Before dinosaurs, the giant ‘Carolina Butcher’ was a North American terror


A reconstruction of Carnufex carolinensis. (Jorge Gonzales)

A new species found in North Carolina is one of the oldest and largest crocodile relatives ever known.

Back before dinosaurs were the big bads of our continent, Carnufex carolinensis ruled the scene. At nine feet long and walking on its hind legs, this croc would have been a fierce predator 230 million years ago. Researchers described the species (which translates to “Carolina Butcher,” which is awesome) for the first time Thursday in Scientific Reports.

[First ever evidence of a swimming, shark-eating dinosaur]

Its bones may have been found in a quarry, but back in the Butcher’s day North Carolina was a lush, warm, wet region just beginning to pull away from the supercontinent of Pangea. And in that region, it seems, an upright crocodile roamed.

The Carnufex carolinensis fossil was actually discovered a decade ago, but its bones have been sitting in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences ever since.


This image shows a reconstructed skull of Carnufex carolinensis. 3-D surface models of skull bones are shown in white. Grey areas are missing elements reconstructed from close relatives of Carnufex. (Lindsay Zanno)

“When we got the bones out and prepared them, we found out that it was actually a really cool species,” said Lindsay Zanno, assistant professor at North Carolina State University and lead author of the new research paper. “It was one of the oldest and largest members of crocodylomorph — the same group that crocodiles belong to — that we’ve ever seen. And that size was really surprising.”

Most croc relatives from that time were smaller in size and seemed lower on the food chain. They were about the same size — and threat to prey — as a fox. But at nine feet long — a height it stretched to fully by walking on two legs — the Carolina Butcher would have been one of the fiercest animals around, if not the very fiercest.

[Peru was a crocodile paradise before the Amazon River went and ruined it]

In other regions, early dinosaurs were vying for top-dog status, causing something of a predator-pile-up. But this is the first time a croc ancestor has been shown in the mix.

“It was clearly a top predator,” Zanno said. “That’s a niche we didn’t know animals like this were filling.”

So why don’t we hang out with bipedal crocodiles of doom today? As the Triassic period ended, this glut of predators gave way to the reign of the dinosaurs. Big burly crocs couldn’t compete, but the little guys lived to see another day.



Dinosaur bones scanned to discover more about weighty issue


Palaeontologist Scott Hocknull analyses the Diamantinasaurus fossils at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs facility in Winton, Western Queensland.

It was a scan 100 million years in the making.

The bones of one of Queensland’s largest dinosaurs, Matilda, have undergone a CT scan to discover how her limbs coped with 20 tonnes of flesh on top.

University of New England PhD student Ada Klinkharmer borrowed some of the sauropod’s leg and hip bones from their home at Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Winton, and had them tested at Mt Isa Hospital.

1426570672868 (1)

Artistic representations of the three dinosaur taxa described here. Australovenator (top); Wintonotitan (middle); Diamantinasaurus (bottom). Photo: Artwork by: T. Tischler, Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History.


“We create 3D computer models and we can put forces on them, and measure the stress,” she said.
“We can look at the bones we’ve measured and look at how that stress is distributed around the limbs, and discover how these dinosaurs bore their weight.”Diamantinasaurus matildae was discovered in June 2005 at the Winton Formation. She would have been 15 to 16 metres long and 2.5 metres high at the hip.Ms Klinkharmer said it is a common supposition that the large, long-necked herbivores stood on hind legs to graze, but it’s never been proven.”Using this method, we can actually physically test if the bones were capable of sustaining 20 odd tonnes on just two legs,” she said.”Obviously they had to raise up onto their hind legs for mating, but whether or not they could do it for a sustained length of time is the question.”She said the CT scan was an interesting process.”You’ve got to be careful to make sure you don’t break anything in the process,” Ms Klinkharmer said.”But it works exactly the same as when you CT scan a person – you put it on the table, slide it in and scan it.”However, she admitted not being able to scan the thigh bone was disappointing.”It’s obviously made of rock now, and it’s so heavy, the CT scan can’t support the weight of the femur.”Ms Klinkharmer, whose work on biomechanics forms part of the Function, Evolution and Anatomy laboratory at UNE, hopes to publish her results early next year.Dinosaur fans will be able to see some theories about how dinosaurs may have moved at the Queensland  Discovery from March 27, which features more than 20 life-size dinosaur animatronics.


