Paleontology

Were dinosaurs fast, aggressive hunters like those in the movie "Jurassic World", or did they have lower metabolic rates that made them more like today's alligators and crocodiles?

For 150 years, scientists have debated the nature of dinosaurs' body temperatures and how they influenced activity levels.

A new paper contends that some dinosaurs had the capacity to elevate their body temperatures using heat sources in the environment, such as the sun.

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  Credit: NSF 

Scientists describe a perinatal group of Saurolophus angustirostris, a giant hadrosaur dinosaur, all likely from the same nest, found at the Dragon's Tomb in Mongolia, in a new study.

The Dragon's Tomb is a location famous for finding Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, the authors of this study described three or four perinatal specimens or "babies" and two associated eggshell fragments. The young dinosaurs were likely part of a nest originally located on a river sandbank, and the authors suggest they are likely Saurolophus angustirostris (meaning 'lizard crest'), a dinosaur that is known from multiple well-preserved complete skeletons.  

A 48 million year-old horse-like equoid fetus has been discovered at the Messel pit near Frankfurt, Germany according to a study in PLOS ONE

Jens Lorenz Franzen from Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt, Germany, and Naturhistorisches Museum Basel, Switzerland, and colleagues completed their investigation of the fetus from a 48 million year-old horse-like equoid uncovered near Frankfurt, Germany in 2000. They evaluated the bones and anatomy and used scanning electronic microscopy (SEM) and high-resolution micro-x-ray to describe the ~12.5 cm fetus.

From trilobites to tyrannosaurs, most fossils are of creatures with hard shells or bones. These materials don’t easily biodegrade and sediment has time to build up around them and turn them into a record of the creature that is still with us millions of years after it has died. Soft-bodied organisms like worms, on the other hand, decay rapidly and their fossil record is decidedly patchy.

In exceptional circumstances, however, their remains are preserved and sometimes in the most unusual places. With the right detective skills, palaeontologists can use such discoveries to open up whole new windows on the history of life on Earth. A recent discovery found in 50-million-year-old rocks from Antarctica has yielded a particularly incredible example: fossilised worm sperm.

A new species of ‘super-armored’ worm, named Collinsium ciliosum, or Hairy Collins’ Monster after the palaeontologist Desmond Collins, who discovered and first illustrated a similar Canadian fossil in the 1980s, was a bizarre, spike-covered creature which ate by filtering nutrients out of seawater with its feather-like front legs, has been identified by palaeontologists.

The creature, which lived about half a billion years ago, was one of the first animals on Earth to develop armor to protect itself from predators and to use such a specialised mode of feeding.
In the late winter of 1976, the world famous fossil collector James Kitching was doing a survey near South Africa’s border with Lesotho.

To his surprise he found a tiny clutch of six fossilized eggs along the side of the road at a place known as Rooidraai.

It took five years for skilled palentologists to remove enough rock matrix from the eggs so that they could be preliminarily identified as the first dinosaur embryos from South Africa and the oldest dinosaur embryos in the world.

In the blockbuster "Jurassic World", actor Chris Pratt joins forces with a pack of swift and lethal velociraptors. "Velociraptor belongs to a group of predatory dinosaurs called the deinonychosaurs, or simply the 'raptors'," says University of Alberta paleontologist Scott Persons. "Raptors are characterized by particularly nasty feet. Their big toes each bore an enlarged and wickedly hooked talon, which makes raptors well suited for Hollywood fight scenes."

Persons and University of Alberta alumnus Lida Xing are part of the research team that has just documented a rich fossil footprint site in central China, which contains the tracks of several kinds of dinosaurs, including raptors. From these tracks, the team has gained new insights into raptor locomotion. 

Jurassic World brings to life the fantasy of an amusement park where genetically engineered dinosaurs are the main attraction, as first imagined in the original book, then movie Jurassic Park back in 1993. This fourth movie in the franchise, in cinemas from today, is certainly action-packed, although there are a number of opportunities missed when it comes to how these beasts are represented.

I dissected a Tyrannosaurus rex in front of television cameras.

That may be the most surreal sentence I’ve ever written. So let me explain. I’m part of a team that built a life-sized model of Tyrannosaurus rex and then cut it up. The spectacle is a bloody, gory two-hour television special called T. rex Autopsy. The premise may seem absurd. But this is a whole new way of communicating science to the public, and it has been one of the highlights of my career.

A new fossil hominid species has been discovered in the site of Woranso-Mille in the central region of Afar, in Ethiopia.

The new species is named Australopithecus deyiremeda and consists of the upper and  lower jaws and a collection of teeth in the sites of Burtele and Wayteleyta, in Woranso-Mille, in the central region of Afar, about 50 kilometers north of Hadar and 520 kilometres northeast of the capital Addis Ababa. The fossil specimens are 3.3 – 3.5 million-years-old.