The Science Times has a story about a new fossil from the recently discovered fossil bed in British Columbia’s Marble Canyon at Kootenay National Park. The Marble Canyon fossil beds were first discovered in 2012, and already may rival British Columbia’s world famous Burgess Shale for its wealth of soft-bodied fossils. The newly identified species, Yawunik kootenayi, was a marine creature with two sets of eyes and quite an interesting set of appendages much akin to antennae. Yawunik looks somewhat like modern crabs, a distant relative, and measured about 6 inches long. It is classified as a leanchoiliid arthropod, a diverse group of animals that survives to the present day. The group is closely related to insects and includes shrimp, spiders, scorpions, and the horseshoe crab.
"This creature is expanding our perspective on the anatomy and predatory habits of the first arthropods, the group to which spiders and lobsters belong" lead author of the study of the University of Toronto, Cédric Aria says. "It has the signature features of an arthropod with its external skeleton, segmented body and jointed appendages, but lacks certain advanced traits present in groups that survived until the present day. We say that it belongs to the 'stem' of arthropods."
What's so interesting about the early arthropod?
Well, while it may not seem like a small organism, possible of fitting in the palm of your hand, could make quite an impact, Yawunik is quite unique in its appearance and anatomy. Utilizing related information from the fossil record, and evidence from the remnants recovered at the shale deposit, researchers with the study were able to use computer graphics to give the cute creature a face again. And while it may look like a fairly common sea creature, when it comes to Yawunik there is far more than meets the eye.
Evolving long frontal appendages, resembling antennae, Yawunik was equipped with three long claw appendages, two of which had rows of teeth that allowed the organism to catch its prey. And from what researchers could discern about the early aquatic environment, they were quite efficient killers indeed. Coupled with a whip-like flagella at the tip of the claws that could sense prey, Yawunik were early predators of the sea.
"Unlike insects or crustaceans, Yawunik did not possess additional appendages in the head that were specifically modified to process food," Aria says. "Evolution resulted here in a combination of adaptations onto the frontal-most appendage of this creature, maybe because such modifications were easier to acquire.
"We know that the larvae of certain crustaceans can use their antennae to both swim and gather food. But a large active predator such as a mantis shrimp has its sensory and grasping functions split up between appendages. Yawunik and its relatives tell us about the condition existing before such a division of tasks among parts of the organism took place."
Picture: Damir G. Martin
The Siberian Times has a piece about Sibirosaurus. The giant titanosaur was discovered in 2008 during an expedition on the banks of the Kiya River in the area of Shestakovo village, in the Kemerovo region. The discovery is still being described. This is the first instance of a titanosaur in Russia. The bones consist of a part of a shoulder blade, cervical vertebrae, and sacrum. They will be exhibited permanently in Paleontological Museum of Tomsk State University.
The experts believe another finding made at the same location in 1995, a dinosaur foot, could also belong to the same newly discovered species of sauropods.
Dr. Ivantsov said: 'We constantly find the remains of dinosaurs on this site, near Shestakovo village. They fall down from the steep river bank regularly and we collect them.
'The bones obviously lie somewhere in the middle of the 10 metre high river bank. We cannot just take them out of there because it demands using explosives and we don’t want to do that because it will destroy the remains, besides the territory should be a protected nature area.
'We also can't say at the moment if fossils found in 2008 and the fossil found earlier belong to the same specimen. To understand how many specimens are on the site, we need to have several paired bones.
Details from the website.
Scientific American has an interesting story that discusses mass extinctions and their causes. Back in the 1980s, University of Chicago paleontologists David Raup and Jack Sepkoski found evidence for a 26 million year periodicity in the largest mass extinctions in earth's history. Since then, other studies have found a similar period of around 30 million years for extinction events. There might also be an alignment of impact and volcanic activity to coincide with the extinctions. For lack of a plausible mechanism, these theories have languished on the scientific fringe. Now, Michael Rampino, a geoscientist at New York University, thinks that dark matter might be that mechanism.
