Category Archives: paleontology

An ancient giant parrot in New Zealand: one meter tall and weighing fifteen pounds!

Reader Kevin called my attention to this new paper in Biology Letters about a giant fossil parrot found in New Zealand (click on screenshot for link, reference at bottom; pdf is here). For eleven years a pair of large fossil bird bones (16-19 million years old)—two fragmentary “tibiotarsi”—languished in the Museum of New Zealand. Thought […]

An ancient bird with an extraordinarily long toe

There’s a new paper in Current Biology that details the finding of a very unusual bird in Burmese amber—a bird with one huge toe and weird bristles on its feet. You can read it with UnPaywall by clicking on the screenshot below (pdf here, reference at bottom). The specimen, uncovered by amber miners five years […]

“Modern” Homo sapiens may have been in Eurasia as long as 210,000 years ago

The conventional wisdom about the migration of Homo out of Africa, where the genus originated, involves the spread of Homo erectus about 2 million years ago across Eurasia, with that species appearing to have gone extinct without issue. After that, the Neanderthals, which split from the lineage producing “modern” (i.e., living) H. sapiens about 800,000 […]

Pterosaurs: Could they fly as soon as they hatched?

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to attain powered flight, and lived between 228 and 66 million years ago. They aren’t on the line to modern birds, which evolved well after pterosaurs appeared, and they appear to have gone extinct without leaving descendants. Often called “pterodactyls” or “flying dinosaurs”, they weren’t really in the group that […]

Ammonite (and a bunch of other stuff) found in Burmese amber

This find, which was reported in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (click screenshot below for free paper with Unpaywall app; pdf is here, and reference is at bottom) is important not because it gives us a bit of stunning biological knowledge, but because it poses a conundrum: how did an […]

A 43 million-year-old transitional form: an amphibious whale

The evolution of whales from a small, deer-like artiodactyl took about ten million years: from about 50 million to about 40 million years ago. That’s remarkably fast evolution, especially when you consider the amount of morphological and physiological change that occurred, and the fact that the divergence between chimps and modern humans from their common […]

Remarkable new Cambrian fossils comparable to those of the Burgess shale

Greetings from Amsterdam! I want to call your attention to a remarkable new fossil find in southern China; a rich group of soft-bodied animals, the “Qingjiang Fauna”, from about 518 million years ago. It’s comparable in importance to the Burgess Shale fauna popularized by Steve Gould’s book Wonderful Life, and to the Chengjiang fauna China […]

Neanderthal bones in Croatia

Note: This has been slightly updated after I ran it by Davorka, who caught a few errors. Over the years we’ve had a number of posts about Neanderthals and their genetic legacy in “modern humans” (see here for a collection), many of them written by Matthew Cobb. Croatia—in particular a hill near the small town […]

The earliest known animal?

The Ediacaran fauna, a group of extinct species that lived between 571 and 541 million years ago, has been an evolutionary anomaly. Its fossil record contains multicellular organisms, but they are just plain weird, bearing little resemblance to present-day metazoan (multicellular) animals. The two species of “dickinsoniids” shown below, for example, lack a mouth or […]

Spot the Tiktaalik!

As you probably know, my colleague Neil Shubin was on the team of biologists and paleontologists who uncovered the fossil Tiktaalik, a lobe-finned fish that lived about 375 million years ago. Three skeletons of this species are now known, all found on Ellesmere Island, part of the Canadian territory of Nunavet. Below in red is […]