What were snakes doing before they lost their legs? A new fossil discovery of an early snake with four tiny, stubby legs might shed some light on that question. Assuming it really is a snake, of course. However, the status of this fossil as a specimen from a private collection raises ethical questions. This is likely to be an illegally obtained specimen, like 2012's controversial Tarbosaurus bataar (previously, previously). Is it ethical for Science to promote findings from unethically sourced fossils when these are an increasing problem for paleontology? (Previously, previously.)
She got off to an inauspicious start when she was born in poverty and then was struck by lightning as a small child. But when her father died when she was ten, leaving her family without any means of support, Mary Anning made her own luck with her skill at fossil finding. Her first big find came when she discovered the first complete skeleton of an Icthyosaur at twelve years old. She went on to discover pivotally important skeletons of plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and a fossil fish which was hailed as the "missing link" between sharks and rays. Despite being self taught, she was widely regarded as one of paleontology's greatest experts in the world when she died. Previously.
"What could you possibly have in common with a mushroom, or a dinosaur, or even a bacterium? More than you might think. In this Lab, you’ll puzzle out the evolutionary relationships linking together a spectacular array of species. Explore the tree of life and get a front row seat to what some have called the greatest show on Earth. That show is evolution." Evolution Lab is a educational game created by the Life on Earth Project and NOVA Labs
Troubles in Paradise is a review of the history and arguments of the creationism/intelligent design movement, written by James Downard.
British-based webforum Mumsnet (For Parents, By Parents) had a fun time this weekend, when a new member decided she was sick and tired of dinosaurs being forced on our children. [more inside]
"A remarkable international effort to map out the avian tree of life has revealed how birds evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs into more than 10,000 species alive today. More than 200 scientists in 20 countries joined forces to create the evolutionary tree, which reveals how birds gained their colourful feathers, lost their teeth, and learned to sing songs." Via iO9.
In this paper, we examine a first-year torque and angular acceleration problem to address a possible use of the forelimbs of Tyrannosaurus rex. A 1/40th-scale model is brought to the classroom to introduce the students to the quandary: given that the forelimbs of T. rex were too short to reach its mouth, what function did the forelimbs serve? This issue crosses several scientific disciplines including paleontology, ecology, and physics, making it a great starting point for thinking “outside the box..." Lipkin and Carpenter have suggested that the forelimbs were used to hold a struggling victim (which had not been dispatched with the first bite) while the final, lethal bite was applied. If that is the case, then the forelimbs must be capable of large angular accelerations α in order to grab the animal attempting to escape. The concepts of the typical first-year physics course are sufficient to test this hypothesis... Naturally, student love solving any problem related to Tyrannosaurus rex.
A nebulous trade in forged and illegal fossils is an ever-growing headache for paleontologists. [more inside]
A gigantic fish-eater (Bigger than a T. rex!) with a crocodile snout and a large sail on its back, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus has always been a strange and enigmatic creature. It may have just become something stranger: a semiaquatic, quadrupedal theropod dinosaur. [more inside]
Dinosaurs were lumbering, stupid, scientifically boring beasts—until John Ostrom rewrote the book on them.
"TrowelBlazers is a celebration of women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists who have been doing awesome work for far longer, and in far greater numbers, than most people realize." [via]
"The greatest challenge to 21st century paleontology: When commercialization of fossils threatens the science," a commentary by four paleontologists. [more inside]
Palaeocast: "An open broadcast of paleontological information, a place where the beauty, diversity and complexity of the field can be conveyed and discussed in a digital format." Every interview-centric episode is associated with a blog post, organized by era and period. [more inside]
Settling in for a long winter's nap? In need of a memento mori to guard against the unbridled jollity of the season? Just want to explore the wonderful world of 3D scans, osteology, and bioarchaeology on the internet a little further? Sad that Santa probably isn't bringing you a T-Rex for Christmas? Well, just peak inside... [more inside]
Even one of the best known dinosaurs has kept some secrets. Here is what palaeontologists most want to know about the famous tyrant.
9 things you may not know about giant azhdarchid pterosaurs, via Quetzalcoatlus: the evil, pin-headed, toothy nightmare monster that wants to eat your soul
PhyloPic is an open database of life form silhouettes. All images are available for reuse under a Public Domain or Creative Commons license. [more inside]
Consider this animal, the newest fossil discovery from Jianni Liu in China. She calls it "the walking cactus." We have grasses and flowers and beetles in more varieties than you can imagine, and yet, in some deep architectural way, the developmental paths were set way back then, 500 million years ago. The Walking Cactus is just another souvenir of that crazy moment.
