Tag Archives: paleontology

T. Rex might actually be three separate species: study

The controversial study looked at a dataset of 37 specimens.

The iconic Tyrannosaurus rex, or “T. Rex,” might need to be re-categorized into three distinct species, according to researchers. 

The Tyrannosaurus rex is the only recognized species of the group of dinosaurs Tyrannosaurus to date – though previous research has reportedly acknowledged variation across Tyrannosaurs skeletal remains. 

In a controversial new study published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Biology, South Carolina and Maryland paleontologists conducted an analysis of skeletal remains they said reveal physical differences in the femur and other bones and dental structures. 

Based on a dataset of 37 specimens, the group looked at the robustness in the femur of 24 specimens and measured the diameter of the base of teeth or space in the gums to assess if specimens had one or two slender teeth resembling incisors. 

According to an accompanying release, the scientists observed that the femur varied across specimens, with two times more robust femurs than svelte ones across specimens. Robust femurs were also found in some juvenile specimens and “gracile” femurs were found in some that were full adult size, suggesting that variation is not related to growth. 

Dental structure also varied and those with one incisorform tooth were correlated with often having higher femur gracility.

Visitors look at a 67 million year-old skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur, named Trix, during the first day of the exhibition "A T-Rex in Paris" at the  French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, June 6, 2018. 

Visitors look at a 67 million year-old skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur, named Trix, during the first day of the exhibition “A T-Rex in Paris” at the  French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, June 6, 2018.  (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

They explained the Tyrannosaurus specimens “exhibit such a remarkable degree of proportional variations, distributed at different stratigraphic levels, that the pattern favors multiple species at least partly separated by time; ontogenetic and sexual causes being less consistent with the data.”

“Variation in dentary incisiform counts correlate with skeletal robusticity and also appear to change over time,” the authors noted. 

28 specimens could be identified in distinct layers of sediment at the Lancian upper Maastrichtian formations in North America – which was estimated to be from between 67.5 to 66 million years ago – and the paleontologists compared Tyrannosaurus specimens with other theropod species found in lower layers of sediment.

Only robust Tyrannosaurus femurs were found in the lower layer of sediment – and variation was not different to that of other theropod species – which the release said indicates that just one species of Tyrannosaurus likely existed at this point. 

However, the variation in Tyrannosaurus femur robustness in the top layer of the sediments was higher, suggesting the specimens had physically developed into more distinct forms and other dinosaur species. 

“We found that the changes in Tyrannosaurus femurs are likely not related to the sex or age of the specimen,” lead author Gregory Paul said in a statement. “We propose that the changes in the femur may have evolved over time from a common ancestor who displayed more robust femurs to become more gracile in later species. The differences in femur robustness across layers of sediment may be considered distinct enough that the specimens could potentially be considered separate species.”

Based on that evidence, the researchers said three morphotypes – what Science Direct defines as any of a group of different types of individuals of the same species in a population – and two additional species of Tyrannosaurus were “diagnosed” and named. 

“One robust species with two small incisors in each dentary appears to have been present initially, followed by two contemporaneous species (one robust and another gracile) both of which had one small incisor in each dentary, suggesting both anagenesis and cladogenesis occurred,” they continued. 

Evolution can take place by anagenesis, in which changes occur within a lineage. Whereas, in cladogenesis, a lineage splits into two or more separate lines.

The authors nominated two potential species: “Tyrannosaurus imperator” and “Tyrannosaurus regina.”

Tyrannosaurus imperator relates to specimens found at the lower and middle layers of sediment, with more robust femurs and usually two incisor teeth.

Tyrannosaurus regina is linked to specimens from the upper and possibly middle layers of sediment, with slenderer femurs and one incisor tooth. 

The Tyrannosaurus rex was identified in the upper and possibly middle layer of sediment, with more robust femurs and only one incisor tooth. 

The authors acknowledged that they cannot rule out that variation is due to extreme individual differences, or atypical sexual dimorphism, rather than separate groups. They also cautioned that the location within sediment layers is not known for some specimens. 

Reaction to the study from scientists has been largely skeptical, with some claiming the paper does not have enough evidence to reach its conclusions – and raising concerns over some of the specimens included in the study to National Geographic. 

Paul told The New York Times on Feb. 28 that he knows his proposal is provocative. 

“I’m aware that there could be a lot of people who aren’t going to be happy about this,” he told the publication. “And, my response to them is: Publish a refutation.”

