This Unusual Bird Superpower Goes Back to the Dinosaur Extinction

The ibis and the kiwi are dogged diggers, probing in sand and soil for worms and other buried prey. Sandpipers, too, can be seen along the shore excavating small creatures with their beaks. It was long thought that these birds were using trial and error to find their prey.

But then scientists discovered something far more peculiar: Their beaks are threaded with cells that can detect vibrations traveling through the ground. Some birds can feel the movements of their distant quarry directly, while others pick up on waves bouncing off buried shells — echolocating like a dolphin or a bat, in essence, through the earth.

There’s one more odd detail in this story of birds’ unusual senses: Ostriches and emus, birds that most definitely do not hunt this way, have beaks with a similar interior structure. They are honeycombed with pits for these cells, though the cells themselves are missing. Now, scientists in a study published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B report that prehistoric bird ancestors dating nearly as far back as the dinosaurs most likely were capable of sensing vibrations with their beaks.

The birds that use this remote sensing today are not closely related to one another, said Carla du Toit, a graduate student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and an author of the paper. That made her and her co-authors curious about when exactly this ability evolved, and whether ostriches, which are close relatives of kiwis, had an ancestor that used this sensory ability.

Credit…Peter Ryan

“We had a look to see if we could find fossils of early birds from that group,” Ms. du Toit said. “And we’re very lucky.” There are very well-preserved fossils of birds called lithornithids dating from just after the event that drove nonavian dinosaurs to extinction.

First they had to gather data on the beaks of more than 50 bird species so that they would be able to say how similar or different the fossil birds were to modern birds. The team recorded the number of pits in the bone of the beak and the size of the beak and the head, important details because birds that dig for their food have a characteristic shape.

Then they took a look at the lithornithids. And indeed, the ancient beaks and head structure were extremely similar to the beaks of kiwis, ibises and sandpipers, far closer than any other bird in the study.

“It seems that they have this organ and were able to use the sense of remote touch to probe and locate prey as well, which is really cool, because it just shows that this is really old,” Ms. du Toit said.

That means that the ancestors of ostriches and emus lost the ability sometime after the lithornithids lived, leaving them with only traces in their bone structure of this lost talent. They lack as well the enlarged brain regions

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Teacher’s decades-old find turns out to be the island’s first-ever dinosaur discovery

You never know what you might find while walking along the beach.



a person holding an animal: Mike Simms, who led the research team, holds the theropod tibia on the left and the Scelidosaurus femur on the right.


© From University of Portsmouth
Mike Simms, who led the research team, holds the theropod tibia on the left and the Scelidosaurus femur on the right.

People often come across coins, shells and trash, but a teacher in Northern Ireland made a discovery that will go down in history.

In the 1980s, the late Roger Byrne, a schoolteacher and fossil collector, found several unidentified fossils on the east coast of County Antrim. He held onto them for several years before donating them to the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

Mystery swirled around what the fossils could be until a team of researchers with the University of Portsmouth and Queen’s University Belfast confirmed they are fossilized dinosaur bones.

The 200-million-year-old fossils are the “first dinosaur remains reported from anywhere in Ireland,” according to the article by the research team, published this month in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

“This is a hugely significant discovery,” Mike Simms, a paleontologist at National Museums NI who led the team of researchers, said in a news release Tuesday. “The great rarity of such fossils here is because most of Ireland’s rocks are the wrong age for dinosaurs, either too old or too young, making it nearly impossible to confirm dinosaurs existed on these shores.”

The researchers wrote in their article that folklore attributes the apparent absence of dinosaur remains from Ireland to the activities of St. Patrick, who is credited with having driven the snakes out of Ireland. But the lack of fossilized dinosaur bones is simply due to geology, they said. The rocks around the country are either the wrong age or type.

“Finding an Irish dinosaur might seem a hopeless task but, nonetheless, several potential candidates have been identified and are described for the first time here,” the article says.

