Spider and Penis Fossils

The spiderlike creatures generally called daddy longlegs looked just as creepy 305 million years ago as they look today, according to a brand new computer model which shows the bugs settled into their modern forms early.

Scientists were able to create 3-D models of two ancient harvestmen species, members of groups known as the Dyspnoi and Eupnoi, using fossils discovered in mineral deposits in France more than 20 years ago.

Russell Garwood of the Natural History Museum in London said:

These fossils were “preserved in nodules of iron carbonate, or siderite,” and the mineral, well, the mineral “precipitates out early in the history of the rock, sometimes around animal remains, and prevents [the remains] from being crushed. … The animal then rots away, leaving a void in its shape.”

The new re-creations support the idea that daddy longlegs have changed remarkably little over time, even though the ancient arachnids lived at a time when their spider and scorpion relatives were still evolving into their current shapes.

For instance, spiders living 300 million years ago still bore resemblance of segments on their back halves, a trait modern spiders don’t have.

Scorpions living back then were also still relatively primitive, said Garwood, who conducted his research while at the U.K.’s Imperial College London.

Unlike modern species, ancient scorpions “had compound lateral eyes, median eyes near the front rather than the middle of their carapace, and a different position of the opening into the lungs,” he said.

The model of the Eupnoi species reveals long legs curved at the ends, a feature some modern harvestmen species use for holding vegetation while moving around from leaf to leaf.

In contrast, the Dyspnoi fossil had spikes on its back that it might have used to discourage the attention of predators.
A modern species of harvestman with spikes like these lives in moist, woody debris on the forest floor, and the team thinks the ancient Dyspnoi had a lifestyle like this.

That there were two discrete lineages of harvestmen living 305 million years ago attests to the theory that the creatures were among the earliest arachnids to take an evolutionary turn.

In another major discovery, genitals were used as important clues to identify many spider species as they can vary widely in shape and form between species. This variation in shape is thought to ensure females can only mate with males of their own species.

Fossils of both female and male harvestmen bearing genitals were originally uncovered in 2001 embedded in rocks from the village of Rhynie, near Aberdeen in Scotland. 400 million years ago, Rhynie would have resembled what Yellowstone park looks like today.

Yet another fascinating feature of the fossils is that they have large branching trachea which is the harvestmen equivalent to lungs. This is the oldest known example of air-breathing apparatus of this type found in arachnids and suggests the animals were land-living. Arachnids, along with all animal groups, started their life in the ocean.

Italian Crocodile Cousin

Found in limestone once destined for Italian kitchen counter-tops, are fossils that may have belonged to an unknown ancient crocodile species.

The fossils were originally discovered in 1955 in Ferrara, Italy, in a limestone quarry, when workers sliced a huge block into four slabs and found the bones trapped inside.

Crocodile Fossil Kitchen CounterBefore the slabs were transferred to two museums in Italy, scientists performed a cursory examination of the fossils, enough to determine that indeed they belong to an ancient crocodile.

A more recent analysis of the embedded bones shows a skull and a few vertebrae, belonging to a previously unknown species of 165-million-year-old prehistoric reptile, now known as Neptunidraco ammoniticus.

The animal turned out to be the oldest known member of Metriorhynchidae; a family of ancient marine crocodiles which walked the earth’s oceans for about 30 million years before going extinct,

Scientists feel that Metriorhynchids split with modern crocodile ancestors about 200 million years ago. Unlike the crocodiles of today, which have semi-aquatic lifestyles, scientists think N. ammoniticus was a fully marine predator which rarely came on land.

The 13-foot animal was comparable in size to modern crocodiles, though had a more hydrodynamic body, a more streamlined skull and a vertical tail that resembled those of fish or sharks.

Based on previous fossil discoveries of other Metriorhynchids species, researchers also suspect N. ammoniticus had flippers. Like dolphins and whales, they had to swim to the ocean surface to breathe, and not unlike sea turtles, they may have mounted up onto beaches once a year to lay their eggs.

N. ammoniticus was not an alpha predator among its ancient marine counterparts, but by today’s standards would be feared. For example, the crocodile cousin was dwarfed by top ocean predators like the short-necked plesiosaur Liopleurodon, which could grow to more than 80 feet.

Actually, fossils of Metriorhynchids have been discovered throughout the world, which suggests they roamed widely across ancient earth’s oceans.

Because of the size and shape of their teeth, it is hypothesized that Metriorhynchids such as N. ammoniticus fed on fish and squid and perhaps other sea reptiles.

Traces of Homo Sapien Genesis Found in Israel

New fossil findings show that modern man has existed longer than once posited. The new findings by members of a Tel Aviv University research team could reverse theories of the origin of humans.

Excavated in a cave in central Israel, teeth were found from a man who lived some 400,000 years ago. They resemble the teeth of other modern men – Homo Sapiens.

Mideast Israel Ancient Teeth“It’s very exciting to come to this conclusion,” said archaeologist Avi Gopher. The findings were scanned by X-ray and CAT scans, though further research will be required to concretize the hypotheses. If the hypothesis is concretized, he said, “Tthis changes the whole picture of evolution.”

The commonly known theory is that Homo Sapiens originated in Africa and migrated off the continent. If the remains found in Israel are definitively linked to modern human’s ancestors, said Gopher, it could mean that modern man actually originated in what is now Israel.

Sir Paul Mellars, a prehistory scholar at England’s Cambridge University, said the study is legitimate, and the find is “important”.

According to the accepted scientific theories today, modern humans and Neanderthals stemmed from a common ancestor who lived in Africa some 700,000 years ago. A single group of descendants migrated to Europe and developed into Neanderthals, before going extinct; while, another group stayed in Africa and evolved into Homo Sapiens — modern humans.
According to Mellars, however, teeth are often unreliable indicators of origin, and analysis of skull remains would more definitively identify the species found in the Israeli cave.

Gopher, though, says he is confident his team will find skulls and bones in the cave if they keep on looking.

The prehistoric Qesem cave was first found in 2000. Excavations began in 2004.

Missing Link Between Bird and Dinosaur Found?

ArchaeopteryxWhen I came across this piece of news, my mind immediately fell to the Archaeopteryx. This was a bird/dinosaur combo that flew around 65 million years ago or so. It was purported to be the missing link between birds and reptiles. Apparently, they found another type of these flying reptiles in China.

“The extensive feathering of this specimen, particularly the attachment of long pennaceous feathers to the pes, sheds new light on the early evolution of feathers and demonstrates the complex distribution of skeletal and integumentary features close to the dinosaur-bird transition”, researchers from the Shenyang Normal University wrote.

The fossil is 160 million years old, and is the oldest of its kind to be found so far. At that date, it is millions of years older than the archaeopteryx, putting it at the forefront of being the missing link instead.

Discoveries before this one had put archaeologists in a little bit of a temporal pickle because the fossils found were younger than the fossils of birds they had found. So that didn’t really work out so well. What might have happened is birds and reptiles splitting off evolutionarily from this guy millions of years before, and then you’d have both the hybrids and the birds showing up in the fossil record after. The only thing that could mess up the chronology now would be a 160 million year old bird fossil.

The research findings will also be published in “Nature” magazine on Oct. 1. Take a look at it there for a more in depth survey.