Dark matter is an invisible substance that scarcely interacts with the rest of the universe through any force other than gravity. Whatever dark matter is, astronomers have inferred there is quite a lot of it by watching how large-scale structures respond to its gravitational pull. Dark matter seems to constitute almost 85 percent of all the mass in the universe, and it is thought to be the cosmic scaffolding upon which galaxies coalesce. Many theories, in fact, call for dark matter concentrating in the central planes of spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way. Our solar system, slowly orbiting the galactic core, periodically moves up and down through this plane like a cork bobbing in water. The period of our bobbing solar system is thought to be roughly 30 million years. Sound familiar?
In 2014, the Harvard University physicists Lisa Randall and Matthew Reece published a study showing how the gravitational pull from a thin disk of dark matter in the galactic plane could perturb the orbits of comets as our solar system passed through, periodically peppering Earth with giant impacts. To reliably knock the far-out comets down into Earth-crossing orbits, the dark-matter disk would need to be thin, about one-tenth the thickness of the Milky Way’s visible disk of stars, and with a density of at least one solar mass per square light-year.
|Sat, April 10-12||
MAPS EXPO Sharpless Auction House, Iowa City, IA (Map) - Title: "Cenozoic Era"
Friday, April 10: 08:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
|Sat, April 11||
ESCONI Mineralogy Meeting 7:30 p.m. College of Dupage - Tech Ed (TEC) Building, Room 1038B (Map) - Topic: "Iron Mining in the Midwest", ESCONI member Jim Daly will discuss iron mining in the midwest
|Fri, April 17||
ESCONI General Meeting 8:00 p.m. College of Dupage - Tech Ed (TEC) Building, Room 1038B (Map) - Topic: Niagaran Fossils and the Silurian Reef Digitization Project at the Field Museum.” by Dr. Paul Mayer of the Field Museum
|Sat, April 18||
Field Trip, 9:30 a.m. Vulcan Quarry, Sycamore, IL - (Map)
|Sat, April 18||
ESCONI Paleontology Study Group Meeting 7:30 p.m. College of Dupage, - Tech Ed Building (TEC), Room 1038B (Map)- Topic: "Vertebrate Microfossils of the Illinois Basin", ESCONI member Dave Carlson will discuss vertebrate microfossils of the Illinois Basin.
|Fri, April 24||
ESCONI Archaeology Study Group Meeting 7:30 p.m. College of Dupage, - Tech Ed Building (TEC), Room 1038B (Map) - Topic: "The Bermuda Triangle", ESCONI member Eric Schmidt will be discussing the Bermuda Triangle and it's many mysteries.
Due to the MAPS show April 10th-12th. The general meeting has been moved to Friday, April 17th at 8:00 PM. The presentation will be by Paul Mayer on 'Niagaran' Fossils and the Silurian Reef Digitization Project'. Paul works at the Field Museum. Sounds like a good one, hope to see you there!
Reconstruction of Carnufex carolinensis (Jorge Gonzales)
This week's CBC Quicks & Quarks has a couple of segments on giant creatures from the past.
The first is about a super-sized salamander from the Triassic (about 230 million years ago) of Portugal. The interview is with Dr. Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist from the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He describes a 2 meter long creature that spent most of it's time in the water. There is evidence that it came on land to feast on small dinosaurs and mammals that ventured too close to the water's edge. This giant animal was one of the many victims of the mass extinction caused by the break-up of Pangea. Here is the original paper from The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The next segment is about a giant prehistoric crocodile, referred to as a "Carolina Butcher". This fossil is of an ancestor of modern crocodile (Carnufex carolinensis). It was discovered in North Carolina and is about 231 million years old (Triassic). The bones included skull, spine, and forelimbs. The juvenile specimen appears able to walk on it's hind legs and would have been nearly 3 meters long. It also did not survive past the Triassic mass extinction. Here is the original paper in the journal Nature's Scientific Reports.
Earth Hour 2015 is coming up on Saturday, March 28th during the hour of 8:30pm - 9:30pm. To honor the global environmental initiative, please turn off your lights.
Earth Hour started in 2007 as a lights-off event to raise awareness about climate change. The organization has grown to engage more than 162 countries and territories worldwide.
If you would like more information on this important cause please visit:
Popular Science (and others) has a story about some scientists that have successfully copied genes from a frozen woolly mammoth into the genome of the Asian elephant. Asian elephants are their closest living relative. This is a interesting step, even though researchers don't expect clones any time soon. The research is being done at Harvard University by a team that includes geneticist George Church.
