Biology news

Catastrophe survivors

At ... when did the dinosaurs evolve? Silly question as the dinosaur evolution went into zoom mode when the Triassic epoch set in. Okay, look at it from another angle - how could dinosaurs have filled so many ecological niches so quickly. The answer - some dinosaurs, possibly quite small examples, survived the mass die-off associated with the Permian-Triassic boundary. This appears to be the conclusion of a new paper in Biology Letters (but not in so many words).


At ... leaf fossils from Patagonia display evidence of insect feeding at the Cretaceous/Palaeogene boundary. AQs such, researchers claim that the ecosystem in South America recovered earlier than it is thought to have done in North America after the K/T boundary event. This appears to be a somewhat roundabout argument as it is only the uniformitarian dating of sediments just before and just after the hypothetical asteroid strike that allows mainstream to suppose a long period of time is relevant.

Dinosaur Brains

At ... and ... we learn that a fossil hunter in Sussex found a pebble of unusual dimensions and put it into his pocket and took it home. He then sought to find out what it was and it turns out it was part of a dinosaur brain - preserved over millions of years. Various theories exist to account for its survival as soft tissue is rarely found in a fossilised state. Instant burial in a swamp is one idea put forwards. It belongs to a member of the Iguanadon family - a browser with a long neck.

Early Humans

There was an excellent TV programme a few weeks ago featuring Alice Roberts and human history (the Denisovans, Neanderthals, and the arrival of modern humans etc). Whilst it seemed to glaringly omit earlier but related versions of humanity it did serve to update her earlier TV programme (and book) 'The Incredible Human Journey' - which kept strictly to the BBC propaganda line on 'Out of Africa' (for better or worse).

Ice Age Cattle

At ... Ice Age artists depicted an unknown hybrid species of bison and cattle in great detail on cave walls around 15,000 years ago (in the Magdalenian cultural period). Research published in October (2016) Nature Communications, suggests this animal was the ancestor of modern European bison (now largely extinct across its former habitat) - yet the DNA from one to the other differs. Why?

Frigate Bird

You can see why scientists like to visualise dinosaurs as having had bird bones when you consider the remarkable feats of the frigate bird. Bird bones are lighter bones otherwise birds would never be able to launch themselves and remain in the air - and frigate birds have extremely light bird bones. They migrate over thousands of miles of ocean, rarely touching down for a breather, between Africa and Indonesia. They are inclined to avoid the doldrums, that equatorial region of unpredictable winds that becalmed so many sailing ships prior to the 20th century.

Mammoth Island

At ... the discovery of a mammoth tooth in a cave on St Paul's island, off the coast of Alaska (in the Bering Sea) was dated just 6500 years ago (that is 4500BC). Mammoths died out around the time of the Younger Dryas Boundary event but seem to have continued, albeit in a dwarf form, on Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic - and the tooth from St Paul's Island seems to indicate they survived on other bits and pieces of stranded land as Beringia was swamped by the rising seas.


The psittacosauros was a small dinosaur dating back to the early Cretaceous (around 120 million years ago). See ... and for a response see (as forwarded by Robert). The full article is at the link and is an interesting read concerning colours and camouflage amongst other things. The specimen of psittacosauroscame from a Chinese fossil bed and appears to have been buried instantaneously as some of its soft parts have survived.

A kinder hump back

A nice piece of observation by a marine ecologist doing work for NOAA - evidence that humpback whales drive off orca pods attacking other marine species. Orcas will attack the young of humpback whales so there is no love lost. However, they appear to thwart killer whale attacks on sea lions, harbour seals, sunfish and gray whales, if they get the chance. The article was published in the August issue of Marine Mammal Science (2016). See

fossil DNA

At ... the link is provided by Robert Farrar and concerns an open access paper in the journal Geology that documents the existence of DNA in ocean bottom sediments up to 1.4 million years of age. Not sure if this is a straw man argument but the claim is that scientists expressed surprise - as DNA is not supposed to last that long. However, it was preserved in bottom sediments, under water, and this might be a mitigating factor.