Coelacanth Fossil Discovery Changes History of the Ancient Fish

Coelacanth Rebellatrix

From Sciencedaily.com, Artwork by Michael Skrepnick

Coelacanths are an ancient group of fish, thought to be extinct until 1938 when a modern relative was found off the coast of South Africa. Andrew Wendruff, lead researcher at the University of Alberta, says previous Coelacanth fossils are dramatically different than these finds. Coelacanth evolution was previously thought to be inactive, and assumed their lifestyle and body shape had not changed.

According to the team at ScienceDaily.com, the new coelacanth fossil was found in the Rocky Mountains near Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. This area in the eastern range of the Rockies is much different than it was 250 million years ago. The area was underwater, lying off the western coast of super continent Pangaea.

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“Our coelacanth had a forked tail, indicating it was a fast-moving, aggressive predator, which is very different from the shape and movement of all other coelacanths in the fossil record,” Wendruff said. It is believed this three foot long, fork tailed fish is an off shoot of the lineage that lived almost 250 million years ago. Falling between the first coelacanth fossils from 400 million years ago and the most recent of about 75 million years ago.

Typically these fish are slow moving and chunky, laying in wait for prey to ambush. The newly discovered coelacanth is so different from others it’s been given a new name, Rebellatrix, or “rebel coelacanth.” It’s believed to be a failure in evolution, however, because it does not appear later in the fossil record. “Clearly, some other fish groups with forked tails must have outperformed this coelacanth, as it does not appear later in the fossil record,” Wendruff said, adding one group of fishes that may have outperformed Rebellatrix were sharks, as fossils have been found in the same rocks.

References:

University of Alberta (2012, May 2). Old fish makes new splash: Coelacanth find rewrites history of the ancient fish. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/05/120502133110.htm

Wendruff, A. and M.V.H. Wilson. A fork-tailed coelacanth, Rebellatrix divaricerca, gen. et sp. nov. (Actinistia: Rebellatricidae, fam. nov.), from the Lower Triassic of western Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 2012 (32)3: pp. 499-511

Perfectly Preserved Woolly Mammoth Discovered in Russia

Buigies Nernard/Mammuthus/MCE and www.abcnews.go.com

Yuka, a four to five year old Woolly Mammoth discovered in the Yakutia region of Siberia, is considered the most well preserved ancient remains ever. Nearly everything is still intact on the little Woolly down to the foot pads, pink skin and orange colored fur. Yuka was found by tusk hunters in 2010 and is currently being studied by noted archeologists from across the globe. What makes Yuka so important (besides his perfect preservation) is the fact that he also appears to have been a victim of humans. Scientist agree that he was initially attacked and killed by large predator(s), however there are two slits along his back indicating a crude tool was used to open the Woolly up. All the internal organs were removed as well as the skull, pelvis, ribs and other bones.

According to ABC news correspondent Ned Potter, who quotes Prof. Daniel Fisher, an evolutionary biologist with the University of Michigan: “”This is not the way lions enter carcasses,” said Fisher. “If typical signs of lion entry are not present, that tells us that human beings must have somehow gained control of the carcass.””

ABC News article on Juvenile Woolly Mammoth

It is the probability that humans went in and somehow scared off the lions and proceeded to harvest the Woolly for their own consumption that makes this find so valuable. Yuka is physical proof that ancient man lived alongside the Mammoth and used the beast for food. Additionally, this is the first Mammoth discovered with orange colored fur; all previously found Mammuthus primigenius had dark brown hair.

Yuka was found buried alongside his bones, thus leading scientists to conclude the hunter(s) intended to return for the remainder of the carcass. This hunting behavior is also typical of modern day dwellers living in higher elevations. This allows for the initial feast and then their return to collect the rest of the kill while making sure no scavengers can run off with the unused portions.

