Friday, November 28, 2014

Paleontologists Determine Dinosaurs Were Killed By Someone They Trusted

BERKELEY, CA—Citing compelling fossil evidence that the prehistoric species died suddenly and treacherously, paleontologists at the University of California, Berkeley announced Monday that dinosaurs were almost certainly killed by someone they trusted. “Our findings indicate that someone, we don’t know who, spent at least 150 million years gaining the confidence of dinosaurs before abruptly betraying them and taking their lives near the end of the Cretaceous Era,” said lead researcher Professor Janet Bower, adding that dinosaurs likely had an innately innocent and unsuspecting nature that this individual could exploit to get within easy striking distance. “The distribution and condition of dinosaur bones strongly suggests that these creatures died without a struggle and that they had been caught totally off-guard by an individual they naively considered a friend. Those that had time to regard their killer were no doubt absolutely shocked.” Bower went on to suggest that if the mightiest creatures to walk the face of the earth could be wiped out by letting someone get close to them, humanity could too.
Full article here

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History Presents THE LAST AMERICAN DINOSAURS

Two enormous dinosaurs-Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex-reign over the National Museum of Natural History's new exhibition: "The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World." The 5,200-square-foot exhibition opens Nov. 25 on the second floor of the museum. It tells the story of non-avian dinosaurs' final years in western North America through an extraordinary diversity of animals and plants discovered in the fossil-rich layers of the Hell Creek Formation in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. The exhibition will remain on view until the completion of the museum's newly renovated dinosaur and fossil hall, scheduled for opening in 2019.

"This exhibition gives visitors a chance to explore the world in which dinosaurs lived between 66 and 68 million years ago, just before an enormous asteroid impact suddenly altered life on our planet forever," said Hans-Dieter Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology and lead curator of the exhibition. "Examining long-gone ecosystems helps scientists understand how the world is changing today and what the consequences of a mass extinction could be in the future."

Set in North America's western interior, "Last American Dinosaurs" reveals what life was like for dinosaurs and other animals thriving during the Late Cretaceous Period. It features "Hatcher," a giant, plant-eating Triceratops, and the museum's nearly 14-foot-tall cast of a T. rex known as "Stan," two of the most imposing dinosaurs in the museum's collections. The skulls of an adultEdmontosaurus and an infant and yearling Triceratops also highlight the show, along with other fossil displays, murals of ancient environments, a video presentation showing behind-the-scene collaborations between scientists and paleo-artists working on the exhibit and an arcade-style game, "How to Become a Fossil." The murals give visitors a window into the past and feature plants and animals from the lush, diverse Hell Creek ecosystem.

Full article here

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reassembling dinosaur skeletons requires skill

Anthony Maltese is curator at the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colo., and author of the RMDRC Paleo Lab blog (, where he writes about excavating, molding, casting and mounting fossilized dinosaur skeletons.
Q. What are some scientific advancements in recovering and assembling fossil skeletons?
A. In many ways some techniques haven’t changed since the 1870s. We’re still using our eyeballs to find the fossils eroding out of the ground, excavating with hand tools and using plaster and burlap jackets to get them back to the lab. On the other hand, we’ve used CT and laser-scanning technology to digitize fossils and send information across the world. Dinosaurs are almost never found 100 percent complete, but it’s rarely appropriate to display them with missing bits. Say we have a dinosaur missing its right leg, but we have a perfect left leg from the specimen. Three-dimensional scanners and printers help us make mirror image parts, and even scaled-up (or) scaled-down ones so that we can more accurately (and easily) restore skeletons. It sure beats sculpting from scratch.
Q. Is the rate at which new fossils are being found slowing?
A. I think fossils are being discovered at a higher rate than several decades ago. Many museums have active field and lab programs, and many rock formations that were poorly studied in the past are getting scientific attention with spectacular results. We see this with the weird dinosaurs we are now digging up in the Judith River Formation of Montana, with many fossils belonging to entirely new species. Even without digging up new things, better understanding of the science enables us to discover new things about specimens that have resided in museum collections for a century.
Q. What do you wish people understood about dinosaur fossils?
A. For the most part, I’m just happy that dinosaurs make people curious and that they can approach paleontologists to answer their questions. If there was one thing that would make our job a bit easier it would be that while there are a lot of round rocks in this world, nearly none of them are dinosaur eggs. It’s probably the most common question we get – and the one where the visitor most frequently won’t believe our diagnosis. That being said, if you think you have found a fossil, it never hurts to send some clear photographs (with some sort of scale, a coin will even work) to your local natural history museum. Many great discoveries have been made this way.
Q. We can’t talk fossils without asking about dinosaur cloning. Will it ever be possible?
A. I don’t have a crystal ball, however I don’t see it happening in the near future. On the other hand, some more recently extinct species could possibly be resurrected given time and technology. What I wouldn’t give to see a Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon or Tasmanian tiger! Even talking about the possibility of it happening is exciting to me.

Read more here:

Volunteer to put dinos together in Wyoming

Full Q&A here

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pixar rewrites 'Good Dinosaur' story

Pixar's orphan movie "The Good Dinosaur" has a new parent — and a new story.First-time feature director Peter Sohn, an artist at the studio in Emeryville, Calif., since 2000, unofficially took over the film a few months after Pixar executives removed its first director, Bob Peterson, amid creative concerns in the summer of 2013.

