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© Royal Tyrrell Museum
© Royal Tyrrell Museum

Dinosaur Fossils Don’t Get Much Better Than This

© Royal Tyrrell Museum
© Royal Tyrrell Museum

Attention dinosaur nerds: if you haven’t already, you’re going to want to add Alberta, Canada, to your bucket list, as the province now hosts one of the most spectacular dino fossils the world has ever seen.

Alberta is well known as home to one of the densest dinosaur deposits on the planet. The Canadian Rockies in general are rich in both fossils and fossil fuels, and the search for one has not infrequently led to the other. The latest stunner was unearthed in 2011 by workers in a mine near Fort McMurray, who knew something was amiss when their bucket pulled up oddly patterned, deep-brown lumps of some unfamiliar mineral. They dug in farther, more carefully, and that’s when they found it: a 9-foot-long chunk of monster, sculpted in stone.

But there had been no sculptor, only time and happenstance. The 2500-pound stone that eventually emerged was not a skull, or a footprint, or an egg. It was a petrified dinosaur.

“We don’t just have a skeleton,” Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where the dinosaur is on display, told National Geographic. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”


©Royal Tyrrell Museum

And not just any dinosaur, either. The hulking, armored beast preserved in the oil sands is new to science, the first of its species ever found. We know that it’s a type of ankylosaur called a nodosaur, and that its last days likely took place somewhere between 110 and 112 million years ago.


©Royal Tyrrell Museum

The recovered fossil contains only the dinosaur’s front end to its hips. In life, the nodosaur would have been 18 feet long and almost 3000 pounds. If that wasn’t enough to keep the haters away, it also had a pair of 20-inch spikes protruding from its shoulders, like a boss. Even in death, this herbivore looks tough.

Needless to say, dinosaur researchers are beside themselves with glee. The preservation is so good, paleobiologist Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol told National Geographic, that “it might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago.”

[h/t National Geographic]

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James St. John, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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The Mysterious Origin of Nebraska's "Devil's Corkscrew" Fossils
James St. John, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
James St. John, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Millions of years ago, Nebraska's remote badlands were home to ancient creatures like Palaeocastor, a small, now-extinct beaver. These rodents were the final clue in a nearly century-long puzzle that began when 19th-century geologists started exploring and describing the state's fossil beds, as PBS Eons explains in its latest video (below).

While digging at spots like the Harrison Formation, these experts discovered curious spirals of hardened sand rutted deep into the earth. Nicknamed "devil's corkscrews" by local ranchers, the huge formations stymied scientists, with some suggesting that they were the remnants of prehistoric plant matter or sea sponges. Palaeocastor bones were later discovered inside the corkscrews, and experts assumed that the ancient beavers had been yanked inside a predator's burrow.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, south of Harrison, Nebraska

Nebraska Tourism

Scientists had solved part of the equation: They knew that the complex spirals were once animal homes, but they overlooked their true creators. In 1977, experts finally realized that Palaeocastor was the architect of these trace fossils after noting that the formations bore the beaver's signature teeth marks. 

Learn more about Nebraska's corkscrew formations, and why Palaeocastor made such weird burrows, by watching the video below.

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Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows
iStock
iStock

Ticks plagued the dinosaurs, too, as evidenced by a 99-million-year old parasite preserved inside a hunk of ancient amber. Entomologists who examined the Cretaceous period fossil noticed that the tiny arachnid was latched to a dinosaur feather—the first evidence that the bloodsuckers dined on dinos, according to The New York Times. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ticks are one of the most common blood-feeding parasites. But experts didn’t know what they ate in prehistoric times, as parasites and their hosts are rarely found together in the fossil record. Scientists assumed they chowed down on early amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, according to NPR. They didn’t have hard evidence until study co-author David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of History, and his colleagues spotted the tick while perusing a private collection of Myanmar amber.

A 99-million-year-old tick encased in amber, grasping a dinosaur feather.
Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick entangled in a feather. a Photograph of the Burmese amber piece (Bu JZC-F18) showing a semicomplete pennaceous feather. Scale bar, 5 mm. b Detail of the nymphal tick in dorsal view and barbs (inset in a). Scale bar, 1 mm. c Detail of the tick’s capitulum (mouthparts), showing palpi and hypostome with teeth (arrow). Scale bar, 0.1 mm. d Detail of a barb. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. e Drawing of the tick in dorsal view indicating the point of entanglement. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. f Detached barbule pennulum showing hooklets on one of its sides (arrow in a indicates its location but in the opposite side of the amber piece). Scale bar, 0.2 mm
Peñalver et al., Nature Communications

The tick is a nymph, meaning it was in the second stage of its short three-stage life cycle when it died. The dinosaur it fed on was a “nanoraptor,” or a tiny dino that was roughly the size of a hummingbird, Grimaldi told The Times. These creatures lived in tree nests, and sometimes met a sticky end after tumbling from their perches into hunks of gooey resin. But just because the nanoraptor lived in a nest didn’t mean it was a bird: Molecular dating pinpointed the specimen as being at least 25 million years older than modern-day avians.

In addition to ticks, dinosaurs likely also had to deal with another nest pest: skin beetles. Grimaldi’s team located several additional preserved ticks, and two were covered in the insect’s fine hairs. Skin beetles—which are still around today—are scavengers that live in aerial bird homes and consume molted feathers.

“These findings shed light on early tick evolution and ecology, and provide insights into the parasitic relationship between ticks and ancient relatives of birds, which persists today for modern birds,” researchers concluded in a news release.

[h/t The New York Times]

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