Dinosaur hunter makes rare discovery in North Carolina


Andrew Heckert, a professor at Appalachian State University, is the lead author of a paper detailing the discovery of a species that went extinct some 230 million years ago. (Photo: Dale Neal, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times)


BOONE, N.C. — Andrew Heckert usually heads out west when he wants to go back in time, say about 230 million years ago.

But in recent years, the Appalachian State University professor could drive down the mountain to Raleigh to discover prehistoric fossils of a previously unknown species.

Eons before human politicians, Raleigh was a swamp and home to a creature known as the aetosaur. Think of a crocodile-like reptile with spiked armor.

But these weren’t the ferocious killers that crocodiles evolved into in Africa. Aetosaurs had blunt teeth and likely feasted on plants.

“Aetosaurs are an extinct group of reptiles from the Triassic period from the lineage that eventually evolved into crocodiles,” Heckert said. “They were not dinosaurs, but superficially look like some of the much larger armored dinosaurs that would evolve later.”


Andrew Heckert looks over a fossil of the snout of a phytosaur found in a clay-mining quarry near Wadesboro, N.C. (Photo: Dale Neal, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times)


Heckert is the lead author of a new article published in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology about the discovery of a new species of aetosaur. Heckert, along with colleagues at the North Carolina Museum of Natural History, were able to identify an entirely new genus and species of these animals that died out millions of years ago.

The fossil’s name — Gorgetosuchus pekinensis — reflects the distinctive spikes around the neck and the rock formation in which the fossils were found.

The first half of the genus name “Gorgetosuchus” comes from gorget, which is the metal neck ring that knights once sported, while “suchus” is ancient Greek for crocodile. The species name “pekinenis” refers to the Upper Pekin Formation that runs through present-day central North Carolina where the fossils were uncovered.

The discovery was made near a mining operation where huge boulders had been shoved aside to get at the clay that could be used in brickmaking.

Experts were able to see a jumble of the spikes embedded in the Triassic rock. At first Heckert thought they had part of the creature’s tail. But as they studied the spikes closer and took 3-D printed molds, Heckert realized they were looking at the other end.

“We knew this specimen was spiny, and when we put the pieces together, we saw how some of the armor completely covered the neck,” Heckert said. “So this is the Pekin Formation neck collar crocodile.”

Aetosaur fossils have been found on continents around the world. And Raleigh wasn’t exactly on the map as we’re used to. North Carolina was actually mashed up against Morocco as part of the super-continent Pangea. After the land masses drifted apart, fossils of the aetosaur have been found around the world.

“North Carolina is typically not on anybody’s list for dinosaurs, even though we’ve been finding Triassic fossils here for the past 100 years,” Heckert said.


Andrew Heckert, a professor at Appalachian State University, looks over the leg bone of a hadrosaurus that he and his students found on a field trip to Arizona. (Photo: Dale Neal, Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times)

Dinosaurs are likely to be found in sedimentary rock formations out west, but most every state has areas where they roamed, died and were preserved underground.

Except for Western North Carolina, where the Appalachian Mountains predate the age of dinosaurs.

“There probably weren’t any life forms with skeletons when the Appalachians were being formed, only jellyfish,” Heckert said.

Boone is home to at least three paleontologists in the geology department.

“Andy’s a great addition to the faculty,” said William Anderson, who heads the department. “He has a different way of looking for fossils, working in clay pits and sieving through sediment.”

Heckert also heads the small but impressive fossil and mineral museum that the geology department has on campus.

Heckert’s love of dinosaurs dates to his childhood in Ohio. His father and grandfather were avid rockhounds, and like most children, he was fascinated by the dinosaur fossils in the Field Museum in Chicago.

Heckert went to New Mexico University for graduate studies in paleontology. Instead of the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the huge dinosaurs of the later Jurassic Age, Heckert decided to specialize on the earlier and smaller dinosaurs that evolved during the Triassic Age.

Heckert conveys that enthusiasm to undergraduate students, leading field trips each spring for digs in Arizona.

“It’s the coolest thing when you’re out in the field, digging up these bones. You’re holding a piece of the past in your hands,” said Chelsea Vaughn, a senior from Durham.


