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News articles on Fossils
Mongabay.com news articles on Fossils in blog format. Updated regularly.
(05/19/2013) Half a billion years after an arthropod with long triple claws roamed the shallow Cambrian seas, scientists have named it after Hollywood movie actor, Johnny Depp: Kooteninchela deppi. Depp, known for his versatility as an actor, played Edward Scissorhands—an artificial man with long scissors for hands—in a popular 1990 film.
Industrialized fishing has forced seabirds to change what they eat
(05/14/2013) The bleached bones of seabirds are telling us a new story about the far-reaching impacts of industrial fisheries on today's oceans. Looking at the isotopes of 250 bones from Hawaiian petrels (Pterodroma sandwichensis), scientists have been able to reconstruct the birds' diets over the last 3,000 years. They found an unmistakable shift from big prey to small prey around 100 years ago, just when large, modern fisheries started scooping up fish at never before seen rates. The dietary shift shows that modern fisheries upended predator and prey relationships even in the ocean ocean and have possibly played a role in the decline of some seabirds.
Humans killed over 10 percent of the world's bird species when they colonized the Pacific Islands
(03/25/2013) Around 4,000 years ago intrepid Polynesian seafarers made their way into an untamed wilderness: the far-flung Pacific Islands. Over a thousands or so years, they rowed from one island to another, stepping on shores never yet seen by humans. While this vast colonization brought about a new era of human history, it also ended the existence of well-over a thousand bird species according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Giant prehistoric freshwater turtle discovered
(05/18/2012) Researchers working in Colombia has discovered the fossilized remains of a giant freshwater turtle that lived some 60 million years ago.
Humans killed off magnificent Australian megafauna, flipping rainforest into savannah
(03/27/2012) The theory that humans, and not climate change, was primarily responsible for the extinction of giant marsupials in prehistoric Australia takes another step forward with a new study in Science. Exploring sediment cores for past evidence of big herbivores, researchers found that the arrival of humans coincided with the loss of a menagerie of magnificent beasts, from giant kangaroos to fearsome marsupial lions and monster birds to Komodo dragon-like reptiles. The decline of this megafauna ultimately led to ecological changes that may have caused Australia's rainforest to become savannah.
Meet the dinosaur that looks like a crow
(03/08/2012) The more we discover about dinosaurs, the more these "terrible lizards" resemble otherworldly birds. None more so than the microraptor, which paleontologists have meticulously reconstructed in a paper in Science. Not only was the microraptor about the size of a modern-day crow, it looked very crow-like according to paleontologists, even down to the discovery that it sported dark iridescent feathers, the first yet recorded in nature.
Carbon emissions paving way for mass extinction in oceans
(03/05/2012) Human emissions of carbon dioxide may be acidifying the oceans at a rate not seen in 300 million years, according to new research published in Science. The ground-breaking study, which measures for the first time the rate of current acidification compared with other occurrences going back 300 million years, warns that carbon emissions, unchecked, will likely lead to a mass extinction in the world's oceans. Acidification particularly threatens species dependent on calcium carbonate (a chemical compound that drops as the ocean acidifies) such as coral reefs, marine mollusks, and even some plankton. As these species vanish, thousands of others that depend on them are likely to follow.
When giant coyotes roamed the Earth
(02/27/2012) Not long ago, geologically speaking, coyotes (Canis latrans) were bigger and more robust than today's animals. In the late Pleistocene, over 10,000 years ago, coyotes rivaled grey wolves (Canis lupus) in size. But, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), coyotes shrunk significantly following the megafaunal extinction—including the disappearance of big herbivores like giant sloths and mastodons and predators like the smilodon—due to changes in prey and predator competition.