Researcher Robert Smyth and Professor David Martill of the University of Portsmouth analyzed the bone fragments with high-resolution 3D digital models of the fossils, produced by Dr. Patrick Collins of Queens University Belfast.

Originally researchers believed the bones were from the same animal but then determined they were from two different dinosaurs.

“Analyzing the shape and internal structure of the bones, we realized that they belonged to two very different animals,” said Smyth in the news release.

“One is very dense and robust, typical of an armored plant-eater. The other is slender, with thin bone walls and characteristics found only in fast-moving two-legged predatory dinosaurs called theropods.”

Both fossils were pieces of the animal’s leg bones, according to the researchers. One was part of a femur of a four-legged plant-eater called Scelidosaurus. The other was part of the tibia belonging to a two-legged meat-eater similar to Sarcosaurus.

The beach where the fossils were found is covered in rounded fragments of basalt and white limestone, according the journal article. It noted that fossils in that area are usually sparse and heavily abraded.

“The two dinosaur fossils that Roger Byrne found

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Teacher’s decades-old find on a Northern Ireland beach turns out to be the island’s first-ever dinosaur discovery

People often come across coins, shells and trash, but a teacher in Northern Ireland made a discovery that will go down in history.

In the 1980s, the late Roger Byrne, a schoolteacher and fossil collector, found several unidentified fossils on the east coast of County Antrim. He held onto them for several years before donating them to the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

Mystery swirled around what the fossils could be until a team of researchers with the University of Portsmouth and Queen’s University Belfast confirmed they are fossilized dinosaur bones.

The 200-million-year-old fossils are the “first dinosaur remains reported from anywhere in Ireland,” according to the article by the research team, published this month in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

“This is a hugely significant discovery,” Mike Simms, a paleontologist at National Museums NI who led the team of researchers, said in a news release Tuesday. “The great rarity of such fossils here is because most of Ireland’s rocks are the wrong age for dinosaurs, either too old or too young, making it nearly impossible to confirm dinosaurs existed on these shores.”

The researchers wrote in their article that folklore attributes the apparent absence of dinosaur remains from Ireland to the activities of St. Patrick, who is credited with having driven the snakes out of Ireland. But the lack of fossilized dinosaur bones is simply due to geology, they said. The rocks around the country are either the wrong age or type.

“Finding an Irish dinosaur might seem a hopeless task but, nonetheless, several potential candidates have been identified and are described for the first time here,” the article says.

Researcher Robert Smyth and Professor David Martill of the University of Portsmouth analyzed the bone fragments with high-resolution 3D digital models of the fossils, produced by Dr. Patrick Collins of Queens University Belfast.

Originally researchers believed the bones were from the same animal but then determined they were from two different dinosaurs.

“Analyzing the shape and internal structure of the bones, we realized that they belonged to two very different animals,” said Smyth in the news release.

“One is very dense and robust, typical of an armored plant-eater. The other is slender, with thin bone walls and characteristics found only in fast-moving two-legged predatory dinosaurs called theropods.”

Both fossils were pieces of the animal’s leg bones, according to the researchers. One was part of a femur of a four-legged plant-eater called Scelidosaurus. The other was part of the tibia belonging to a two-legged meat-eater similar to Sarcosaurus.

The beach where the fossils were found is covered in rounded fragments of basalt and white limestone, according the journal article. It noted that fossils in that area are usually sparse and heavily abraded.

New dinosaur species related to Tyrannosaurus rex discovered by scientists in England

“The two dinosaur fossils that Roger Byrne found were perhaps swept out to sea, alive or dead, sinking to the Jurassic seabed where they were buried and fossilized,” said Simms.

This discovery helps shine light onto the life of dinosaurs that roamed millions of years ago.

“Scelidosaurus

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Extreme Life Thrived in Hot Asteroid Pit After Dinosaur Extinction, Evidence Suggests

An asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula, seen here from the International Space Station, 66 million years ago, sparking a mass extinction event.

An asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula, seen here from the International Space Station, 66 million years ago, sparking a mass extinction event.
Photo: Tim Peake/ESA/NASA

A gigantic pool of magma emerged beneath Earth’s surface following the impact event that wiped out all non-avian dinosaurs. New research suggests this hellish subterranean chamber hosted a biological ecosystem, a finding that could give clues as to how life emerged during Earth’s tumultuous early days.

When the asteroid struck our unfortunate planet some 66 million years ago, it created a 110-mile-wide (180-kilometer) impact crater in what is now the Yucatan Peninsula. Evidence presented earlier this year showed the impact also produced a gigantic subterranean magma chamber, which persisted for hundreds of thousands of years, possibly even millions of years. Incredibly, this hydrothermal system supported an entire microbial ecosystem, according to new research published today in Astrobiology.

David Kring, the lead author of both studies and a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), believes the Chicxulub hydrothermal system is a possible glimpse into the early conditions on Earth, when life was starting to emerge. Kring’s co-authors are Martin Whitehouse from the Swedish Museum of Natural History and Martin Schmieder from Neu-Ulm University in Germany.

During its peak, the Chicxulub magma chamber was around 1.86 miles (3 km) thick and encompassed 33,500 cubic miles (140,000 cubic kilometers) of Earth’s crust. By comparison, the caldera at Yellowstone National Park is nine times smaller.

Kring and his colleagues discovered evidence of this hydrothermal system in a rock core pulled from the crater’s peak ring, which is basically the jagged ring found inside some impact craters (good examples here). Approximately 33,000 pounds (15,000 kg) of rock was pulled from a depth of 0.81 miles (1.3 km), in an expedition supported by the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program and the International Ocean Discovery Program.

Delving once again into the Chicxulub sample material, the scientists spotted tiny spheres of pyrite, called framboids. Sulfur isotope analysis of these fromboids, which measure just 10 millionths of a meter in diameter, pointed to the presence of “thermophilic colonies of sulfate-reducing organisms,” in other words, clumps of heat-loving microscopic organisms with an appetite for sulfates. These microorganisms lived in the “porous, permeable rock beneath the floor of the crater and fed on sulfate transported through the rock,” which was made available by the impact-generated hydrothermal system, according to the study.

As the authors point out, these subterranean microbes made a living by taking advantage of chemical reactions happening inside the hydrothermal system, namely inside mineral-rich waters warmed by the magma. During this process, sulphate converted into sulfide, which was preserved as pyrite. These organisms are not unlike some heat-loving bacteria and archaea found at Yellowstone today.

Illustration for article titled Extreme Life Thrived in Hot Asteroid Pit After Dinosaur Extinction, Evidence Suggests

This finding is super interesting in its own right, but it potentially speaks to the conditions found on early Earth, specifically during the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB) period, which ended some 3.8 billion

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Winged dinosaur more squirrel than graceful bird

During a blip in time in the late Jurassic, a dinosaur that weighed no more than a chinchilla flung itself from tree to tree, spread its wings and tried to soar. In theory, it sounds beautiful — an early attempt at flight before birds figured out the blueprint.

In practice, it was chaotic.

The dinosaur, Yi qi, only barely managed to glide, stretching out and shimmying its skin-flap, downy-feathered wings in a valiant attempt at flying. “It was rocketing from tree to tree, desperately trying not to slam into something,” said Alex Dececchi, a paleontologist at Mount Marty University in South Dakota. “It wouldn’t be something pleasant.”

Unsurprisingly, Yi qi is not an ancestor of modern birds. It went extinct after just a few million years, presumably doomed by its sheer lack of competency in the air. In a study published Thursday in the journal iScience, Dececchi and other researchers analyzed how Yi qi and the dinosaur Ambopteryx could have flown. Both animals were scansoriopterygids, a little-known group of small dinosaurs. The researchers did not expect the two to be great flyers, but their results painted a picture of bumbling creatures that weren’t truly at home on the ground, among the trees or in the sky.

