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Archive for April, 2017

11 April 2017: Reconstructing Feathered Dinosaurs From Fossils. Using New Laser Imaging Technology

Fossilized dinosaur remains usually only preserve bone shapes. However, paleontologists at the University of Hong Kong have reconstructed a detailed feathered dinosaur’s body outline through high definition soft tissue imaging. Laser-stimulated flourescence (LSF), a revolutionary new technology, uses high power lasers to make unseen soft tissue preserved along with the bones glow. The laser makes the few remaining skin atoms stand out within the rock matrix, which helps show the actual shape of the dinosaur.

Over 200 specimens of the feathered bird-like dinosaur Anchiornis were were examined, but only 12 showed evidence preservation of soft tissue outlines. Their reconstruction showed contours on the wings and legs, including some well-preserved outlines of foot scales – all of which increases scientific understanding of the origin of birds. Since Anchiornis lived in the late Jurassic period about 160 million years ago, around the time birds first appeared, the new reconstructions help paleontologists understand how dinosaurs evolved to eventually achieve flight. The University of Hong Kong team is currently planning trips worldwide to scan other fossil specimens.

The researchers work was published in Nature Communications this month.

 Fossilized Anchiornis Wing

10 April 2017: Critical Fossil Record Gap Filled in Chinese Phytosaurs

A small, short-snouted fossilized reptile skeleton from China has been identified as the oldest known phytosaur, an extinct group of Triassic period semi-aquatic reptiles similar to crocodilians,that lived 250 to 200 million years ago. Diandongosuchus fuyuanensis had originally been classified as a poposaurid – more closely related to crocodiles – but the shape of the fossilized animal’s head, shoulder and skeleton linked it to phytosaurs instead. The findings fill in a critical gap in how the animal evolved, because this fossil is 5 million years older than other phytosaur fossils. The short snout and small body size of this early phytosaur also show that the characteristic long snout and large body size came to evolve later than previously believed.

The research was published in Scientific Reports on 10 April 2016.

Journal Reference: Michelle R. Stocker, Li-Jun Zhao, Sterling J. Nesbitt, Xiao-Chun Wu, Chun Li. A Short-Snouted, Middle Triassic Phytosaur and its Implications for the Morphological Evolution and Biogeography of PhytosauriaScientific Reports, 2017; 7: 46028 DOI: 10.1038/srep46028

 Fossilized Skull of Diandongosuchus fuyuanensis

27 March 2017: Unprecedented Dinosaur Track Diversity Along Western Australia’s “Jurassic Coast”

On 27 March, paleontologists from Australia’s University of Queensland and James Cook University announced that an unprecendented 21different types of dinosaur tracks had been identified along a 25 km (15.5 mile) section of the Dampier Peninsula on Australia’s western coast. Thought of as Australia’s “Jurassic Coast,” the diversity of tracks forms a primary record of non-avian dinosaurs for western Australia’s remote Kimberly region, between 127 and 140 million years old. Of the thousands of tracks in the area, 150 represent four main types of dinosaurs, including five different types of predatory dinosaur tracks, at least six types of tracks from long-necked herbivorous sauropods, four types of tracks from two-legged herbivorous ornithopods, and six types of tracks from armoured dinosaurs. These include the only confirmed evidence for stegosaurs in Australia and some of the largest dinosaur tracks ever recorded worldwide – sauropod tracks 1.7 m long. Since most of Australia’s other dinosaur fossils are on the eastern side of the continent, and between 115 and 90 million years old, the tracks in Broome are considerably older.”

Surrounding political issues had made the project intense – in 2008, the Western Australian Government selected the area as the preferred site for a $40 billion liquid natural gas processing precinct. However, after a political battle including the area’s traditional native Goolarabooloo people, the area was given an Australian National Heritage listing and the gas project collapsed in 2013.

 Dinosaur Tracks Visible At low Tide Near Broome, Australia