Blogs about paleontology

The skeleton and a drawing of the Honghesaurus longicaudalis specimen

An article published in the journal “Scientific Reports” describes the identification of a new species of marine reptile with an exceptionally long tail that lived about 244 million years ago, in the Middle Triassic period, in today’s China. A team of researchers named it Honghesaurus longicaudalis after examining a complete skeleton discovered in the Guanling Formation in China’s Yunnan province. This reptile is part of the now-extinct group of pachypleurosaurs and was quite large among them, with a long trunk and tail that probably gave it swimming maneuverability and efficiency.

(a) taxonomic profiles of some species whose DNA was discovered in some of the samples taken in the Kap København Formation and (b) the phylogenetic placement of mitochondrial DNA belonging to or close to the Elephantidae family

An article published in the journal “Nature” reports the identification of environmental DNA dating back to two million years ago discovered in sediments taken in the Kap København Formation in Greenland. A team of researchers led by Professors Eske Willerslev and Kurt H. Kjær used state-of-the-art technologies available for this type of exam.

Microscopic fragments of DNA were found for a total of 41 usable samples stored in clay and quartz within sediments that remained in the ice for two million years. The analysis of the samples revealed the presence of various species of plants and animals, not all identifiable with precision but nonetheless useful to get an idea of that ancient ecosystem.

Painten's pterodactyl specimen

An article published in the journal “Fossil Record” reports a study on the oldest pterodactyl fossils discovered so far. A team of researchers examined a sub-adult specimen of Pterodactylus antiquus (Photo courtesy Augustin et al., all rights reserved) discovered in central Bavaria, Germany, which dates back to the sage known as the Kimmeridgian, part of the Upper Jurassic period. So far, the specimens dating from the Tithonian age, the next and last of the Jurassic period. This specimen is one of the best-preserved pterodactyl specimens, which is another reason why this discovery is important.

Gangtoucunia aspera

An article published in the journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences” reports a study on specimens in an exceptional state of conservation of Gangtoucunia aspera, a primitive animal that lived during the Cambrian period, just over 500 million years ago. A team of researchers examined new fossils attributed to this species that included their soft tissues. This made it possible to study the first animals that had developed a skeleton and concluded that they were related to today’s phylum of cnidarians, in particular, the scyphozoans (class Scyphozoa), which include the larger jellyfish.

Chagyrskaya Cave (Photo ©Bence Viola. All rights reserved)

An article published in the journal “Nature” reports the results of a genetic study on a Neanderthal community that lived in today’s Siberia. A team of researchers including Nobel Prize winner for medicine Svante Pääbo obtained DNA from 11 individuals who lived in Chagyrskaya Cave and 2 who lived in Okladnikov Cave. It’s one of the largest genetic studies on Neanderthals ever done. The results of the genetic analysis indicate that some of the inhabitants of Chagyrskaya Cave were closely related, including a father and daughter.