Found by a farmer in northeastern China, Yi qi was first described in 2015 by paleontologists Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Xiaoting Zheng of Linyi University. When Dececchi first learned about the dinosaur’s bizarre anatomy, he was taken aback. “I said words that cannot be put into print,” he said.

In addition to the batlike wings, which had never before been observed in a dinosaur, Yi qi had an extraordinary long bone jutting out from its wrist. “Like Edward Scissorhands,” said Michael Pittman, a paleontologist at the University of Hong Kong and an author of the paper.

In 2018, Dececchi presented Yi qi in one of his classes as a way of teaching the scientific method: “Here’s a weird creature. How do you think it would fly?” The more he thought about the question, the more he wanted to answer it.

When Dececchi presented a preliminary paper on Yi qi at a conference in 2018, he saw a similar paper by Arindam Roy, a graduate student in Pittman’s lab. The scientists decided to collaborate, with Pittman reconstructing the dinosaur’s wing and Dececchi modeling its flight. When Ambopteryx was described in 2018, the scientists incorporated the dinosaur into the study.

Pittman’s lab scanned the fossil using a technique called laser-stimulated fluorescence to detect soft tissues that might have gone unnoticed when the Yi qi was first described. The laser technique revealed new soft tissues around the neck and face and provided close-up images of the membrane, which allowed Pittman to revise the model for what Yi qi’s wing might have looked like.

With wing models in hand, Dececchi ran the dinosaurs through a panoply of mathematical models to test its flight ability. “I tried to give them the benefit of the

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Dinosaur Asteroid Hit Worst-Case Place

We all know the story: 66 million years ago, a giant asteroid crashed into Earth, killing off three quarters of all species, including most of the dinosaurs. Researchers suspect that the impact caused the extinction by kicking up a cloud of dust and tiny droplets called aerosols that plunged the planet into something like a nuclear winter.

“These components in the atmosphere drove global cooling and darkness that would have stopped photosynthesis from occurring, ultimately shutting down the food chain.”

Shelby Lyons, a recent Ph.D. graduate from Penn State University.

But scientists have also found lots of soot in the geologic layers deposited immediately after the asteroid impact. And the soot may have been part of the killing mechanism too—depending on where it came from.

Some of the soot probably came from wildfires that erupted around the planet following the impact. But most of these particles would have lingered in the lower atmosphere for only a few weeks and wouldn’t have had much of an effect on global climate.

But scientists hypothesize that soot may also have come from the very rocks that the asteroid pulverized when it struck. If those rocks contained significant amounts of organic matter—such as the remains of marine organisms—it would have burned up on impact, sending soot shooting up into the stratosphere. In that case, soot would have spread around the globe in a matter of hours and stayed there for years. And it would have radically altered Earth’s climate.

So Lyons and her team set out to identify the source of the soot. They looked at chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are another by-product of combustion.

“You can find PAHs in meat or veggies that you grill. You can find them from the exhaust of a car. You can also find them in smoke and debris from the wildfires today out west.”

PAHs are made up of fused rings of carbon atoms—think of chicken wire. To determine the origin of the soot, the researchers looked at the structure and chemistry of the PAHs buried along with it. Specifically, the researchers looked for groups of atoms that stick off the rings like spikes. PAHs generated from burning wood don’t have many spikes, but PAHs from burning fossil carbon—like what would have been in the target rocks—have more.

Lyons and her team found that most of the PAHs deposited after the impact were spiky, which suggests that soot from the rocks hit by the asteroid played a major role in the mass extinction.

“There was more dust and more sulfate aerosols than soot, but soot is a stronger blocker of sunlight than either of those two. So a small amount of soot can drive large reductions in sunlight.”

The findings are in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Shelby L. Lyons et al., Organic matter from the Chicxulub crater exacerbated the K–Pg impact winter]

The results suggest that the devastation of this very sooty asteroid impact may be due

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