Paleontologists reconstruct extinct, "elegant" penguin
(02/27/2012) Around 25 million years ago a penguin with a long, sharp beak and massive flippers lived in a New Zealand that was almost entirely underwater. The bird, named Kairuku after a Maori word that means "diver who returns with food," was first discovered in 1977, but has only recently been reconstructed by scientists in a study in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Jurassic insect sings again
(02/06/2012) Innovative research has made a long-extinct katydid—which inhabited the world of dinosaurs like stegosaurus, allosaurus, and diplodocus—sing again. The discovery of an incredibly well-preserved fossil of a new species of katydid, dubbed Archaboilus musicus, gave biomechanical experts the opportunity to recreate a song not heard in 165 million years according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Interview with conservation legend, Richard Leakey
(11/28/2011) Following in his family's footsteps, Dr. Richard Leakey, is considered the heir to the scientific legacy of his parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, icons in the field of paleoanthropology. Dr Richard Leakey has been credited with some of the field's most successful paleoanthropologic finds, including a near complete, groundbreaking, Homo Erectus fossil dubbed 'Turkana Boy'. The scientific contributions of the Leakey family have reshaped our views of the origins of mankind and shed new light on the history and shared ties of the human family.
Scientists discover giant species of crocodile; luckily it is extinct
(09/15/2011) Researchers excavating a coal mine in Colombia have discovered a previously unknown species of prehistoric crocodile. The beast is described in the September 15 issue of the journal Palaeontology.
Pictures: Scientists discover carnivorous pygmy dinosaur
(01/13/2011) Scientists have announced the discovery of a new species of carnivorous dinosaur which lived 230 million years ago in what is today Argentina.
Extinct giant stork towered over 'hobbits' on Flores
(12/07/2010) Scientists have discovered an extinct massive stork, standing nearly 6 feet tall (1.8 meter) and weighing 35 pounds (15 kilograms), which would have shared the island of Flores with the 'hobbits'—dwarf hominin species known as Homo floresiensis—reports the BBC. According to the researchers the meat-eating stork was big enough to prey on young Homo floresiensis, and stood about 2 and a half feet (0.8 meters) above adult hobbits.
Pictures: Giant prehistoric penguin discovered
(10/01/2010) Paleontologists have unearthed fossil remains of a giant species of penguin that roamed the Earth 36 million years ago, according to research published in Science.
2 new dinosaur species, including 15-horned beast, discovered in Utah
(09/23/2010) Scientists discovered two previously unknown species of dinosaur in southern Utah, reports the Associated Press.
Dwarf dinosaur confirmed: the horse-sized sauropod of Transylvania
(05/04/2010) A dinosaur mystery over a hundred years old has been unraveled according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Prehistoric snake gobbled-up dinosaur babies
(03/02/2010) A fossilized snake has been discovered inside a titanosaur nest in India, leading researchers to conclude that the snake fed on newly-hatched dinosaur babies, rather than their eggs like modern snakes. Paleontologist and snake expert Jason Head says that the snake, known as Sanajeh indicus, lacked the wipe-jaws needed to swallow eggs, but just-hatched baby titanosaurs would have been perfect prey for the 3.5 meter (nearly 12 feet) long serpent. Titanosaurs belong to the sauropods, long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs which includes the world's largest animals to ever walk the land.
Polar bears are newcomers on the world stage
(03/01/2010) One of the most well-known animals, the polar bear, is a newcomer on the world stage, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. By studying the DNA of an ancient polar bear jawbone uncovered in 2004 in Norway scientists have for the first time pinpointed the time when the polar bear split from its closest relative, the brown bear. "Our results confirm that the polar bear is an evolutionarily young species that split off from brown bears some 150,000 years ago and evolved extremely rapidly during the late Pleistocene, perhaps adapting to the opening of new habitats and food sources in response to climate changes just before the last interglacial period."
New study: overhunting by humans killed off Australia's megafauna
(01/21/2010) For over a century and a half researchers have debated whether humans or climate change killed off Australia's megafuana. A new paper in Science argues with new evidence that Australia's giant marsupials, monstrous reptiles, and large flightless birds were brought to extinction not by an unruly climate, but by the arrival of humans.
Extinct goat was "similar to crocodiles"
(11/16/2009) It sounds like something out of Greek mythology: a half-goat, half-reptilian creature. But researchers have discovered that an extinct species of goat, the Balearic Island cave goat or Myotragus balearicus, survived in nutrient-poor Mediterranean islands by evolving reptilian-specific characteristics. The goat, much like crocodiles, was able to grow at flexible rates, stopping growth entirely when food was scant. This adaptation—never before seen in a mammal—allowed the species to survive for five million years before being driven to extinction only 3,000 years ago, likely by human hunters.
