Recent Paleontology News

Pete Daly, Dino Pete

The past month has been filled with interesting new paleontology discoveries.  Many of the conclusions drawn are tentative, as is usually the case in paleontology, but if true they reveal intriguing new information about how prehistoric animals lived and evolved.  Here’s a rundown of some of the highlights.


Dinosaur migrations:  A team of paleontologists has used the Paleobiology database to track the spreading of different dinosaur groups across the continents, and figure out their points of origin.  They hypothesize that migration across continents typically thought to have been separated by shallow seas would have been possible due to fluctuating sea levels creating and destroying passages.  One interesting trend they note is that during the Early Cretaceous several groups of “long-necked”, carnivorous, and “duck-billed” dinosaurs all migrated out of Europe.  The reasons why remain completely unknown.


Dinosaur Brainscan:  A recently discovered Titanosaur,  Sarmientosaurus musacchioi, has the best preserved braincase of any Sauropod (“long-necked”) dinosaur.  Scanning the braincase has revealed information on the senses of this family of dinosaurs.  The indication is that this species had very good hearing and the ability to hear very deep tones, although its overall brain size was tiny.  It is not known how it compares to other species.


American Bears:  During the Pleistocene, commonly known as the Ice Age, there were two species of massive short faced bears living in America, one in North and one in South America.  It has long been assumed that, considering the similarity of their body shape, they are most closely related.  However, recovery of ancient DNA from rare non-fossilized bones has indicated that the South American variety is more closely related to the modern spectacled bears found in the andes.  Though the species are still related, it would seem that their specialized short face and massive body size were products of parallel evolution.


Bizarre Ancient Invertebrates:  During the Silurian, a time period before any organisms but lichen lived on land, diverse invertebrates and fishes filled the seas.  One of the strangest is the newly discovered Aquilonifer spinosus, a primitive bottom dwelling arthropod.  Its fossils appear to have smaller offspring attached to the body by hairlike tethers, a very unique method of parental care.  Current suggestions for how this method would have been used are to allow the parent to carry young away from predators, or guide them towards food.


Hunters of Hominids:  Anthropologists have long suspected that early hominids were nowhere near the top of the food chain, and relied on their group work and intelligence to protect against stronger predators.  A recently discovered early hominid fossil, some 500,000, shows evidence that hyenas fed upon our ancestors.  These fossils of Homo heidelbergensis from Morocco show fractures and scars like those left by modern hyenas feeding.  Although it is not clear if the hyenas actually killed the human or merely scavenged, this is the first of such clear evidence about the place of early hominids in their ecosystems.