Using a DNA editing tool called CRISPR, the scientists spliced genes for the mammoths’ small ears, subcutaneous fat, and hair length and color into the DNA of elephant skin cells. The tissue cultures represent the first time woolly mammoth genes have been functional since the species went extinct around 4,000 years ago.
The research has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal “because there is more work to do,” Church told the U.K.’s Sunday Times, “but we plan to do so.”
The work is part of an effort to bring extinct species back from the dead, a process called “de-extinction”. The recent breakthrough shows that one proposed de-extinction method--which involves splicing genes from extinct animals into the genomes of their living relatives--just might work. But don't believe the headlines suggesting woolly mammoth cloning is just around the corner. Church explained to Popular Science that there’s a lot more research to be done.
Science has a story about the origin of life on earth. "How did life arise?" It's long been a question that has baffled both modern day scientists and our ancient brethren. Now, we may have a few more pieces of the puzzle. Some chemists from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have reported that they have created nucleic acid precursors starting with just hydrogen cyanide (HCN), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and ultraviolet light.
Sutherland’s team argues that early Earth was a favorable setting for those reactions. HCN is abundant in comets, which rained down steadily for nearly the first several hundred million years of Earth’s history. The impacts would also have produced enough energy to synthesize HCN from hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Likewise, Sutherland says, H2S was thought to have been common on early Earth, as was the UV radiation that could drive the reactions and metal-containing minerals that could have catalyzed them.
That said, Sutherland cautions that the reactions that would have made each of the sets of building blocks are different enough from one another—requiring different metal catalysts, for example—that they likely would not have all occurred in the same location. Rather, he says, slight variations in chemistry and energy could have favored the creation of one set of building blocks over another, such as amino acids or lipids, in different places. “Rainwater would then wash these compounds into a common pool,” says Dave Deamer, an origin-of-life researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who wasn’t affiliated with the research.
It’s warming up outside and soon it’ll be time to hunt for treasure… Why wait?
This year’s ESCONI Gem, Fossil and Mineral show is set to start in just 6 days and counting! You can find all sorts of hard to find goodies as this year’s show will feature many of the same attractions that have made our show popular. You’ll find great deals from gem, jewelry, fossil, bead and mineral dealers, live and silent auctions of minerals and fossils (you can go to our club website or Facebook site to see pictures of some of the top specimens up for auction), craft demonstrations, book sales, member displays, kids' corner and geode cracking. As always, children under the age of 16 can receive a free geode at the geode booth!
The 2015 ESCONI Gem, Mineral and Fossil show will be held at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, which is located at 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton, IL.
The show times will be 10 am - 5 pm on Saturday, March 21st and 10 am - 4 pm on Sunday, March 22nd. Information and directions to the DuPage County Fairgrounds can be found on our ESCONI website: http://www.esconi.org/esconi_earth_science_club/2015/01/2015-ESCONI-Show.html .
We hope to see you at the show!
Ed Yong has an interesting story about Toxodon on the blog Phenomena over at National Geographic. Seems the animal never really had a comfortable place in the tree of life. But now, using molecular biology techniques on old bones, scientists were able to extract enough information from collagen molecules to place Toxodon near perissodactyls - odd-toed hoofed mammals like rhinos, tapirs, and horses.
“Toxodon is perhaps one of the strangest animals ever discovered,” wrote Charles Darwin, a man who was no stranger to strangeness. He first encountered the creature in Uruguay on November 26th, 1834. “Having heard of some giant’s bones at a neighbouring farm-house…, I rode there accompanied by my host, and purchased for the value of eighteen pence the head of the Toxodon,” he later wrote.
The beast’s skeleton, once fully assembled, was a baffling mish-mash of traits. It was huge like a rhino, but it had the chiselling incisors of a rodent—its name means “arched tooth”—and the high-placed eyes and nostrils of a manatee or some other aquatic mammal. “How wonderfully are the different orders, at present time so well separated, blended together in different points of the structure of the toxodon!” Darwin wrote.
The original paper is in Nature.
For more information, send an email to ESCONI webmaster at email@example.com