Epochs Underfoot

i-cb7243ea8b816289078bac7a48adb376-fossilbuzz.jpgFossils offer a rare glimpse into the past, as lifeforms we could scarcely imagine are preserved long after their day in the sun. But fossilization requires very specific conditions, and few things that die are turned to stone. On Living the Scientific Life, GrrlScientist presents Haplocheirus, a theropod with “three toes, a birdlike keel-shaped chest and a long beak,” but also “small teeth, like a dinosaur.” This creature bolsters the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs through independent lines. On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong discusses fossilized dinosaur fuzz, which contains “the distinctive signs of melanosomes, small structures that are partly responsible for the colours of modern bird feathers.” Not only does this discovery strengthen the bird-dinosaur link, it also means we can fill in our Jurassic coloring books with a little more authority. And on Highly Allochthonous, Anne Jefferson describes the “verdant forests” of the Eocene epoch, which prospered in now-desolate polar regions when the Earth was a few degrees warmer. Canadian authorities may soon allow mining of “coal beds in one of the most spectacular of all the fossil localities in the High Arctic,” which Anne encourages us to oppose. When we dig up something new, it can change our understanding of everything.

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Under Seas New and Old

i-c9274ffd863f87f18b0e4ae4f14fba75-seabuzz.jpgDarren Naish inspects “trace fossils” on Tetrapod Zoology, geologic records of footprints and other indentations left behind by animals. Although these telltale signs can “provide excellent information on behaviour and lifestyle,” it can sometimes be hard to tell what kind of creature made them in the first place. Such is the case with a set of mysterious parallel grooves preserved in a Jurassic sandbar, which may have been formed by the snouts of ancient sea monsters trolling for snacks. On Laelaps, Brian Switek reconsiders unilinear assumptions of cetacean evolution, citing “a particularly rich fossil site” in Pakistan which has revealed a broad diversity of early whale species. And on Neurotopia, Scicurious outlines the sexual proclivities of diatoms, prolific photosynthesizers which often reproduce asexually but were recently caught doing it with each other by the millions. Finally, visit Eric Klemetti for an incredible video of an underwater volcano spewing ire on Eruptions.

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In With the Old

i-5f5a9e6c4788dd04817f9562463ff1b6-dinoman.jpgShakespeare wrote that “past is prologue,” but it’s not always that easy to read. Brian Switek on Laelaps tells the tale of P. H. Gosse, a man who tried to reconcile the fossil record with the Book of Genesis, at the same time Darwin was writing his Origin of Species. Convincing no one, Gosse estranged even the faithful with his image of God as “a trickster who planted gags to fool geologists.” But given the ample evidence that dinosaurs were once alive, the debate continues: were they warm-blooded? On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong shows us a new study which says yes, based on the “hip heights of 13 species of dinosaur including Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx.” Finally, in the realm of sheer speculation, Richard Dawkins has thrown some weight behind the what-if evolutionary concept of a “humanoid dinosaur.” As Darren Naish writes on Tetrapod Zoology, “our body shape clearly works well for an intelligent, tool-using, sentient animal, but where is the convincing evidence that it is the only possible body shape for such a creature?”

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