Dracula: the largest flying dinosaur yet!

Good news! Jurassic World II comes out this summer. Which means that I’m going to be posting a lot about dinosaurs, because my nerdy evolution heart starts beating faster when we talk about the prehistoric.

For those who remember, pterosaurs were the first flying vertebrates, and ruled the skies. And in Romania’s Transylvania region scientists discovered the bones of a new pterosaur. They nicknamed their find “Dracula.” Using the fragments of bone as their guide, scientists reconstructed a model of the creature—which they say is the largest pterosaur found to date, reaching around 3.5 meters high with an estimated 12-meter wingspan.

The reconstruction is now on display as part of a new pterosaur exhibit at the Altmühltal Dinosaur Museum in Denkendorf, Germany. The exhibit also separately showcases the original specimen’s excavated bones.

Which I will be visiting this summer, because BOY THAT SOUNDS AWESOME!

Read more about it here.

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Oxygen is responsible for the Cambrian Explosion? Maybe not.

Approximately 540 million years ago, life rapidly diversified in an evolutionary burst — a biological “Big Bang” that witnessed the emergence of nearly every modern animal group. Scientists have long sought to determine what caused the Cambrian explosion, and to explain why animal life didn’t take this step at any point about a billion years earlier. (Please note: “explosion” indicates things happened rapidly! Ask a paleontologist what “rapidly” means and you’ll notice you may need to redefine your idea of “explosion”)

“The most popular narrative puts oxygen front and center. The geological record shows a clear link, albeit an often subtle and complicated one, between rises in oxygen levels and early animal evolution. As Quanta reported earlier this month, many researchers argue that this suggests low oxygen availability had been holding greater complexity at bay — that greater amounts of oxygen were needed for energy-demanding processes like movement, predation and the development of novel body plans with intricate morphologies.

“It’s a very attractive, intuitive explanation,” said Nicholas Butterfield, a paleobiologist at the University of Cambridge. “And it’s wrong.””

Want to know what I love most about paleontologists? They are so unabashedly willing to argue (to the death!) small points with very little data. It is fascinating, and worth reading about this oxygen vs. complexity saga here.

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The Origin of Modern Languages

“Five thousand years ago nomadic horseback riders from the Ukrainian steppe charged through Europe and parts of Asia. They brought with them a language that is the root of many of those spoken today—including English, Spanish, Hindi, Russian and Persian. That is the most widely accepted explanation for the origin of this ancient tongue, termed Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Recent genetic findings confirm this hypothesis but also raise questions about how the prehistoric language evolved and spread.”

Want to know more? Read about it here!

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What’s better than Dinosaurs? Baby Dinosaurs

Paleontologists just discovered the mother lode of pterosaur eggs, and they are over the moon.

“Extraordinary.” “Stellar.” “Truly awesome.” “A world-class find.”

That’s how paleontologists are reacting to the discovery of several hundred ridiculously well-preserved pterosaur eggs in China, some of them still containing the remains of embryos.

Want to know more about baby dinosaurs? Read about it here!

Side note to avoid people telling me I’m wrong: The pterosaurs were an order of flying reptiles that went extinct some 66 million years ago. They were not actually dinosaurs, but they went extinct at the same time.

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Dinosaur-era shark found swimming off the coast of Portugal

The frilled shark has been around awhile. Fossils date back at least 80 million years, largely unchanged. So imagine the surprise when said fossil was found swimming and thriving off the coast of Portugal.

This almost literal “living fossil” was discovered off the Algarve coast by researchers who were working on a European Union project in the area, the BBC reported. The aim of the project was to “minimize unwanted catches in commercial fishing,” the researchers told SIC Noticisas TV, as the BBC noted. but the team unknowingly unearthed one of the rarest and most ancient animals on the planet.

Read about it here!

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The dinosaur you’re eating for Thanksgiving dinner

I giggle a little every time people ask about the dinosaur extinction (on the inside because giggling in peoples’ faces is rude (so I’ve been told… repeatedly)). Dinosaurs, in the strictest sense, are not extinct. They are walking and flying around us everyday.

And this week, they are sitting in the middle of the table.

But, in all fairness, I should mention that this is an ongoing debate. Not whether or not Thanksgiving is going to be delicious (that should be settled soon), but whether dinosaurs still walk amongst us (and will soon be in your belly).

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! ENJOY YOUR DINOSAUR!

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How the first trees grew so tall with hollow cores

Imagine a world without trees, and then try to think about the changes that would need to happen for these trees to evolve from the small primitive plants that came before them.

When paleobotanist think about this possibility, it usually results in a really weird looking fossil (paleontologists spend a lot of time thinking about fossils…). It has a tapering truck, at least up to eight meters high, with distinctive short branches attached around the top to form a crown. From a distance, the trees would have looked like palms, with bases up to a meter in diameter. There were no leaves as such, just branched twig-like appendages which presumably had a photosynthetic function in the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere.

Most trees today have a solid trunk, which gets bigger through the formation of a new ring of woody tissues – made up of xylem cells – under the bark each year.

However, this primitive older tree, cladoxylopsids, the xylem grew in a ring of individual parallel strands around the outside of the trunk. Inside this zone, more xylem strands formed a complex network with many interconnections both to each other and to the outer parallel strands. The majority of the inside of the trunk was completely hollow.

But if they are hollow, then how did they grow so big? Read more here!