Palaeontology News


  • Palaeontologists have discovered a “missing link” between early and late pterosaurs; an animal which combines some of the notable features of each.  Dubbed darwinopterus (or “Darwin’s wing”), it features “a tail and hind legs like the older pterosaurs, but pointy teeth and a head/neck shape both almost identical to later species.”  It bolsters support for the theory of modular evolution—that the evolutionary process assembles new genes from copies of pieces of various older genes, rapidly building new features and functions from a new arrangement of already reliable parts.  Abstract from the Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences) available here.
  • Generally regarded as the archetypal early bird, archaeopteryx (Greek for “ancient wing”) has been found to be much more like its slow-growing land-bound cousins, lacking the rapid bone growth common to all current-day birds (who grow and mature in a matter of weeks).  Microscopic analysis of fossilised archaeopteryx cells and blood vessels indicate that it took several years to grow from juvenile to adult.  In the words of lead paleobiologist Greg Erickson, “We learned that the adult would have been raven-sized and taken about 970 days to mature.  Some same-size birds today can do likewise in eight or nine weeks. In contrast, maximal growth rates for Archaeopteryx resemble dinosaur rates, which are three times slower than living birds and four times faster than living reptiles.”  Abstract from the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) available here.
  • One-third of the dinosaur species currently identified may not have existed, because they are actually juvenile forms of other species and not a separate species in their own right.
  • In 1863, a family of Virginia palaeontologists discovered a hidden valley of living dinosaurs; the Union Army attempted to weaponise them into tools of mass mayhem and destruction against the secessionist South.  Hollywood’s latest summer blockbuster?  Nope.  The premise of a Civil War theme park in Natural Bridge, Virginia.
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