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PALEONTOLOGY: When Dragons Ruled the Skies

anhanguerian pterosaur - Deposit Photos

About 110 million years ago in what is now Australia, a flying “dragon” dominated the skies. With an estimated 23-foot (7 meters) wingspan, it was the continent’s biggest pterosaur, new research finds. Pterosaur fossils are rare in Australia; fewer than 20 specimens have been described since paleontologists found the continent’s first pterosaur bones about two decades ago. Scientists identified the newfound species, Thapunngaka shawi, from a fossilized piece of a lower jaw found at a site in North West Queensland dating to the Cretaceous period (about 145.5 million to 65.5 million years ago). T. shawi’s skull would have measured over … Read more

Scientists Just Discovered a 100 Million Year Old Sperm. I Kid You Not.

sperm - pixabay

The oldest known sperm in the world has been discovered, locked in a piece of amber that solidified when behemoths like Spinosaurus dominated the Earth. The giant sperm comes from a much more miniscule creature than the toothy Spinosaurus: an ostracod, a crustacean that looks like a shrimp dressing up as a clam for Halloween. Known colloquially as “seed shrimp,” ostracods typically grow just a few tenths of an inch long. Their bodies are protected by a bivalve shell, from which tiny, crab-like appendages sometimes protrude. There are thousands of ostracod species alive today, and many boast giant sperm cells, … Read more

Ancient “Crazy Beast” With Teeth from “Outer Space”

Adalatherium hui

The oldest complete mammal fossil from the Southern Hemisphere is puzzling scientists with its mismatched body, strange skull holes and teeth that look like they’re “from outer space.” The new fossil, reported today (April 29) in the journal Nature, is the oldest (and only) nearly complete skeleton from an extinct group of mammals known as Gondwanatherians. This mysterious bunch lived alongside the dinosaurs on the southern supercontinent of Gondwana. They’re known from a smattering of teeth and bone fragments, a single skull and the new, remarkable skeleton of an animal whose discoverers have dubbed the “crazy beast.” The fossil is … Read more

Remains of Tropical Rainforest Discovered i Antarctica

About 90 million years ago, West Antarctica was home to a thriving temperate rainforest, according to fossil roots, pollen and spores recently discovered there, a new study finds. The world was a different place back then. During the middle of the Cretaceous period (145 million to 65 million years ago), dinosaurs roamed Earth and sea levels were 558 feet (170 meters) higher than they are today. Sea-surface temperatures in the tropics were as hot as 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). This scorching climate allowed a rainforest — similar to those seen in New Zealand today — to take root … Read more

PALEONTOLOGY: There Was An (Ugly) Ice-Age Unicorn

Ice Age Unicorn

A burly “unicorn” that once plodded over grasslands in Siberia was around for much longer than once thought — long enough to have roamed the land at the same time as modern humans. This one-horned native of the steppes, Elasmotherium sibiricum, was a hefty, furry beast in the rhino family that weighed nearly 4 tons — more than twice the weight of a white rhinoceros, the largest species of modern rhino. Previous interpretations of E. sibiricum bones suggested that they died out 200,000 years ago, but recent analysis hints that E. sibricum fossils are much younger than that, dating to … Read more