “Eocene” a.k.a. “dawn age”) there was a rain forest that is sort of the ancestor to modern rain forests, which is now a coal deposit (and thus, eventually, will be part of our air) in Columbia. It has yielded interesting materials, and the latest report, just published, is of a fossil dyrosaurid crocodyliform (ancient croc ancestor). It is African.
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Eocene Florida Plant Remains = Rethink Local Geology A Little

ResearchBlogging.orgSometimes interesting scientific evidence shows up in unexpected places. Years ago, there had been discussion of the possibility that immediate post glacial climate in the North Atlantic coastal region was unusually warm, but the evidence was spotty. Then, I was looking through material taken from a geotechnical boring placed to assess the geology of a part of Boston Harbor where a new tunnel was being planned, and found a large fragment of a clam embedded in clay. The clay was deposited during the last glacial maximum and later, and was associated with the melting of glaciers in the region. As a matter of routine, I gave it to Russell Barber, a mollusk expert and, at the time, my boss. He identified it as a species of razor clam found these days no farther north than the Carolinas. And thus, yet another piece of spotty evidence!
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Falsehood: Is it ever OK to use the term “Missing Link”?

Today’s falsehood1 is the idea of “The Missing Link.” You’ve heard about The Missing Link. You’ll hear that some palaeontologist has discovered something and they tell us it is “The Missing Link.” Often, it is a supposed “link” between some ancestor of humans (a fossil ape, a monkey, whatever) and us humans. And often, you’ll also find that when the press reports a “missing link” the science blogosphere erupts with a torrent flowing over the phrase and the concept, about how there really is no such thing as “The Missing Link,” or that this particular report of such a link is spurious, or something else bad.
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The Newly Discovered Giant Flores Stork

ResearchBlogging.orgA new species of stork has been identified from Flores, which is the Indonesian island on which the famous “hobbit” fossils have been found. The “hobbit” is a form of hominid (human relative) that seems to be a diminutive form of Homo erectus but different enough from that widespread species to give it a distinct taxonomic status, Homo floresiensis. The Flores hominids were probably about 120 centimeters in height, and the new stork was probably about 180 centimeters in height. The following artist reconstruction is meant to demonstrate bigness of the stork in relation to our diminutive relative:


More on that artist’s reconstruction later.
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NASA’s new organism, the meaning of life, and Darwin’s Second Theory

ResearchBlogging.orgIn his highly readable book, One Long Argument, Ernst Mayr breaks down the body of thought often referred to as “Darwin’s Theory” into five separate and distinct theories, the second of which being “common descent.” Darwin’s second evolutionary theory (second by Mayr’s count, not Darwin’s) is really a hypothesis that could be worded this way:

All life on earth descended from a single, original, primordial form that arose eons ago.

The evidence in favor of this hypothesis is strong, but the test of the hypothesis … the means of disproving it, which is, after all, the point of stating it to begin with … is difficult to define, but like pornography to a judge, one would know it when one sees it.
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A Whale of a Missing Link : Indohyus

i-e1003b13638050040bea14fa3d3fabe0-repost.jpgI’m writing something about the concept of “The Missing Link” which may also end up as an episode of “Everything you Know is Sort of Wrong” on Skeptically Speaking. The fact that I’m working on this is of no interest to you, I’m sure, until I actually finish it and post it. But, in the mean time, I’m thinking about missing links, and decided to repost this writeup of one example of a fossil find purported to be one.

Let me know what you think: Is Indohyus a missing link?

Thewissen et al. report in Nature new fossil material from the Middle Eocene of Kashmir, India. This species (in the genus Indohyus is represented by a remarkable set of remains, including cranial and post cranial material. Previous studies using DNA had linked whales to the artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates such as deer, antelope, and bison). However, there is a great deal of uncertainty, and some contradictory evidence, as to where exactly in this group the whales arose.
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Natural Selection vs. Opportunity in Macroevolutionary Patterning of the Fossil Record

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgI’m going to talk about one or two peer reviewed papers, but in doing so, I’m going to have to say a few words … and this will not be pretty … about a certain science writer’s report at the BBC.

In an article titled “Space is the final frontier for evolution, study claims” BBC “science writer” Howard Falcon-Lang uses the old, tired, and quite frankly, stupendously unethical tack of making a claim that Darwin has been overthrown by new research. If someone actually overthrows Darwin, then so be it. But this is not what has happened. Falcon-Lang, or perhaps his BBC handlers, have used the cheap trick to sell their wares, and this is not appreciated.

If Howard Falcon-Lang did not a) claim to be a science reporter and b) have a dumb-ass hyphenated name, I’d be nice in my critique of his recent writeup. But no. He left me no choice. I will have to take it apart red in tooth and claw.

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How Young is the Grand Canyon?

To answer that question briefly, it is really really old if you mean “how old are the oldest rocks that are exposed by the Grand Canyon,” and it is probably just a few million years old (5 or 6 by some estimates) if you mean “how long did the canyon itself take to form.”

An African peneplain elevated by doming along the Eastern Rift Valley. The original surface, once flat but now raised as “mountains” in the distance, is shown by the dotted line.

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Evolutionary enamel loss linked to molecular decay of enamel-specific gene

The evolutionary history of mammals can be reviewed as the evolutionary history of tooth loss. The early mammals had many teeth, and every now and then in evolutionary time, a tooth is lost wiht subsequent species arriving from that n-1 toothed form having that smaller number of teeth. With ver few exceptions, no mammals have added a tooth during the history of mammals. (Excepting maybe the very very earliest period, but probably not.)

ResearchBlogging.orgWell, the loss of enamel itself is also an evolutionary trend in mammal history, and recent research published in PLoS Genetic associates genetic changes over time with what is known of the morphological evolution of mammals.

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