Immediately, speculation rose about cloning Yuka by using his DNA. Although he is an excellent specimen, the possibility of creating a copy through his genetics is virtually impossible due to the fact that DNA will deteriorate with time and permafrost contributes to this as well. The idea of trying to bring to life any prehistoric animal or human seems unlikely and the potential side effects could be lethal for both the animal and current humans as well. However, many scientists view cloning the DNA of deceased animals as a furthering of zoological and paleontological studies. By studying living, breathing replicants of extinct species, it opens the door to undiscovered scientific research in such areas as evolution, genetics, and mutation.

The French-based group Mammuthus is working with Prof. Fisher and other scientists in efforts to find, research and save fossils as well as other artifacts from Earth’s prehistoric past. Through their work, they are discovering and cataloging these brief glimpses of time in order to provide a clearer lineage picture. By searching for and preserving ancient fossils and artifacts, scientists can disseminate our past and possibly the future as well.

References:

Potter, Ned. (2012). “Woolly Mammoth Apparently Butchered by Ancient Humans”. ABC News. www.abcnews.go.com. Retrieved May 5, 2012, from http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/woolly-mammoth-siberia-preserved-apparently-butchered-humans/story?id=16079905#.T6XnQ8WQmvY.

New Fossil Discovery Helps To Answer Who Man Really Is

Australopithecus Sediba Skull

The cranium of Malapa hominid 1 (MH1) from South Africa, named "Karabo". The combined fossil remains of this juvenile male is designated as the holotype for Australopithecus sediba. Photo by Brett Eloff. Courtesy Profberger and Wits University.

The tangled web of evolution of the human species is complicated by the lack of skeletons found of our ancestors. What few we do have, however, suggests new interpretations of how Homo Sapiens did what no other form of life has done: evolved to become the apex predator on the planet. Fossil news from a South African excavation may offer more evidence about how this process came to fruition. One of man’s oldest ancestors, Australopithecus, is a rather confounding middle ground between today’s man and the apes who lived millions of years ago whom our species derived from.

These new fossils found in South Africa have unearthed a new species, Australopithecus sediba, which have both man-like and ape-like features. As such, these fossils appear to be a transitional species: a rare example of evolution in action as one organism transforms into another. These Australopithecus hominids lived in family groups, walked upright, and enjoyed a much larger brain than any ape. While these specific skulls are small compared to modern man’s large cranium, the brain itself would have resembled a human’s. Its lower body, furthermore, had both ape and human characteristics: the ankle appeared similar to a human’s while the heel seems more like a chimp’s or gorilla’s.

It is likely that these hominids lived in both trees and on the open plains, depending on the need for food. Trees offered shelter from predators, but they would have had to come to the ground to give birth and gather tools. They could have traveled over relatively large distances, making it possible to move across (and survive in) different ecosystems. Perhaps an environmental event caused select human-similar genes to be more favorable to the evolutionary track than ape-similar genes, slowly paving the way for the DNA that would lead to full Australopithicus species, and eventually modern man.

Who Was The Last One Standing? Fossil News Sheds Light On Extinction

Triceratops - Last Survivor

Illustration of a Triceratops skeleton, believed to be one of the last surviving dinosaurs before the mass extinction. (Credit: Mark Hallett)

There are no puzzles in paleontology that are more tantalizing than the extinction of dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago. While the predominant theory — a super-sized meteor hit the Earth and released the power of a thousand thermonuclear weapons — has become more and more concrete, new discoveries and fossil news make the debate more complex each year. Last year, Yale University scientists unearthed the horn of a ceratopsian (probably a Triceratops) within Montana. The horn is interesting due to its location a mere five inches under the geologic layer that marks the transition from Cretaceous to Tertiary period — the epoch when all dinosaurs vanished from the world forever.

Prior to this discovery, there had been no dinosaur fossils that had been found within ten feet of the so-called “K-T boundary”. As such, some paleontologists speculate that dinosaurs could have gone extinct prior to the meteor impact, after, or through a longer process. The Yale unearthing, however, suggests otherwise: at least one dinosaur species had been going strong up until the last days (or at least, the last few thousand years) before the meteor hit Earth and changed life on the planet by facilitating the rise of mammals — including homo sapiens.

