Paleontology

The 12cm (4.72inch) fossil that caught the eye of palaeontologist Christopher Whalen.
The 12cm (4.72inch) fossil that caught the eye of palaeontologist Christopher Whalen.

Overlooked fossil turns out to be oldest known ancestor of octopuses

Found in Montana’s Bear Gulch limestone formation, the unassuming 12cm (4.72inch) fossil was subsequently donated to the Royal Ontario Museum in 1988. And there it lay quietly in a drawer in the Invertebrate Palaeontology collection for decades while scientists fussed over fossil sharks and other creatures from the site.

Until, one day, palaeontologists noticed the fossil’s 10 limbs and took a closer look.

Large bodies helped extinct marine reptiles compensate for drag

Scientists recently announced their findings in the Communications Biology journal, stating that the creatures' large body size helped to overcome the excess drag that was created as a result. 

They discovered that while the plesiosaurs’ large necks did indeed increase the drag, this was relatively minor and was subsequently compensated for by the evolution of their large bodies.

The reconstruction of an ichthyosaur
The reconstruction of an ichthyosaur

Creating a life-size model of an ichthyosaur

Geologists at Lund University have created a life-size reconstruction of an ichthyosaur, a dolphin-like reptile that existed in the Early Triassic to Late Cretaceous era.

The team made use of existing fish-lizard research that spanned 300 years, as well as fossils that comprised not only bones and teeth, but also soft tissues like skin, muscles, fat and pigment.

The fossil in question: Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis from the Lower Ordovician (Tremadocian) Fezouata Shale, Zagora Morocco
The fossil in question: Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis from the Lower Ordovician (Tremadocian) Fezouata Shale, Zagora Morocco

Starfish-like fossil holds clues to evolutionary past

A well-preserved fossil dating back 480 million years is being used by researchers at the University of Cambridge to decipher the origins of the modern-day starfish.

Named Cantabrigiaster fezouataensis, the fossil was discovered in Morroco's Anti-Atlas mountain range. Frozen in time for 480 million years, the fossil yields features that are similar to both sea lilies and modern-day starfish.

Palaeontologist and PhD student James Rule inspects the fossil skull of the newly identified monk seal species.
Palaeontologist and PhD student James Rule inspects the fossil skull of the newly identified monk seal species.

Discovery of seal fossils leads to new revelations

The discovery of the extinct monk seal species came about after an international team of biologists examined seven fossil specimens (including a complete skull) found on south Taranaki beaches in New Zealand between 2009 and 2016.

Named Eomonachus belegaerensis, the new species was about 2.5m long and weighed around 200 to 250kg. It is believed to have lived in the waters around New Zealand three million years ago.