Julia Musto is a reporter for Fox News Digital. You can find her on Twitter at @JuliaElenaMusto.

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These would make a big omelette! Chinese roadworkers unearth nest of FORTY-THREE fossilised dinosaur eggs

  • Fossils found as workman laid sewage pipe on major road
  • One man tried to steal two eggs but was stopped in his tracks
  • He fled as passers-by formed human chain to protect archaeological site 
  • Experts are not working to determine what type of dinosaur laid them  

A giant clutch of 43 fossilised dinosaur eggs were discovered by workmen doing roadworks in China.

The egg-straordinary find was made in the city centre of Heyuan, south-east China, by workman laying a sewage pipe.

The giant fossils, which included 19 eggs that are fully intact, were the first to be found in the city and are now being studied by experts from the Heyuan Dinosaur Museum, to determine the type, the People’s Daily Online reports.

Egg-straordinary find: Workers point to the dinosaur eggs that were discovered as they were fitting a new sewage pipe in Heyuan, south-east China

Egg-straordinary find: Workers point to the dinosaur eggs that were discovered as they were fitting a new sewage pipe in Heyuan, south-east China

Each range from 10 to 12 centimetres in diameter and have been well preserved by the red sandstone beds in the area.

Passers-by then formed a human chain to protect the site until police came and the artifacts were taken away for examination.

Unexpected: Crowds gather as a construction worker handles the red sandstone containing the fossils

Unexpected: Crowds gather as a construction worker handles the red sandstone containing the fossils

Egg box: The fossilised dinosaur eggs are carefully removed from the site and taken to the local museum for examination

Egg box: The fossilised dinosaur eggs are carefully removed from the site and taken to the local museum for examination

Head curator Du Yanli said: ‘There are fossilised dinosaur eggs everywhere in the red sandstone layer but they were never found because the city was built on top of the layers.

‘With the recent road and sewage system upgrade, the red sandstone layer is being exposed and has led to the discovery of the fossils’.

The Heyuan Dinosaur Museum said that more than seventeen thousand fossilised dinosaur eggs have been found in China since the first discovery in 1996.

Carefully done: A workman examines the fossils that have been preserved by the red sandstone 

Carefully done: A workman examines the fossils that have been preserved by the red sandstone

A total of 43 dinosaur eggs, 19 of which were unbroken, were found during the roadworks in Heyuan, south-east China
A total of 43 dinosaur eggs, 19 of which were unbroken, were found during the roadworks in Heyuan, south-east China

Big batch: A total of 43 dinosaur eggs, 19 of which were unbroken, were found during the roadworks in Heyuan, south-east China

The museum prides itself for having the largest fossilised dinosaur eggs collection in the world.

Heyuan has now dubbed itself as China’s ‘home of dinosaurs’.

Work has temporarily halted as a 1.3 square kilometre dinosaur fossil and geological protected zone is set up in the area for further scientific research.

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Dino, heal thyself: Giant beast had power to shrug off bone trauma


Researchers bombarded a toe bone from a giant carnivorous dinosaur, Allosaurus fragilis (shown here), finding that the beast apparently had an amazing power to heal its broken bones.Phillip Manning.

A giant carnivorous dinosaur apparently possessed an enormous power to heal its broken bones, thanks to new findings revealed by powerful X-rays, researchers say.

The new findings suggest this ancient predator could shrug off massive trauma, revealing the dinosaur healed well like reptiles do than more poorly like birds do, which dinosaurs are more closely related to, scientists added.

Dinosaur bones sometimes include evidence they cracked and mended while the reptiles lived. Such findings can yield insights into how much violence dinosaurs experienced, and whether they healed differently than other animals.

Analyzing fossils for signs of healed fractures often involves slicing through them, damaging these rarities. Now scientists have used intense X-rays with beams brighter than 10 billion suns to illuminate breaks hidden within the bones of a 150-million-year-old predatory dinosaur.

[Paleo-Art: Dinosaurs Come to Life in Stunning Illustrations]

The researchers examined a toe bone from a giant carnivorous dinosaur,Allosaurus fragilis, excavated from Utah. They bombarded the fossil with X-rays from the Diamond Light Source in England and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in California. Both light sources are synchrotrons, or particle accelerators that can generate powerful beams of light, which the investigators used to analyze the chemical nature of samples down to a resolution of 2 microns, or 1/50th the average diameter of a human hair.

There are subtle chemical differences between normal and healed bone tissue. The scientists discovered they could detect the “chemical ghosts” of ancient breaks.