Arctic lake undergoing unprecedented changes due to warming
(10/19/2009) The Arctic should be growing cooler, but a new sediment core taken from an Arctic lake reveals that the lake's ecology and chemistry has been transformed by unnatural warming beginning in the 1950s. The sediment core proves that changes happening in the lake during the Twentieth Century are unprecedented over the past 200,000 years. Headed by University of Colorado scientist Yarrow Axelford, the study retrieved the sediment core from the bottom of a thirty foot deep lake on Baffin Island. Importantly the sediment core goes back 80,000 years further than any other core retrieved from the Greenland ice sheet, providing researchers with the longest timescale yet of changes in the Arctic climate.
Historical deforestation in Madagascar may not be as bad as commonly believed
(08/12/2009) The long-held assumption that Madagascar has lost 90 percent of its forest cover due to fire and slash-and-burn agriculture may be overstated, argues new research published in Conservation Letters. Analyzing 6000-year pollen records in four sites, Malika Virah-Sawmy of Oxford University found evidence that vegetation in southeast Madagascar has for millennia been a mosaic of forests, woodlands and savannas, rather than continuous forests as generally believed. Virah-Sawmy says the findings demonstrate the importance of conserving Madagascar's remaining ecosystems as a buffer against climate change.
Extinction debt can last millions of years
(07/29/2009) Extinction can be set in motion millions of years before a species' actual demise, suggesting that present-day drivers of habitat destruction and degradation may have already doomed many species to eventual extinction, report researchers writing in Proceedings of the Royal Society B online.
Age of the Amazon River estimated at 11 million years
(07/08/2009) A new study, published in the journal Geology, estimates the age of the Amazon river at 11 million years.
Permian mass extinction caused by giant volcanic eruption
(05/28/2009) Two hundred and sixty million years ago the Earth experienced its worst mass extinction: 95 percent of marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial life vanished. Long a subject of dispute, researchers from the University of Leeds believe they have confirmed the reason behind the so-called Permian extinction.
48 'new' species of dinosaur discovered
(02/09/2009) In just four years a University of Portsmouth palaeontologist has discovered 48 new species from the age of the dinosaurs.
Monstrous prehistoric snake provides glimpse of warmer tropical forests
(02/04/2009) On Wednesday scientists announced the discovery of the world’s largest snake, a prehistoric beast which preyed on giant turtles and crocodile-like reptiles in South America after the demise of the dinosaurs. As amazing as the discovery is, its greatest importance may be the clues it provides conservationists about the future of tropical forests under various global warming scenarios.
World’s largest snake discovered: prehistoric serpent was twice the size of an anaconda
(02/04/2009) Paleontologists have recently uncovered the world’s largest snake announces a paper in Nature. Measuring an astonishing 42 to 45 feet, the Titanoboa cerrejonensis makes the anaconda look diminutive. In fact the prehistoric serpent even makes once-ridiculous horror movie snakes appear conservative. "Truly enormous snakes really spark people's imagination, but reality has exceeded the fantasies of Hollywood," said Jonathan Bloch, one of the leaders of the party that discovered the prehistoric serpent. "The snake that tried to eat Jennifer Lopez in the movie Anaconda is not as big as the one we found."
Did cheetah come from China?
(12/30/2008) The discovery of a fossilized big cat skull in northwestern China provides new evidence that cheetah originated in the Old World, rather than the Americas, report scientists writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Missing link between fish and land animals discovered
(11/07/2008) A study published in the October 16 issue of Nature details research into and implications of a fossil fish, Tiktaalik roseae, discovered last year at Ellesmere Island in Canada. The Devonian fossil shows an array of features found in both terrestrial and aquatic animals, providing the best glimpse so far into the transitory period during which vertebrates were able to adapt to life out of water. The find provides some of the first osteological evidence of neck development, a crucial adaptation to terrestrial life because it allows an animal's body to remain stationary while it surveys its environment.