No, a Dinosaur Skull Hasn’t Been Found on Mars: Why We See Familiar Looking Objects on the Red Planet


The dinosaur on Mars, the Face in Cydonia, the rat, the human skull, the Smiley face, the prehistoric vertebrae and the conglomerate rock. Something is amiss in this montage and shouldn’t be included. (Photo Credits: NASA/JPL)

What is up with the fossils on Mars? Found – a dinosaur skull on Mars? Discovered – a rat, squirrel or gerbil on Mars? In background of images from Curiosity, vertebrae from some extinct Martian species? And the human skull, half buried in photos from Opportunity Rover. All the images are made of stone from the ancient past and this is also what is called Pareidolia. They are figments of our imaginations, and driven by our interest to be there – on Mars – and to know that we are not alone. Altogether, they make a multitude of web pages and threads across the internet.


Is she or isn’t she, a face on the red planet Mars? Discovered in the thousands of photos transmitted to Earth by the Viking orbiter in the 1970s, the arrival of Mars Global Surveyor included Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) which revealed details that put to rest the face of Cydonia. Actually, it is alive and well for many. (Photo Credits: NASA/JPL- Viking/MGS, GIF – Judy Schmidt)

Rock-hounds and Martian paleontologists, if only amateur or retired, have found a bounty of fascinating rocks nestled among the rocks on Mars. There are impressive web sites dedicated to each’s eureka moment, dissemination among enthusiasts and presentation for discussion.

JohnKlein_MudChips_Bones-on-Mars (3)

At left, MSL’s Curiosity landed not far from a sight hard to leave – Yellow Knife including sight “John Klein”. Inset: this authors speculative thought – mud chips? At right, is Mars enthusiasts’ Bone on Mars. (Photo Credits: NASA/JPL, Wikimedia)

NASA scientists have sent the most advanced robotic vehicles to the surface of Mars, to the most fascinating and diverse areas that are presently reachable with our technology and landing skills. The results have been astounding scientifially but also in terms of mysteries and fascination with the strange, alien formations. Some clearly not unlike our own and others that must be fossil remnants from a bygone era – so it seems.

Be sure to explore, through the hyperlinks, many NASA, NASA affiliates’ and third party websites – embedded throughout this article. Also, links to specific websites are listed at the end of the article.


The Dinosaur skull on Mars is actually dated from Martian Sol 297 (June 7, 2013). The imager used to return this was the MASTCAM and an historic array of landscapes, close-ups and selfies has been produced by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). Other MSL Curiosity cameras are the NAVCAM, cameras for navigation, HAZCAM and MARDI camera. The array of images is historic and overwhelming raising more questions than answers including speculative and imaginative “discoveries.” (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL)

The centerpiece of recent interest is the dinosaur skull protruding from the Martian regolith, teeth still embedded, sparkling efferdent white. There are no sockets for these teeth. Dinosaur dentures gave this senior citizen a few extra good years. The jaw line of the skull has no joint or connection point with the skull. So our minds make up the deficits, fill in the blanks and we agree with others and convince ourselves that this is a fossilized skull. Who knows how this animal could have evolved differently.

But evolve it did – within our minds. Referencing online dictionaries [ref], “Pareidolia is the imagined perception of a pattern (or meaning) where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features.” I must admit that I do not seek out these “discoveries” on Mars but I enjoy looking at them and there are many scientists at JPL that have the same bent. Mars never fails to deliver and caters to everyone, but when skulls and fossils are seen, it is actually us catering to the everyday images and wishes we hold in our minds.


No one is left out of the imagery returned from the array of NASA’s Martian assets in orbit. Mars exhibits an incredible display of wind swept sand dunes (center photo). (Photo Credits: NASA, Paramount Pictures)

The “Rat on Mars” (main figure, top center) is actually quite anatomically complete and hunkered down, having taken its final gasps of air, eons ago, as some cataclysmic event tore the final vestiges of Earth-like atmosphere off the surface. It died where it once roamed and foraged for … nuts and berries? Surprisingly, no nuts have been found. Blueberries – yes – they are plentiful on Mars and could have been an excellent nutritional source for rats; high in iron and possibly like their Earthly counterpart, high in anti-oxidants.