“This is beyond recognizing a healed injury this is mapping the biological processes that enable that healing,” said study author Phillip Manning, a paleontologist and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Ancient Life at the University of Manchester in England. “The ability to map the biological processes of healing allows great insight to the physiology and metabolism of animals. To extend this into the fossil record might provide new insight on many groups of vertebrates, not just dinosaurs.”

The researchers found this dinosaur could apparently shake off massive trauma, healing from injuries that would prove fatal to humans if not treated. Curiously, this fact suggests dinosaurs healed more effectively like reptiles such as crocodilians than less effectively like close dinosaur relatives such as birds, Manning told Live Science. One might speculate these differences are due in part to how birds typically possess hollow bones to lighten them for flight.

“This is the starting point in a new line of research that has a long way to go when comparing the chemistry of bone between species, both modern and extinct,” Manning said. “We are already looking at new techniques that might further expand our understanding of the growth, trauma and healing of bones in vertebrates.”

Manning and his colleagues detailed their findings online today (May 7) in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

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Rare whale fossil pulled from California backyard by sheriff’s search-and-rescue team


Aug. 1, 2014: Members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department Search and Rescue team stand around a 16-17-million-year-old fossil lodged in a rock weighing about 2,000-pounds after it was lifted out of a hole in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.AP

A search-and-rescue team pulled a rare half-ton whale fossil from a Southern California backyard Friday, a feat that the team agreed to take on as a makeshift training mission.

The 16- to 17-million-year-old fossil from a baleen whale is one of about 20 baleen fossils known to exist, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County paleontologist Howell Thomas said. Baleen is a filter made of soft tissue that is used to sift out prey, like krill, from seawater.

The fossil, lodged in a 1,000-pound boulder, was hoisted from a ravine by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department search-and-rescue volunteers. Using pulleys and a steel trolley, crews pulled the fossil up a steep backyard slope and into a truck bound for the museum.

Gary Johnson, 53, first discovered the fossil when he was a teen exploring the creek behind his family’s home.

At the time, he called another local museum to come inspect the find, but officials passed on adding it to their collection. In January, a 12-million-year-old sperm whale fossil was recovered at a nearby school, prompting Johnson to call the Natural History Museum.

“I thought, maybe my whale is somehow associated,” said Johnson, who works as a cartoonist and art director.

Thomas wanted to add the fossil to the county museum’s collection of baleen whale fossils, but was puzzled over how to get the half-ton boulder from Rancho Palos Verdes, located on a peninsula about 25 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles.

The sheriff’s department search-and-rescue unit declined to send a helicopter, but offered to use the fossil recovery as a training mission. The volunteer crew typically rescues stranded hikers and motorcyclists who careen off the freeway onto steep, rugged terrain, search-and-rescue reserve chief Mike Leum said.

“We’ll always be able to say, `it’s not heavier than a fossil,”‘ Leum said.

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Bachelor party stumbles upon rare mastodon skull



New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science curator of paleontology Gary Morgan talks about the find of a fossilized stegomastodon skull at Elephant Butte Sate Park.(AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Robin Zielinkski)

Elephant Butte Lake State Park in New Mexico is named for an elephant-shaped hill on the north side of the park, but now the name seems even more appropriate after a bachelor party hiking there discovered a 3-million-year-old stegomastodon skull the prehistoric ancestor of mammoths and elephants.

Members of the bachelor party noticed a bone sticking a couple inches out of the sand by the Rio Grande River earlier this month, the Telegraph reported. The men dug up what turned out to be an enormous skull and sent photos to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Paleontologists who arrived on the scene identified the remains as a stegomastodon skull. [See Photos of the Mastodon Skull from the Excavation]

Gary Morgan, paleontologist at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science who identified the skull, said it’s not uncommon for hikers and other passersby to discover major fossils like this one in the park.

“I’ve been on a lot of wild-goose chases in the area,” Morgan told Live Science. “But after I got a look at the photos I said, ‘Geez, it really is a mastodon skull.'” (Stegomastodons looked similar to the American mastodon, but they belonged to a separate genus of animals.)

The bachelor party thought the fossil might belong to a woolly mammoth. Though the two beasts are similar and related to each other, there a few key differences between mammoths and mastodons, Morgan said. Mammoths have ridged molars and grazed like modern-day elephants, while mastodons sported cone-shaped molars that allowed them to crush leaves and twigs. Examining the teeth of the skull allowed Morgan to determine it belonged to a mastodon and not a mammoth.