Past climate change drove mass extinction in Pakistan
(09/26/2008) Research on long-vanished mammals in the Siwalik region of Northern Pakistan has yielded results relevant for today. In the span of two-and-a-half million years climate change caused a shift in Siwalik habitat from wet monsoon forest to savannah, dooming over half the mammal species to local extinction. The research was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers devise new comparison of mass extinction events
(09/02/2008) Researchers have created a new way to compare historical mass extinction events. The scoring system, presented in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, works by multiplying the number of taxa — species, genera, and families — that went extinct by the inverse of the time it took to produce a measure dubbed "greatness", which represents the magnitude of the event. Using the system, Celal Sengor and colleagues from Istanbul Teknik Universitesi of Turkey rank the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) event — when the dinosaurs were extinguished in a flash by an asteroid strike or mass oceanic poisoning by a spasm of volcanic activity — as the greatest mass extinction in history. The Permian, which featured a greater loss of species (90-95 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species) but played out over a longer period to time some 250 million years ago, ranks third after the Silurian, which occurred around 440 million years ago.
Humans - not climate - drove extinction of giant Tasmanian animals
(08/11/2008) Humans — not climate change — were responsible for the mass extinction of Australia's megafauna, according to a new study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Humans, and global warming, responsible for extinction of mammoths
(03/31/2008) The combination of human hunting pressure and climate change was responsible for the extinction in woolly mammoths, claims new research published in the open-access journal PLoS Biology. Scientists have long debated whether climate change or human hunting were the more important driver in the demise of North America's megafauna towards the end of the last Ice Age. Now new modeling by David Nogues-Bravo, a biologist at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain, and colleagues supports the theory that synergistic effects of warming climate and new human predators drove mammoths to extinction.
10-pound 'Giant Frog From Hell' discovered in Madagascar
(02/18/2008) Researchers have discovered the remains of what may be the largest frog ever to exist.
Two strange carnivorous dinosaurs discovered in the Sahara
(02/12/2008) Two previously unknown species of dinosaur discovered in the Sahara were unusual meat-eaters, report scientists from the University of Chicago and the University of Bristol.
New duck-billed dinosaur discovered in Mexico
(02/12/2008) A previously unknown species of dinosaur has been discovered in Mexico, shadding new light on the history of western North America, report researchers from the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.
Global warming to increase insect attacks on plants
(02/11/2008) Global warming will increase attacks on plant leaves by insects, reports a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Mini-pterodactyl discovered in China
(02/11/2008) Scientists have discovered a previously unknown species of pterodactyl in northeastern China.
Recovery from worst mass extinction took 30M years
(01/20/2008) The recovery of complex ecosystems following history's worst mass extinction took 30 million years reports a study published last week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
2,000 pound rodent discovered
(01/16/2008) Scientists have discovered the remains of an extinct 2,000 pound rodent -- the largest rodent ever known. The find is described Wednesday in Britain's Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Despite Arctic crocodiles, glaciers existed during extreme global warming 90M years ago
(01/10/2008) Massive glaciers extended across 50-60 percent of Antarctica some 91.2 million years even as crocodiles roamed the Arctic and surface temperatures of the western tropical Atlantic Ocean climbed to 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit), reports a study published in the journal Science.
Evolution of whales challenged
(12/19/2007) Modern whales appear to have evolved from a raccoon-sized creature with the body of a small deer, according to scientists writing in the journal Nature. The results challenge the theory that cetaceans are descended from even-toed ungulates (artiodactyls) like hippos, as previous molecular analysis has suggested.
Prehistoric Carnivorous Fungi Lassoed its Prey
(12/13/2007) Scientists have discovered the oldest known carnivorous fungus, according to a study published in Science.
Massive carnivorous dinosaur discovered
(12/11/2007) A massive carnivorous dinosaur discovered in Niger has been described as a new species, according to research published in current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Global warming may provoke evolution
(11/26/2007) Some 80 million years ago, during a period of global warming, a group of relatively immobile salamanders trekked from western North America to the continent that became Asia, report researchers writing in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Cow-like dinosaur discovered
(11/15/2007) A dinosaur discovered in the Sahara had a mouth that worked like a vacuum cleaner and operated more like a "Mesozoic cow" than a reptile, report researchers writing in today's issue of the journal PLoS ONE.
Missing link between humans and apes possibly discovered
(11/12/2007) A 10 million-year-old jawbone discovered in Kenya may represent a new species very close to the last common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans, report researchers writing in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Climate change did not cause extinction of Neanderthals
(09/12/2007) Researchers in Europe have found evidence that rules out a "single climatic event" as factor in the extinction of Neanderthals.
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