A Newly Discovered Species of Prehistoric Shark Was Named After the Video Game Galaga

Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum
Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum

Dinosaurs weren’t the only fearsome creatures who called North America their home millions of years ago. The recent discovery of pointy, fossilized teeth in rock that had been left over from an excavation in the ‘90s has led scientists to declare a new—yet long-extinct—shark species, Smithsonian reports.

North Carolina State University professor Terry Gates, who led the study published in the Journal of Paleontology, named the shark species Galagadon nordquistae after its triangular teeth, which he thought resembled the shape of the battleships in the video game Galaga. The second part of the name pays homage to Karen Nordquist, the retired chemist and volunteer at Chicago’s Field Museum who found the fossils in the first place.

Galagadon lived in what we now know as South Dakota’s Hell Creek Formation, an area known for having rocks and fossils that date back at least 65 million years to the Cretaceous Period. It’s the same place where scientists unearthed Sue the T.rex—the most complete skeleton of its species ever discovered. Not only did the shark live at the same time as Sue, but it also “lived in a river Sue probably drank from,” the Field Museum, where Sue can be seen on display, said in a press release.

In fact, the excavation that led to Sue’s discovery in 1990 is what enabled this latest find. The sediment that encased Sue’s bones, known as matrix, was removed and stored in an underground unit at the Field Museum. Scientists and museum volunteers have only recently begun to sift through it in search of smaller fossils.

Shark tooth fossils
Terry Gates, Journal of Paleontology

Sharks’ skeletons are primarily made of cartilage, which deteriorates over time. But the tiny teeth, measuring just a millimeter wide, helped scientists figure out what the shark looked like. "Galagadon was less than 2 feet long—it's not exactly Jaws," Pete Makovicky, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.

The species is believed to be similar to bamboo sharks, which can be found today in southeast Asia and Australia. This connection surprised researchers, who are now questioning their understanding of the area where Sue was found, which was thought to be a lake formed from a partially dried-up river. This latest discovery, however, indicates that there “must have been at least some connection to marine environments," Makovicky says.

[h/t Smithsonian]

After 110 Million Years, This Spider Fossil's Eyes Are All Aglow

© Changkun Park, Electron Probe Micro Analyzer, Korea Polar Research Institute
© Changkun Park, Electron Probe Micro Analyzer, Korea Polar Research Institute

A big, hairy spider is enough to give anyone a fright. So you can imagine what a set of eight glowing eyes attached to a body like that might do to an arachnophobe's psyche. One such spider was discovered recently by researchers, but don’t worry—the iridescent-eyed arachnid has been dead for 110 million years.

As Popular Science reports, this rare, fossilized specimen was found in South Korea’s Lower Cretaceous Jinju Formation. The find was unusual for a couple of reasons. For one, spiders are not usually preserved in rock because the soft-bodied creatures decay easily. It’s also not every day that you see a long-dead spider with glowing eyes. On top of that, researchers found two well-preserved examples of these spiders, which were described in a recent issue of the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Both specimens belong to Lagonomegopidae, an extinct family that predated jumping spiders. The glow is caused by a layer of tissue called tapetum lucidum, which coats the spider’s eyes and reflects light, allowing the spider to hunt at night with ease. Many animals have it—including cats, dogs, horses, deer, raccoons, and some modern spiders—but this is the first paper to describe its existence in a fossilized spider. The tapetum is crescent-shaped and “looks a bit like a Canadian canoe,” according to Paul Selden, a geology professor at the University of Kansas and co-author of the paper.

“Because these spiders were preserved in strange silvery flecks on dark rock, what was immediately obvious was their rather large eyes brightly marked with crescentic features,” Selden said in a statement.

The fossilized spider
Paul Selden

Researchers now want to go back and take another look at similar spiders preserved in amber, which are far more common than spiders fossilized in rock. The challenge is determining whether those specimens also have a layer of tapetum lucidum coating their eyes.

“Amber fossils are beautiful, they look wonderful, but they preserve things in a different way,” Selden said. “Now, we want to go back and look at the amber fossils and see if we can find the tapetum, which stares out at you from rock fossils but isn’t so obvious in amber ones because the mode of preservation is so different.”

[h/t Popular Science]

Sue the T. Rex Will Return to Chicago's Field Museum in December

Tim Boyle, Newsmakers
Tim Boyle, Newsmakers

Sue, the most complete T. rex fossil ever discovered, is getting new digs. The famous dinosaur was moved from its longtime home in the Field Museum's main hall in February while the museum constructed a new exhibition space, but according to the Chicago Tribune, Sue will soon be on view again.

Starting December 21, you’ll be able to see Sue in a new gallery that's part of the Chicago institution’s "Evolving Planet" exhibition. The new 5100-square-foot hall is designed to bring visitors into Sue’s world with interactive displays and cutting-edge animations.

While Sue’s former home in the museum’s grand entrance hall provided visitors with an eye-catching view, the space just didn’t do the dino justice. “When Sue was in Stanley Field Hall, a lot of people would say, ‘Aw, Sue’s smaller than I thought,’” Field Museum President Richard Lariviere explained in a press release. The new hall does a better job of showcasing just how imposing the specimen is, and how terrifying they would have been to encounter when alive. (Sue was named after explorer Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the fossil, but it’s unclear whether the dinosaur was male or female. For the sake of accuracy and inclusivity, the museum refers to the specimen as “they.”)

An updated version of Sue the T. rex
Field Museum

The new animations in the exhibition will explore how Sue would have interacted with other dinosaurs, what the landscape of their territory would have looked like, and more. The exhibition will also tell the story of Sue’s discovery and discuss all the new information scientists have learned about T. rex since Sue first came to the museum.

Sue’s surroundings aren’t the only thing that’s different. The specimen itself has gotten an upgrade, too. When Sue was first uncovered in the 1990s, scientists weren’t exactly sure what to do with some of their bones. We now know that these bones—called the gastralia—formed a rib-like unit across the dinosaur’s belly and helped support the respiratory system (similar to how we use our diaphragms). In addition to Sue's now-bulging belly, Field Museum scientists have made a few other tweaks so that the specimen more accurately reflects current understanding of dinosaur physiology. Instead of skulking, the repositioned Sue will be walking. Their arms will come down a bit, and their wishbone will be adjusted slightly.

“This is the biggest, scariest, and most impressive Sue’s ever looked,” Lavriviere said.

[h/t Chicago Tribune]

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