Morgan said the skull is one of the most complete mastodon fossils ever discovered.

“Normally we get bits and pieces,” Morgan said. “A complete fossil find like this makes it much more important scientifically and more helpful in understanding the evolutionary history.”

The excavation process took about six hours since the bachelor party had helped out with a little pre-digging. After it was unearthed, the skull was wrapped in plaster casting, “the same way a doctor would put a cast on a broken arm,” Morgan said. This way the fossil could be transported safely to the museum.

Fossil evidence suggests mastodons were probably around 9 to 10 feet tall and weighed around 3 to 5 tons. Morgan said this particular mastodon skull belonged to a species that sprung up around 3 million years ago right before the Ice Age. It was probably about 50 years old when it died. Mastodons died out completely around 10,000 years ago, and paleontologists are still unsure of what led to their extinction.

Morgan will conduct a study of the skull and hopes it will provide more insight into the history of the species. The skull will eventually be on display in the museum, but cleaning off the plaster and removing all the sediment from the fossil will take a long time, and it will likely be months before the fossil is ready.

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‘Swamp monster’ skull found in Texas

‘Swamp monster’ skull found in Texas

By Stephanie Pappas

Published January 30, 2014

  • m-lottorum-skull-140129

    The skull of the phytosaur Machaeroprosopus lottorum. (Texas Tech University)

A toothy, long-nosed skull found in Texas belonged to a “swamp monster” that lived more than 200 million years ago.

The creature is a previously unknown type of phytosaur, an extinct creature that hunted fish and other prey along the shallow edges of rivers and lakes. Dubbed Machaeroprosopus lottorum, the phytosaur probably measured about 18 feet long.

“They had basically the same lifestyle as the modern crocodile, by living in and around the water, eating fish, and whatever animals came to the margins of the rivers and lakes,” study researcher Bill Mueller, assistant curator of paleontology at the Museum of Texas Tech University, said in a statement. [Predator X: See Images of Ancient Monsters of the Sea]

Discovering something new Phytosaurs are a common find in the Cooper Canyon formation in Garza County, Texas, where the new species was discovered. This area is now dry and scrubby, but in the late Triassic, it was a conifer forest with fern underbrush and an oxbow lake where phytosaurs hunted.

In 2001, Doug Cunningham, a research field assistant at the Texas Tech museum, unearthed the new skull during a dig.

“When he found it, just the very back end of the skull was sticking out of the ground. The rest was buried,” Mueller said. “We excavated it and brought it into the museum to finish preparation.”

That preparation took years. Once the skull was out of the rock surrounding it, Mueller and his colleagues compared the features of the skull with other phytosaur skulls (more than 200 have been found in North America). They also analyzed another phytosaur skull, found 120 feet from the first.

They discovered that their specimens represented a male and female from a new species, which they named M. lottorum in honor of the Lott family, the owners of the ranch where the fossil was found.

Extinct monster Phytosaurs lived from about 230 million to 203 million years ago. They were one of the victims of the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction, a huge die-off that wiped out many large land animals.

The new female’s skull is about 3 feet long, and she would have grown to be about 17 feet total length, Mueller said. The male would have been about a foot longer. M. lottorum‘s delicate snout suggests it ate mostly fish, and not more robust prey. It would have looked very much like an alligator or crocodile, but its nostrils were up near its eyes at the base of its snout, rather than at the end.

The researchers reported their findings in the September 2013 issue of the journal Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

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Dino-era water trapped under impact crater

Dino-era water trapped under impact crater

By Tim Wall

Published November 19, 2013

Discovery News 

 If you’ve ever searched for dinos on the Internet, chances are, you’ve come across the drawings of Nobu Tamura. What began as a hobby in 2006, when he realized most dinosaurs on Wikipedia had no photos due to copyright, Tamura is now one of the most prolific producers of up-to-date paleo critters on the web. He’s shared with us his 19 favorite. For his complete works, check out his blog.

More than one kilometer beneath the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, geologists discovered 100- to 150-million-year-old water from the Atlantic Ocean’s infancy. The ancient water hid under a more recent 56-mile-wide crater left after a massive rock or block of ice nailed the Earth near what is now the entrance to the bay.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologists didn’t know the water beneath the crater dated from dino days until they analyzed the chemicals in the water. The water held forms of chloride and bromide, along with other chemicals, that allowed the scientists to estimate the water’s age. And while older water is known from Canada, the Chesapeake Bay impact water is now the oldest large body of water known on the planet.