Some dinosaurs may have been better adapted to the dying days of the Cretaceous than others. Avian dinosaurs, such as the ultra-fast therapods and ‘raptor’ dinosaurs, who likely had feathers for heat conservation and display, could possibly have thrived in a situation where the non-avians could not. As ceratopsians were non-avians, however, this single horn is good evidence that the bird-like and non bird-like dinosaurs both were doing fine up until an asteroid the size of New York City hit the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It seems likely now that the impact itself, rather than prior environmental causes, would have eradicated the dinosaur species.

A Whale Of a New Fossil Found

Whales have only recently begun swimming in the world’s oceans, whereas sharks have been on patrol for food for nearly a half a billion years. That the two have a rocky relationship — killer whales have been seen immobilizing and eating great white sharks — should be of little surprise. Recent fossil news has shown that forty million years ago, some of the first whales to colonize the seas may not have had a welcoming party themselves. A discovery of a new species, Aegyptocetus tarfa, came with a painful souvenir of the unfriendly seas: tooth marks from a shark that likely caused the unlucky animal’s demise.

Giovanni Biannuci of the Department of Earth Sciences in Pisa, Italy, happened upon the remains of this whale — which likely lived on both sea and land — off the coast of Egypt. An Italian stone cutter would have hammered the block of limestone into pieces, but for the protruding bones. These bones indicate deep teeth marks that only could have come from predatory sharks looking for a warm-blooded meal. The whale likely died of the attacks, sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, and had been fossilized by the compression of silt. This species weighed ‘only’ 1400 pounds, compared to a modern-day 9-ton killer whale.

The most interesting part of the fossils are the skull bones. The teeth suggest that the animal ate fish, but the bone structure indicates that the animal had strong senses of smell, more useful to spend time on land. This means it is a transitory species: rather than a true whale that spends its life at sea, it would have come on land to breed and perhaps hunt. Such species are rare in the fossil news record due to the lack of available specimens that have been found in the (relatively) brief time it takes to evolve into a new organism.

Fossil News Finds Dinosaurs Who Stayed Close To Home

Discoveries in recent years have shown that dinosaurs proved to be far better parents than previously considered.  The excavation of Maiasaurus fossils by Jack Horner, for instance, showed that dinosaurs would tend for nests of infants rather than abandon them as some modern-day reptiles do.  Yet the newest Fossil News out of Mongolia suggests that the parent role might have been larger than paleontologists think.  A nest of Protoceratops has been unearthed in the Djadocta Formation, revealing no less than fifteen of these ceratopsians that likely were juveniles — older than newly-born infants but not yet mature adults.

With ten of these fifteen fossilized dinosaurs fully complete, there are many conclusions that paleontologists can begin to make.  The presence of so many developing dinosaurs suggests that these Protoceratops may have had a hand in raising their young for a much longer span of time than initially understood.  The size of the nest, furthermore, indicates that few of these dinosaurs may have expected to survive to adulthood to reproduce.  This is not surprising — Protoceratops lived in harsh desert conditions seventy million years ago, surrounded like predators like Velociraptor; fossilized skeletons of Protoceratops and Velociraptor have been found together, locked to the death.  The strategy of long-term parenting could have been a factor in ensuring the success of this nest.

In a separate but related study, UC David paleontologists have determined that the size of orbital bones in the skulls of these Protoceratops may have been large enough to support eyes that functioned in low light.  Perhaps this plant-eater grazed at day, while defending their nests from predatory attacks at night.  Better senses would ensure their young had an advantage of surviving to adulthood, amidst blinding sandstorms and midnight raids on nests.  These challenges made the sheep-sized dinosaur have to evolve in order to survive in a harsh Cretaceous world.

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