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evolution

The trouble with turtles: Paleontology at a crossroads

Turtles are the last big vertebrate group to be placed firmly on the tree of life, and the arguments are getting messy. Scientists in three fields in particular — paleontolgy, developmental biology and microbiology/genomics — disagree about how, and from what, turtles may have evolved. 

31 Mar 2014

Quoth the feathered, iridescent Microraptor, Nevermore

Our knowledge of the evolution of feathers in dinosaurs is sketchy, at best, but new research on fossilized feathers is painting a remarkably clear picture of what one species, known as Microraptor, may have looked like — a raven with black iridescent feathers. The findings may have implications for the importance of sexual display in the early origins of feathers.

08 Mar 2012

Are birds dinosaurs? New evidence muddies the picture

In 1861, German paleontologist Christian Erich Hermann von Mayer excavated the fine-grained limestone layers of a quarry near Solnhofen, Germany. The 150-million-year-old limestone had already proven promising for finding fossils: A year earlier, von Mayer had found the imprint of a single feather preserved in the rock. But this time, he discovered something more spectacular: an entire skeleton of what appeared to be an ancient bird.

31 Oct 2009

Why red leaves remain elusive in Europe

As leaves change color every fall, the North American landscape transforms from a rolling verdure to a collage of vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. The autumn foliage in Europe, however, is rather bland, composed of mostly yellow leaves with red-leafed trees few and far between. Why this is the case has remained a mystery for years. But discovering why Europe’s leaves don’t turn red is only half of the battle; determining why the trees’ leaves turn yellow in the first place is the other.

03 Nov 2009

Tetrapod tracks reset timing of four-legged evolution

About 18 million years earlier than they were thought to exist, tetrapods — vertebrates with four limbs instead of fins — walked in what is today Poland. A new study published in Nature describes tracks belonging to a tetrapod in a Polish tidal flat, dating to the Middle Devonian period, about 395 million years ago. The discovery may prompt scientists to completely reassess the environment, origins and timing of early tetrapods.

07 Jan 2010

Blogging on EARTH: Ancient whale with a big bite named for Moby Dick author

In a Peruvian desert, scientists discovered the fossils of an extinct whale with a big bite. The whale's teeth and jaws were so powerful that it feasted on other whales.

30 Jun 2010

Age changes you: Torosaurus actually just old Triceratops

Triceratops and its cousin Torosaurus are not hard to tell apart. Both horned dinosaurs had a giant bony frill that rose up behind the head, but Torosaurus’ frill was much longer and was adorned with giant holes that were covered by a thin layer of protein called keratin. Yet Triceratops and Torosaurus may have been more alike than scientists realized: New research suggests that the two animals were actually the same species, with Torosaurus being the adult version of Triceratops.

04 Aug 2010

Odd crests helped dinos communicate

Paleontologists have puzzled over the lambeosaur, an odd-looking duck-billed dinosaur, since its fossils were discovered in 1914. In particular, scientists were curious about the distinctive crest on the lambeosaur’s head: Elongated and complex nasal passages led air from the dinosaur’s nostrils up into the hollow crest and back down into its lungs. But what purpose these nasal passages served was a mystery — until now.

31 Oct 2008

Minerals also evolve

Taxonomy, the science of classification, connects creatures through genealogical relationships. But taxonomist Carl Linné (Linnaeus) didn't stop with living organisms; he applied his system to all natural objects — even minerals. And according to a new study, he may have been on to something: Iron may not pass genes to its rusted cousin iron oxide, but like living organisms, minerals have evolved considerably over the course of Earth’s history.

01 Dec 2008

Weird whale tusks act as matchmakers

In the depths of the ocean, the bizarre beaked whale looks more like an eerie mutant than a gentle giant. With its bird-like beak and sharp tusks that jut out from the top of its head, anyone would wonder: What’s with all the weaponry? Now scientists think they’ve found the purpose of these weird tusks — and it is not nearly as maleficent as you may think.

30 Jan 2009

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