Trial and Error

A previously unknown species of bird-like dinosaur with pterosaur-like wings has been discovered by a team of paleontologists working with the Chinese Academy of Science. The discovery, reported in the May 9 issue of the journal Nature, sheds some new light on the origins of avian flight. A nearly complete skeleton of Ambopteryx longibrachium was unearthed near Wubaiding Village in China’s Liaoning Province.

Named Ambopteryx longibrachium, the new dinosaur lived approximately 163 million years ago (Jurassic period) in modern day China. The prehistoric creature had a body length of about 12.6 inches (32 cm) and an estimated body mass of 300 g. It belongs to Scansoriopterygidae, an extinct family of climbing and gliding non-avian theropod dinosaurs.

Unlike other flying dinosaurs, namely birds, this species has membranous wings supported by a rod-like wrist bone that is not found in any other dinosaur, but is present in pterosaurs and flying squirrels. These wing structures represent a short-lived and unsuccessful attempt to fly, according to scientists.

Ambopteryx longibrachium. Image credit: Chung-Tat Cheung & Min Wang / Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In contrast, feathered wings, first documented in Late Jurassic non-avian dinosaurs, were further refined through the evolution of numerous skeletal and soft tissue modifications, giving rise to at least two additional independent origins of dinosaur flight and ultimately leading to the current success of modern birds.

Tiny T-Rex

A new species of predatory tyrannosauroid dinosaur that lived about 92 million years ago (Cretaceous period) has been identified from fossils found in New Mexico. The new dinosaur, named Suskityrannus hazelae, was a tiny relative of Tyrannosaurus Rex, about 9 feet (2.7 m) long and 3 feet (0.9 m) tall at the hip.

The ancient creature weighed between 20 and 41 kg, compared to a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s weight of up to 9 tons. Its diet likely consisted of the same kind as its larger meat-eating counterpart, with Suskityrannus hazelae likely hunting small animals.

An artist’s rendering of how Suskityrannus hazelae may have looked. Image credit: Andrey Atuchin.

Suskityrannus hazelae offers a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they took over the planet. It also belongs to a dinosaurian fauna that just proceeds the iconic dinosaurian faunas in the late Cretaceous that include some of the most famous dinosaurs such as Triceratops, predators like Tyrannosaurus Rex, and duckbill dinosaurs like Edmontosaurus.

Two partial skeletons of Suskityrannus hazelae were found in the 1990s during expeditions to the Zuni Basin in western New Mexico.

The find links the older and smaller tyrannosauroids from North America and China with the much larger tyrannosaurids that lasted until the final extinction of non-avian dinosaurs.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

That’s How it Begins

A team of paleontologists from Bulgaria and Germany has found the surprisingly unusual and perfectly preserved millipede in 99-million-year-old amber from Myanmar.

Burmanopetalum inexpectatum. Image credit: Leif Moritz.

I saw this in a movie once…

Millipedes are a highly diverse but also a largely understudied group of arthropods with over 11,000 known species. The actual number of species is estimated to be between 15,000 and 80,000.

The Mesozoic Era, an interval of geological time from about 252 to 66 million years ago, is poor in millipede fossils, with less than a dozen know species.

Dubbed Burmanopetalum inexpectatum, the newly-discovered millipede species lived approximately 99 million years ago (the Cretaceous period).

The ancient creature, only about 8.2 mm long, is encased in amber from the Hukawng Valley, Kachin State, northern Myanmar.

With the next-generation micro-CT and the associated image rendering and processing software, scientists were able to reconstruct the whole animal and observe the tiniest morphological traits which are rarely preserved in fossils.

It came as a surprise that this animal cannot be placed in the current millipede classification. Even though their general appearance have remained unchanged in the last 100 million years, as the planet has undergone dramatic changes several times during this period, some morphological traits in Callipodida lineage have evolved significantly.

The discovery is described in a paper in the journal ZooKeys.

More Horrors from the Deep

An international team of paleontologists have found an exceptionally preserved fossilized remains of an enigmatic new type of crab, Callichimaera perplexa, which lived approximately 95 million years ago (mid-Cretaceous period) in what are now Colombia and the United States.

Callichimaera perplexa (perplexing beautiful chimera) was about the size of a quarter and had large and unprotected compound eyes, bent claws, leg-like mouth parts, exposed tail, and small body.

Callichimaera perplexa. Image credit: Elissa Martin, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

It is the earliest example of a swimming arthropod with paddle-like legs since the extinction of sea scorpions more than 250 million years ago.

The ancient creature is so unique and strange that it can be considered the ‘platypus of the crab world.’ It hints at how novel forms evolve and become so disparate through time.

Normally, we think of crabs as big animals with broad carapaces, strong claws, small eyes in long eyestalks, and a small tail tucked under the body. Callichimaera perplexa defies these crabby features and forces a re-think of the definition of what makes a crab a crab.

The discovery is reported in the journal Science Advances.

Good Old Boys

The face of a 4,000-year-old dog has been brought back to life by a team of researchers and forensic artists.

12/10 Would resurrect 

In 1901, archaeologists found the 4,000-year-old remains of at least 24 dogs in Cuween Hill chambered cairn on Orkney, off the northern coast of Scotland.

Now, a team of scientists at Edinburgh University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies has CT-scanned one of the Cuween Hill canine skulls.

This enabled the researchers to make a 3D print, which was in turn used by forensic artist Amy Thornton to create a realistic model of the dog’s head, building up muscle, skin and hair in the same way she would approach a human head.

The dog is the size of a large collie, and has features reminiscent of a European grey wolf, the Cuween dog has much to tell us, not only about ceremonial practices and the symbolic significance of the dog in Late Neolithic Orkney but also about the appearance of domestic dogs in the third millennium BCE.

The reconstruction was originally created in clay using traditional methods, with a 3D print of the Cuween Hill skull as the base to build the anatomy on to. The completed sculpture was then cast in silicone and finished with the fur coat resembling a European grey wolf, as advised by experts. The resulting model gives us a fascinating glimpse at this ancient animal.