Over the last year, Sohn has been quietly streamlining the story, a buddy comedy about a teenage dinosaur and a human boy, in preparation for a November 2015 release.
"The heart of the story remains the same," Sohn said, in an interview last week. "It's always been about this young dinosaur growing up. But the world itself has changed a lot. Nature has become a character."

Director changes are relatively common in animation in general, where multi-year production schedules can test a person's creative and managerial stamina, and at Pixar in particular, where "The Good Dinosaur" was the fourth of the studio's last eight films to see a swap.

But the midstream move caused a cascade of headaches for Pixar and for its parent company, Walt Disney Co., which pushed "The Good Dinosaur's" release date back 18 months from May of 2014.
The timing change left Pixar without a 2014 film, bumped Andrew Stanton's anticipated "Finding Nemo" sequel, "Finding Dory," to 2016 and caused the company to lay off 50 employees.

"For Pixar it was a dramatic event," said Jim Morris, the studio's general manager and executive vice president of production. "It was tough on the company. Most studios would have said, 'The movie's fine. It's not bad.' And it wasn't bad; it just wasn't great. We wanted to have a great movie."

At the time, Pixar's leadership, including studio president Ed Catmull, felt Peterson was creatively stuck on the film and was proving too slow to make important story decisions. Sohn had been serving as Peterson's co-director, a position akin to that of a deputy at Pixar.

As in Peterson's version, the film still posits that an asteroid never hit the Earth and the dinosaurs never went extinct; a teenage Apatosaurus named Arlo takes a wild, young human boy named Spot as a pet.

Sohn has jettisoned some of Peterson's signature ideas, such as modeling the dinosaurs on Amish farmers, and added new elements, including treating nature as the film's antagonist.

"When Bob was taken off, I was supporting the film as best I could," Sohn said. "It felt like, this child, this film still needs to be raised. It was just about how to take care of the thing at that time. ... Trying to keep the original vision of this film intact and trying to plus it as well."

In taking over the film, Sohn, 37, becomes part of a new generation of directors succeeding Stanton, Pete Docter and "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich, all of whom are in their late 40s.
Born in the Bronx to Korean immigrants, Sohn got a summer job working on Brad Bird's 1999 animated cult classic "Iron Giant" while studying animation at the California Institute of the Arts.

See the full article here

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Paleontologist Jack Horner is hard at work trying to turn a chicken into a dinosaur

In 2009, the world’s most famous paleontologist made a bold claim. In “How to Build a Dinosaur,” Jack Horner proposed re-creating a small dinosaur by reactivating ancient DNA found in its descendants, chickens. His 2011 TED talk on the subject went viral. And then for the past four years, the public heard nothing.

While the Internet moved on to other viral videos and ideas, Horner and his team have been working on the “chickenosaurus” and moving ahead the science of evolutionary development. The project has already resulted in some of the first research into the embryonic development of tails.

The idea that birds are descended from dinosaurs is no longer questioned within the mainstream scientific community. Paleontologists have long studied the changes in bone structure of dinosaurs and birds over time. Meanwhile, molecular biologists have studied the composition of modern bird genes. By merging these scientists’ work, Horner, who is curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., hopes to answer questions about evolution.

Horner’s premise can be viewed from the launchpad of the late Michael Crichton’s novel and film “Jurassic Park,” a story that involved obtaining dinosaur DNA from undigested blood in mosquitoes preserved in amber. The idea of finding dinosaur DNA this way was taken seriously by many people, and the possibility was explored by scientists.

Jack Horner knows the “Jurassic Park” theory very well, having served not only as the inspiration for one of the main characters but also as a technical adviser for the film. But 24 years after the novel was published, we have yet to find any DNA in mosquitoes from the time of the dinosaurs.

DNA degrades under even ideal storage conditions. Cool, sterile conditions can extend its useful life to as long as perhaps a few million years, and dinosaurs disappeared about 65 million years ago. No matter how perfect a mosquito we find in a blob of amber, we cannot make a dinosaur out of that mosquito’s last blood meal.

There is only one way that DNA has been proved to survive millions of years relatively intact: by replicating itself during that time. This is exactly what happened as birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fossil From Dinosaur Era Reveals Big Mammal With Super Senses

Dinosaurs that roamed Madagascar more than 66 million years ago had a most unusual fuzzy mammal living in their shadows—one so large, and with such strange features, that scientists say they could have never predicted its existence.
That is, until 2010, when a team of scientists looking for fish fossils accidentally collected its nearly complete skull from a site along Madagascar's west coast.

Since then, researchers have learned that the groundhog-like critter had supersensory capabilities, with a large portion of its brain devoted to smell, and that it weighed about 20 pounds (9 kilograms)—much more than most mammals alive during the age of the dinosaurs.

"Not only does it have bizarre features, it's bizarre in being so humongous," says vertebrate paleontologist David Krause of Stony Brook University, in New York, who reports the find Wednesday in the journal Nature. Krause compares the critter's appearance to nutria, which are semiaquatic rodents, or an overgrown groundhog. "It's Punxsutawney Phil on steroids," he jokes.

What's more, the lucky find is helping paleontologists fill in the mammalian evolutionary tree, especially during the age of the dinosaurs.
Link to full article