Paleontology

Before dinosaurs could fly, some had flight-ready brains

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 31, 2013   View Article

Dinosaurs evolved the brain power necessary for flight well before they took to the air as birds, according to a new study. The finding suggests that Archaeopteryx, often considered a transitional species between dinosaurs and living birds, wasn’t all that special.

“The same neurological capacity that Archaeopteryx has is also in these other non-avian dinosaurs,” Amy Balanoff, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the study’s lead author, told NBC News.

Genome of ancient-looking fish gives clues to first limbed landlubbers

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 17, 2013   View Article

The genome of the coelacanth, an ancient-looking lobed-finned fish, has been sequenced and is already providing insight to the evolutionary changes that allowed the first four-limbed animals, called tetrapods, to crawl out of the water and on to land.

The sequence and preliminary analysis, reported Thursday in the journal Nature by a team spanning 40 research institutions and 12 countries, is a “massive piece of work,” Xiaobo Xu, a paleontologist at Kean University who was not involved in the effort, told NBC News in an email.

Dino-era Mammal the “Jurassic Mother” of Us All?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: August 24, 2011   View Article

A tiny, shrew-like creature of the dinosaur era might have been, in a sense, the mother of us all.

Named the “Jurassic mother from China” (Juramaia sinensis), the newfound fossil species is the earliest known ancestor of placental mammals—animals, such as humans, that give birth to relatively mature, live young—according to a new study.

The 160-million-year-old specimen pushes back fossil evidence for the evolutionary split between the placental and marsupial lineages by 35 million years. Although it’s unclear if the creature is a direct ancestor of modern placentals, it’s “either a great grand-aunt or a great grandmother,” the study authors say.

See ancient Earth from space

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 21, 2011   View Article

Over the past 750 million years, our blue marble has gone through remarkable changes— continents have shifted, ice ages have come and gone, sea levels have risen and fallen, and one-time deserts have turned green, allowing creatures to crawl out of the oceans and live off the land.

These changes are now being made visible by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. The first set of the Visible Paleo Earth visualizations are being released today, on Earth DAy, and more will be available in coming weeks.

Oldest Land Walker Tracks Found – Pushes Back Evolution

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 6, 2010   View Article

The first vertebrates to walk the Earth emerged from the sea almost 20 million years earlier than previously thought, say scientists who have discovered footprints from an 8-foot-long (2.4-meter-long) prehistoric creature.

Dozens of the 395-million-year-old fossil footprints were recently discovered on a former marine tidal flat or lagoon in southeastern Poland.

First Proof: Ancient Birds Had Iridescent Feathers

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: August 26, 2009   View Article

Just like modern-day starlings, some ancient birds had glossy black feathers with a metallic, glimmering sheen, scientists report in a new study.

The discovery is based on 40-million-year-old fossils of an unidentified bird species that were stored at the Senckenburg Museum in Frankfurt, Germany for up to 30 years. The fossils represent the first evidence of ancient iridescence in feathers.

Armadillo-like Crocodile Fossil Found in Brazil

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: July 8, 2009   View Article

An ancient fossil crocodile coated in armadillo-like body armor was unveiled yesterday at an environmental museum in Brazil.

Dubbed Armadillosuchus arrudai, the newly described species of crocodile roamed the arid interior of Brazil about 90 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period, scientists said.

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