The Royal Society's lost women scientists. Women published in the Royal Society, 1890-1930. Most influential British women in the history of science. Women at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Heroines of Science. Women Biochemists, 1906-1939. Women in Science. Previously: The Women of ENIAC.
Aaron's World - a kids podcast about dinosaurs, by a kid.
Darren Tanke has been guest blogging at Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings about his preparation of a Gorgosaurus (as seen here). [more inside]
"Like many paleontologists, I believe that T. rex was a hunter: a forest hunter. More specifically, I believe that T. rex used the very same hunting strategy that millions of forest hunters practice today: stand hunting from a tree."
Paleontologists discover the skull of a massive predatory whale (Leviathan melvillei) in Peru. Discovery News presents this finding with the best of all possible illustrations. (via)
In 1916, Bone War veteran (and poet) Charles H. Sternberg loaded 22 crates of fossils from the Alberta Badlands onto the SS Mount Temple, intending to ship them to the British Museum of Natural History. They never made it. [via Dinosaur Tracking]
"So I called my dad over and about five metres away he started swearing, and I was like 'what did I do wrong?' and he's like, 'nothing, nothing - you found a hominid'."The remarkable remains of two ancient human-like creatures (hominids) have been found in South Africa. Some researchers dispute that the fossils are of an unknown human species, but others say they may help fill a key gap in the fossil record of human evolution. [more inside]
Conceived at the 2007 Flugsaurier pterosaur research meeting in Munich, pterosaur.net is devoted to the titular prehistoric reptiles. [more inside]
There is no evidence that Quetzalcoatlus could see dinosaur pee with its ultraviolet vision, or that a herd of hadrosaurs could knock over a predator with their concentrated infrasound blasts.
Paleontologist Matt Wedel was a talking head in the Discovery Channel's Clash of the Dinosaurs, but was not very happy with the final product. The production company, Dangerous, responds. Finally, the Discovery Channel steps up.
"A suite of five ancient crocs, including one with teeth like boar tusks and another with a snout like a duck’s bill, have been discovered in the Sahara." [more inside]
Ardipithecus: We Meet At Last. (Single Link Carl Zimmer)
On April 23, 2009 Natalia Rybczynski, Mary R. Dawson, and Richard H. Tedford published their paper "A semi-aquatic Arctic mammalian carnivore from the Miocene epoch and origin of Pinnipedia" in the journal, Nature, detailing their 2007 discovery of the species they have named Puijila darwini. The carnivorous marine mammal, which lived about 21 to 24 million years ago, was discovered practically by accident, but as a "transitional fossil" is re-writing our understanding of pinniped evolution. It could also be noted that it was most likely cute as all get out, and is already the star of it's own mini documentary.
The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive, an online library dedicated to the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002). Includes an excellent selection of videos. And The Official Stephen Jay Gould Archive [still under development], which includes two of his books and his Harvard course online. [more inside]
Ask a Biologist. "We think that kids don't always get the access to real scientific information (or real scientists!) outside of the classroom so we are here to do just that." One of the newest in a line of question-and-answer sites, this one is run by fifty professional scientists and directed toward school kids. Is is possible to clone dinosaurs? Why do I sneeze when I look at the sun? How many mutations do I have? How do polar bears keep their feet warm?
Tracks of Swimming Dinosaur found in Wyoming The tracks of a previously unknown, two-legged swimming dinosaur have been identified along the shoreline of an ancient inland sea that covered Wyoming 165 million years ago, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder graduate student.
Bone Wars is an educational game that "simulates the process of creating a scientific hypothesis and testing it against new data" (A good thing to teach kids with people like these guys running around). The game is based on the legendary Cope/Marsh feud: a conflict that caused one Dinosaur to be classified twice and could make for a really cool movie someday.
DREAM WORLD Given that green tea provides a more effective and environmentally-friendly method of preparing computer hard disks, pulsars are used to study gravitational waves with great precision, solar cells made from nanocrystals are found to be much more efficient, and scientists have discovered evidence for the earliest known wildfire in Earth's history, 443 to 417 million years ago, it would be hard to make the case that what we are living in is not, in fact, a Dreamworld.