“Previous evidence for temperature and salinity levels of geologic-era oceans around the globe have been estimated indirectly from various types of evidence in deep sediment cores,” said lead author Ward Sanford, USGS research hydrologist, in a press release. “In contrast, our study identifies ancient seawater that remains in place in its geologic setting, enabling us to provide a direct estimate of its age and salinity.” Sanford and colleagues published their findings in the journal Nature.

The ancient water contained twice the salt content of the modern ocean and dates from the early Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs dominated the planet and the newborn north Atlantic was more of a lake than an ocean.

In the late Jurassic Period, 150 million years ago, pieces of the Earth’s crust, called tectonic plates, split to divide Europe from North America and Africa. This split formed a rift basin filled with extremely salty water that would later become the Atlantic Ocean. However the Atlantic would have to wait 50 million years until the mid-Cretaceous for a space to open between what is now Central and South America, just as the narrow Strait of Gibraltar now allows the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to mingle.

Before the north Atlantic connected with the rest of the world’s waters, some of that briny water became trapped underground beneath a coastal plain and isolated. The water remained largely unchanged until approximately 35 million years ago when a meteor or comet slammed into the Earth during the late Eocene Epoch. That impact created massive tsunamis that swept far inland and devastated the Atlantic coast of North America, yet helped to preserve the Cretaceous ocean water.

The process that made the infant north Atlantic so salty can still be seen today. The Dead Sea contains extremely salt water because more water evaporates out of the sea than flows into it. The Uyuni salt flats of Bolivia serve as an example of what happens when an inland sea completely dries out. Even the Mediterranean nearly became a salt flat during a period from 5.96 to 5.33 million years ago when the sea’s connection to the Atlantic intermittently closed.


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Thousands of dino tracks found along Alaska’s Yukon river

Thousands of dino tracks found along Alaska’s Yukon river

By Megan Gannon

Published September 26, 2013

  • yukon-dino-print 660.jpg

    A dinosaur track exposed along the rocky shoreline of Yukon River. Finding the fossils involved walking along the riverâs banks and turning over rocks. (PAT DRUCKENMILLER)

  • yukon-dino-print

    A dinosaur track exposed along the rocky shoreline of Yukon River. Finding the fossils involved walking along the river’s banks and turning over rocks. (PAT DRUCKENMILLER)

Researchers may have just scratched the surface of a major new dinosaur site nearly inside the Arctic Circle. 

This past summer, they discovered thousands of fossilized dinosaur footprints, large and small, along the rocky banks of Alaska’s Yukon River.

In July, the scientists from the University of Alaska Museum of the North embarked on a 500-mile journey down the Tanana and Yukon rivers; they brought back 2,000 pounds of dinosaur footprint fossils. 

‘We found dinosaur footprints by the scores on literally every outcrop we stopped at.’

– Expedition researcher Paul McCarthy 

“We found dinosaur footprints by the scores on literally every outcrop we stopped at,” expedition researcher Paul McCarthy, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said in a statement. “I’ve seen dinosaur footprints in Alaska now in rocks from southwest Alaska, the North Slope and Denali National Park in the Interior, but there aren’t many places where footprints occur in such abundance.” [See Photos of the Dinosaur Tracks Along the Yukon River]

In the last decade, dinosaur footprints have been found in Alaska’s Denali National Park, left in rocks that formed 65 million to 80 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous Period. The new prints along the Yukon River might date back 25 million to 30 million years earlier, McCarthy said.

“It took several years of dedicated looking before the first footprint was discovered in Denali in 2005, but since that time hundreds of tracks of dinosaurs and birds have been found,” McCarthy explained in a statement. “In contrast, the tracks were so abundant along the Yukon River that we could find and collectas many as 50 specimens in as little as 10 minutes.”

Pat Druckenmiller, the museum’s earth sciences curator, added that a find of this magnitude is rare today.

“This is the kind of discovery you would have expected in the Lower 48 a hundred years ago,” Druckenmiller said in a statement. “We found a great diversity of dinosaur types, evidence of an extinct ecosystem we never knew existed.”

The dino tracks were preserved in “natural casts” formed after the creatures stepped in mud, and sand filled in their footprints. The result? Fossils that look like “blobs with toes,” Druckenmiller said.

The researchers say they have much more work ahead of them to understand and describe their findings. They are working with local villages and Native groups to coordinate future expeditions in the region.

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