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News articles on Paleontology
Mongabay.com news articles on Paleontology in blog format. Updated regularly.
(11/04/2013) Based on a single tooth from Australia, scientists believe they have discovered a giant, meter-long (3.3 feet) duck-billed platypus that likely fed on fish, frogs, and even turtles, according to a new study in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. At least twice the size of a modern duckbilled platypus, the scientists say the extinct giant likely lived between 15 and 5 million years ago.
Nutrient deficiency in Amazon rainforest linked to megafauna extinction
(08/12/2013) Around twelve thousand of years ago, the Amazon was home to a menagerie of giant creatures: the heavily armored glyptodons, the elephant-sized ground sloth, and the rhino-like toxodons among others. But by 10,000 B.C. these monsters were largely gone, possibly due to overhunting by humans or climatic changes. There's no question that the rapid extinction of these megafauna changed the environment, but a new study in Nature Geoscience posits a novel theory: did the mass extinction of big mammals lead to nutrient deficiency, especially of nitrogen, in parts of the Amazon rainforest?
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.
World's sixth mass extinction still preventable
(03/03/2011) So, here's the good news: a mass extinction, the world's sixth, is still preventable. But the bad news: if species currently threatened with extinction vanish—even over the next thousand years—homo-sapiens will be the first single species responsible for a mass extinction. Comparing today's current extinction crisis with the big five that occurred in the past, a new study in Nature finds that while the situation is dire, the choice is ultimately up to humanity. "If you look only at the critically endangered mammals—those where the risk of extinction is at least 50 percent within three of their generations—and assume that their time will run out, and they will be extinct in 1,000 years, that puts us clearly outside any range of normal, and tells us that we are moving into the mass extinction realm," explains lead author Anthony D. Barnosky, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology.
King of dinosaurs was a hunter, not a scavenger
(01/26/2011) Ecologists say they have used a computer model to put to rest a nearly century-old debate. Did Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the world's most well-known dinosaurs, hunt down its prey like a lion on the plains, or, instead, did it scavenge meals from other hunters like a vulture? According to scientists with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) the Tyrannosaurus had only one choice in order to survive: hunt.
Picture: scientists identify first known single-fingered dinosaur
(01/25/2011) Paleontologists working in China have discovered a first for dinosaurs: a species with only one finger. Named Linhenykus monodactylus, the extinct species stood only about two feet high and weighed about as much as a large parrot. Although small, the new dinosaur was a member of the carnivorous therapod dinosaurs, which include the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex. The find was announced in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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.
Amazon biodiversity older than believed
(11/11/2010) A new study in Science has found that the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest goes back much further than expected, perhaps upending old ideas about how the Amazon basin became arguably the world's most biodiverse ecosystem. According to the study, the origin of rich biodiversity in the Amazon likely goes back more than 20 million years when the Andean mountains were rising.
Rainforests thrived in warmer conditions in the past, yet study requires "caution"
(11/11/2010) A new study in Science is likely to reopen the contentious debate about the impact of climate change on tropical rainforests. Scientific modeling of future climate conditions in tropical rainforests, such as the Amazon, has shown that climate change—combined with deforestation and fire—could create a tipping point whereby a significant portion of the Amazon could turnover to savannah, pushing untold species to extinction and undercutting the many ecosystem services provided by tropical rainforests. Yet, a new study headed by Carlos Jaramillo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), has found a tropical forest ecosystem thriving in much warmer conditions than today.
Monster turtle killed off by man
(08/17/2010) Researchers have linked another extinction to human beings: this time of a massive prehistoric horned turtle. Prehistoric turtles in the Meiolania genus were thought to have vanished some 50,000 years ago. However, scientists have found a new species that was likely wiped out by human hunters much more recently.
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.
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.
Natural rafts carried Madagascar's unique wildlife to its shores
(01/20/2010) Imagine, forty million years ago a great tropical storm rises up on the eastern coast of Africa. Hundreds of trees are blown over and swept out to sea, but one harbors something special: inside a dry hollow rests a small lemur-like primate. Currents carry this tree and its passenger hundreds of miles until one gray morning it slides onto a faraway, unknown beach. The small mammal crawls out of its hollow and waddles, hungry and thirsty, onto the beach. Within hours, amid nearby tropical forests, it has found the sustenance it needs to survive: in a place that would one day be named Madagascar.
After years of controversy: Flores 'hobbits' are a new species of humans
(11/19/2009) When the 'hobbits' were discovered in 2003 they made news worldwide, sparking visions of a world our small relations lived among giant rats, dwarf elephants, and lizards bigger than the Komodo dragon. The small hominin fossils discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia proved just how little modern humans knew about our deep ancestry. While researchers instantly claimed that the 'hobbits' were a new species of hominin other scientists disagreed: they argued that the 'hobbits' were modern humans that had been dwarfed by disease. A new study inSignificance hopes to put the controversy to rest.
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.
Present day tropical plant families survived in warmer, wetter tropics 58 million years ago
(10/18/2009) Fifty eight million years ago the tropical rainforests of South America shared many similarities with today's Neotropical forests, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Looking at over 2,000 fossils in Colombia from one of the world's largest open pit coal mines, scientists were able to recreate for the first time the structure of a long vanished rainforest. One inhabited by a titanic snake, giant turtles, and crocodile-like reptiles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Chocolate first used more than 3100 years ago
(11/12/2007) Cacao, the source of chocolate, was in use at least at least 3000 years ago according to evidence found by archaeologists working in Honduras. The discovery pushes back the earliest known use of cacao by 500 years.
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.
Dinosaurs' rise to dominance was a gradual
(07/19/2007) Dinosaurs' rise to dominance was a gradual rather than sudden, suggests new research published in Science.
Pygmy panda discovered in China
(06/18/2007) Researchers have discovered an extinct pygmy panda in the tropical forests of China.
Ancient gliding reptile discovered
(06/12/2007) A remarkable new long-necked, gliding reptile discovered in 220 million-year old sediments of eastern north America is described in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (Vol. 27, No. 2), scientists report. Mecistotrachelos apeoros (meaning "soaring, long-necked") is based on two fossils excavated at the Solite Quarry that straddles the Virginia-North Carolina state line.
Tyrannosaurus rex was slow
(06/07/2007) Tyrannosaurus rex was a slow, lumbering beast according to new research published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.
Possible baby dinosaur tracks discovered near Denver
(05/24/2007) A researcher may have discovered incredibly rare dinosaur tracks of baby stegosaurs near downtown Denver, reports the Denver Post.
Prehistoric bear-like beast discovered in North Dakota
(05/24/2007) The skeleton of a 60-million year old bear-like beat was discovered at an oil drilling site in the North Dakota Badlands, reports the Associated Press.
Dinosaurs could swim
(05/24/2007) Researchers found evidence that terrestrial dinosaurs were capable of swimming. Examining fossilized footmarks left on the floor of an ancient lake bed in northern Spain 125 million years ago, scientists led by Loic Costeur of the Universite de Nantes in France said the tracks were left by a swimming meat-eating dinosaur.
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