Category Archives: paleobiology

The ancestor of deuterostomes? A new report.

A new paper in Nature by Jian Han et al. (reference and free link below; one of the coauthors is Simon Conway Morris, of Burgess Shale fame) describes the earliest known deuterostome: that superphylum of animals in which the blastopore (the first opening into the central part of the embryo) becomes the anus, and the second […]

A new order of insect found in Cretaceous amber

There are about 30 orders of insects (see here), usually ending with the letters “-ptera”. You should know some of these, including Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, Orthoptera, Hemiptera (“true bugs”), Diptera (FLIES!), Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps), and as many of the others as your brain can hold. Rarely do we find a new one, as most of these […]

Some evidence that life may have originated at least 4.1 billion years ago

For some reason I missed this paper published last November in Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA by Elizabeth Bell et al. , and it doesn’t seem to have been given a lot of attention by the press. That may be because its conclusions are questionable, and based on a very small sample. But if they’re right, it’s a […]

Readers’ wildlife photographs

As I mentioned when in Portland, I encountered reader Bruce Thiel at my free will talk; Bruce’s avocation is preparing fantastic fossils that he finds locally. I’ve featured some of his preparations before; have a look, as I’ve never seen anything like them. Using a dental drill and working slowly and meticulously, he produces fossils like […]

A new species of hominin hits the news. What is it and what does it mean?

“Hominins” (formerly “hominids”), comprise all species, extinct and living (the latter is only H. sapiens), that fell on the side of the lineage that produced modern humans after the divergence of that lineage from the lineage leading to modern chimpanzees (our closest living relatives). Not all hominins fall in the genus Homo, of course: we have […]

Readers’ wildlife photos (including paleobiology!)

I’m pleased to feature some paleontology today from reader John Scanlon.  In case you didn’t know, stromatolites are layered accretions of microorganisms, usually cyanobacteria (“blue-green algae”), and they represent some of the oldest fossils on earth: about 3.5 billion years old—only about a billion years after the Earth was formed. But these accretions are still formed today by living bacteria, […]

Putative amphibian fossil shows “broken” bone; said to be first indication of terrestriality

Now this paper is way above my pay grade, as it involves all kinds of complicated scanning, computer, and mathematical analysis of a “fishapod” fossil. The conclusion, from a new paper in PLoS ONE by Peter Bishop et al., is that the fossil, Ossinodus sp., shows a callus on its radius (one of the two lower […]

New fossils: the world’s earliest known bird

Here’s a short scientific report (yesterday’s didn’t inspire much enthusiasm)—short because much of the paleontology is beyond my expertise, as the paper consists largely of describing features I’m not familiar with. But this new paper in Nature by Min Wang et al. (link and reference below) is quite important, for it describes what appears to be the earliest […]

More on the dino-bat Yi qi

Five days ago I wrote about the new Nature paper revealing the “dino-bat” fossil Yi qi, a bizarre species of theropod that had feathers but also membranous wings like a bat—and a special new bone, evolved from the wrist, that supported its wing. It isn’t clear whether this creature could fly, but it surely could […]

Dinosaur feathers found in amber

UPDATE: I’m a real dummy; I failed to check the dates of any of these items and a eagle-eyed reader noted that they’re all from 2011! I should have seen that from the dates on the Science paper, if not the links. Oh well, it’s still interesting stuff. ******* A paper in Science by Ryan McKellar […]