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 Mantua Township Fossil Heritage via Facebook 

New Jersey Fossil Haven Might Reveal What Killed Off the Dinosaurs

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 Mantua Township Fossil Heritage via Facebook 

In southern New Jersey, some 15 miles away from Philadelphia, the key to the demise of the dinosaurs may be lurking behind a suburban Lowe’s store. The Inversand quarry in Mantua Township contains thousands of fossils that date back as much as 66 million years, when the area was at the bottom of the sea. The 6-inch layer of earth some 40 feet below the ground is a rich source for paleontology research, one that may be able to finally provide solid evidence that the dinosaurs died off in a mass extinction after a meteor struck the Earth about 66 million years ago. 

Kenneth Lacovara, paleontologist at the local Rowan University, is trying to prove this hypothesis—which is common among paleontologists but difficult to find fossil evidence for—using a mass of nearly intact skeletal remains found in this thin layer of sediment. Because many of the larger skeletons are still fairly intact, it’s likely that the animals died off at the same time—as in a mass extinction. The fossils date back to about the same period as the meteor impact on what is now Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. 

The 65-acre quarry, once the source of a water treatment product called marl, shut down amid the 2007 recession. In September, Rowan agreed to pay $1.95 million to buy the site and turn it into a citizen science lab, preserving the area for future scientific research. While Lacovara doesn’t have enough evidence to prove the mass extinction hypothesis just yet, the mass of fossils from 66 million years ago will provide scientists with a better idea of what went on at that time. 

[h/t: The New York Times]

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Art
Crocheted Costumes That Make Pigeons Look Like Extinct Species
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When it comes to envisioning what extinct species looked like, we don’t have much to go on outside of a select few museums with skeletons and reconstructed models. But now, one artist is giving us a whole new way to look at long-gone birds like the dodo or passenger pigeon. 

California-based artist Laurel Roth Hope is a former park ranger and conservationist who creates detailed costumes that make ordinary urban pigeons look like birds that no longer soar through the skies, Boing Boing reports. Her Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons create doll-like representations of birds most have never seen. (The pigeons in the photos are hand-carved mannequins, though, so don't worry about the poor bird that has to don a dead relative's outfit.)

A close-up of the Carolina parakeet costume shows crocheted details.

“Inspired by the traditional use of fiber-craft to provide safety and comfort,” she writes in her description of the project, “I have been crocheting small suits for urban pigeons that disguise them as extinct birds, thereby (visually) re-creating biodiversity and placing a soothing ‘cozy’ on environmental fears.”

The costumes depict birds that went extinct both recently and centuries ago. The last dodos famously disappeared in the 17th century. The last passenger pigeon, a bird named Martha that lived at the Cincinnati Zoo, died in 1914. (Hope’s work was featured in the Smithsonian’s 2014 exhibition The Singing and the Silence: Birds in Contemporary Art, held during the centennial of Martha’s death.) The heath hen, a grassland species that has been the subject of recent de-extinction efforts in Martha’s Vineyard, went extinct in 1932.

A a green and yellow crocheted costume makes a pigeon look like a Carolina parakeet.
Carolina Parakeet, 2009

Two birds in crocheted costumes depicting heath hens appear to interact on top of a rock.
Heath Hens, 2014

A blue and orange crocheted costume makes an urban pigeon look like a passenger pigeon.
Passenger Pigeon II, 2014

Three taxidermied birds are covered in crocheted costumes making them look like extinct species.
From left: Bachman's Warbler, Cuban Red Macaw, Mauritius Blue Pigeon, 2015

Two taxidermied birds covered by colorful crocheted fabric are placed beak-to-beak.
Paradise Parrot and Guadalupe Caracara, 2013

Unfortunately, as she writes on her site, the patterns for the bird suits aren't available to share, so you can't make your own stuffed dodo.

[h/t Boing Boing]

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Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman
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Animals
DNA Tests Show ‘Extinct’ Penguin Species Never Existed
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Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman

Science is a self-correcting process, ever in flux. Accepted hypotheses are overturned in the face of new information. The world isn’t flat after all. Disease isn’t caused by demons or wickedness. And that Hunter Island penguin? Yeah, apparently that was just a figment of our imaginations. Researchers writing in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society say the remains of one supposed species are in fact a “jumbled mixture” of bones from three extant species.

The bones were unearthed in the 1980s during the excavation of a prehistoric trash heap on Tasmania’s Hunter Island. Two scientists named Tets and O’Connor argued that the remains were different enough from other penguins to constitute their own genus and species, one which must have died out during the Holocene epoch. The proud potential penguin parents dubbed the apparently extinct bird Tasidyptes hunterivan, and that was that.

Except that this is science, where no story is ever really over. Other biologists were not satisfied with the evidence Tets and O’Connor presented. There were only four bones, and they all bore some resemblance to species that exist today. Fortunately, in 2017, we’ve got ways of making fossils talk. A research team led by Tess Cole of the University of Otago used DNA barcoding to examine the genetic code of each of the four bones.

“It was a fun and unexpected story,” Cole said in a statement, “because we show that Tasmania’s ‘extinct' penguin is not actually an extinct or unique penguin at all.”

Snares penguins dive into the water.
Snares penguins (Eudyptes robustus).
Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The bones were “a jumbled mixture of three living penguin species, from two genera": the Fiordland crested penguin or Tawaki (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) and the Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus), both of New Zealand, and the Australian little fairy penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae).

“This study shows how useful ancient DNA testing can be,” Cole said. “Not only does it help us identify new but extinct species, but it can help us rule out previously postulated species which did not exist, as in this case.”

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