The Blueberries of Mars are actually concretions of iron rich minerals from water – ground or standing pools – created over thousands of years during periodic epochs of wet climates on Mars. (Photo Credits: NASA/JPL/Cornell)

The blueberries were popularized by Dr. Steve Squyres, the project scientist of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission. Discovered in Eagle crater and across Meridiani Planum, “Blueberries” are spherules of concretions of iron rich minerals from water. It is a prime chapter in the follow-the-water story of Mars. And not far from the definition of Pareidolia, Eagle Crater refers to the incredible set of landing bounces that sent “Oppy” inside its capsule, surrounded by airbags on a hole-in-one landing into that little crater.


When the global dust storm cleared, Mariner 9’s first landfall was the tip of Olympus Mons, 90,000 feet above its base. Two decades later, Mars Global Surveyors laser altimeter data was used to computer generate this image(NASA Solar System Exploration page). At left are sand dunes near the north pole photographed in 2008 (APOD) by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera. The sand dunes challenge scientists’ understanding of Mars’ geology and meterology while fueling speculation that such features are plants or trees on Mars. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL)

Next, is the face of Mars of the Cydonia region (Images of Cydonia, Mars, NSSDC). As seen in the morphed images, above, the lower resolution Viking orbiter images presented Mars-o-philes clear evidence of a lost civilization. Then, Washington handed NASA several years of scant funding for planetary science, and not until Mars Global Surveyor, was the Face of Cydonia photographed again. The Mars Orbiter Camera from the University of Arizona delivered high resolution images that dismissed the notion of a mountain-sized carving. Nonetheless, this region of Mars is truly fascinating geologically and does not disappoint those in search of past civilizations.


At left, drawings by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli coinciding with Mars’ close opposition with Earth in 1877. At right, the drawings of Percival Lowell who built the fine observatory in Flagstaff to support his interest in Mars and the search for a ninth planet. H.G. Wells published his book “War of the Worlds” in 1897. (Image Credits: Wikipedia)

And long before the face on Mars in Cydonia, there were the canals of Mars. Spotted by the Mars observer Schiaparelli, the astronomer described them as “channels” in his native language of Italian. The translation of the word turned to “Canals” in English which led the World to imagine that an advanced civilization existed on Mars. Imagine if you can for a moment, this world without Internet or TV or radio and even seldom a newspaper to read. When news arrived, people took it verbatim. Canals, civilizations – imagine how imaginations could run with this and all that actually came from it. It turns out that the canals or channels of Mars as seen with the naked eye were optical illusions and a form of Pareidolia.

So, as our imagery from Mars continues to return in ever greater detail and depth, scenes of pareidolia will fall to reason and we are left with understanding. It might seem sterile and clinical but its not. We can continue to enjoy these fascinating rocks – dinosaurs, rats, skulls, human figures – just as we enjoy a good episode of Saturday Night Live. And neither the science or the pareidolia should rob us of our ability to see the shear beauty of Mars, the fourth rock from the Sun.


Having supported Mars Phoenix software development including the final reviews of the EDL command sequence, I was keen to watch images arrive from the lander. The image was on an office wall entertaining the appearance of a not-so-tasty junk food item on Mars. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona, Illustration – T.Reyes)

In the article’s main image, what should not be included is the conglomerate rock on Mars. NASA/JPL scientists and geologists quickly recognized this as another remnant of Martian hydrologics – the flow of water and specifically, the bottom of a stream bed (NASA Rover Finds Old Streambed on Martian Surface). Truly a remarkable discovery and so similar to conglomerate rocks on Earth.








Eromanga dinosaur museum plans delayed as fossils move to new site


Plans to open a new dinosaur museum in south-west Queensland have been delayed.

The Eromanga Natural History Museum was hoping to open its $800,000 stage one for visitors in the coming months.

The Eromanga region is home to some of Australia’s largest dinosaurs, dated about 95 million years old.

Collections manager Robyn Mackenzie said it would be late this year at the earliest before the museum was ready for tourists and it was still looking for more funding.

“It is disappointing, particularly for people who have been waiting to see it,” she said.

“I actually feel very sorry for the local businesses and anyone who is waiting to use this opportunity to build a tourism business around it.

“It is difficult for us as well to answer emails and say, ‘no, I am sorry we are not open yet’.

“We are doing everything we can to get to that stage but there is still a lot ahead of us.”

Tonnes of dinosaur bones and fossils have now been moved.

The plaster jackets of ancient material had been stored in a field laboratory and in farm sheds on a remote sheep and cattle station near Eromanga but have been moved to the site of the natural history museum.

Ms Mackenzie said the fossils were safely on site.

“That was a bit of a procedure, because there was lots and lots – tonnes of material to come in,” she said.

“So cattle trucks, trailers, four-wheel drives, flat tyres – all these things happened in the process of moving the field jackets in but nothing was jeopardised and the field jackets are now safely housed on the palette racking and they look fantastic, so that was a really successful move.”

‘Fake’ fossil is actually 189 million-year-old remains of undiscovered species

ichremains1 ichremains2

For 30 years, an overlooked dinosaur fossil at the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery in Doncaster, U.K. was believed to be a plastic replica of an ichthyosaur, a prehistoric aquatic reptile. Thanks to the work of one young paleontologist, not only was the fossil found to be real, but it is the 189 million-year-old remains of a previously unknown species of the ancient reptile.

Dean Lomax, 25, came across the fossil in 2008, coming to the conclusion that it was not a synthetic replica, but the real deal. Lomax recently published his findings in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“We could see tiny hook-shaped features that were actually the hooks from the tentacles of squid,” Lomax told the BBC. “So we know what its last meal was.”

Lomax conducted his research alongside Judy Massare, a professor at the State University of New York, comparing the fossil to those of about 1,000 other ichthyosaur remains. Lomax said that there were small anatomical differences between the Doncaster specimen’s fin bones and those of the other fossils he and Massare examined.

What puzzled Lomax the most was how the fossil, which was discovered just off Dorset’s Jurassic Coast in the 1980s, was ever labeled a replica in the first place, reports the New York Daily News.

Lomax’s find has been called Ichthyosaurus Anningae – named in honor of Mary Anning, the first person to discover ichthyosaur remains around 1811.

“It is an honor to name a new species, but to name it after somebody with such an important role in helping sculpt the science of paleontology is something I’m very proud of,” Lomax told the BBC.

For some paleontologists in the field, Lomax’s discovery is just an example of just how many undiscovered ancient species still remain to be found.

“Paleontology is a unique science because you don’t need an advanced degree or specialized training to find a fossil, just patience and a keen set of eyes,” University of Edinburgh paleontologist Stephen Brusatte told the BBC.

Did Dark Matter Do in The Dinosaurs?

One researcher from NYU says that our solar system’s passing through the galactic plane brings death and destruction to Earth


Dark matter killed the dinosaurs. Maybe. At least, NYU’s Michael Rampino is proposing that it’s possible.

Here’s how it works: Over many, many millions of years, our solar system orbits the center of the galaxy. But its path is not perfect— it oscillates up and down during its long journey. Every 25 to 30 million years, it passes through the dust disk on the galactic plane. Coincidentally, every 25 to 30 million years, Earth experiences an extinction event, often via asteroid impact or volcanic changes.

Rampino’s hypothesis is that the solar system’s movement through the galactic plane hurtles objects from the outer reaches of the solar system toward Earth, and that something stirs up the volcanoes. One of his biggest proposed culprits is dark matter, the elusive, unseen material that makes up much more of the universe than ordinary matter does.

Essentially, the hypothesis holds that a series of weakly interacting particles could pass through the crust of the Earth and interact with the inner layers. By spiking core activity, it could rile up seismic events, leading to volcanic eruptions on the surface above that cause the death of a large number of species (usually the megafauna.)

So this could have been what killed the dinosaurs: Dark matter sent an asteroid on a collision course toward Earth while riling up the Earth’s core and causing the surface to erupt in volcanic fury. The skies darkened, plant life faltered, and the dinosaurs pretty much died off.

Keep that in mind the next time you read about the mystery of dark matter—it could be deadly.


How Dinosaurs could help us fight Malnutrition?

who doesn’t love dinosaurs? Well sure, there’s these guys, but rational people love dinosaurs, right? Well, Nathan Myhrvold, an inventor and Microsoft’s former CEO sure does, and he believes that dinosaurs might actually help us fight malnutrition. Here’s how:

Dinosaurs are very hard to study, especially in terms of physical development, because we don’t have that many fossils of them; well, we do have many dinosaur fossils, but compared to the timespan they ruled the Earth (160 million years), there’s not so many – not many enough to paint a clear picture. T-Rex for example is known only from 30 fossils, and he’s the most famous dinosaur.

So while we know quite a lot about them, their overall physical development is still a matter of debate; surprisingly, the same thing can be said about children, especially in the poorer areas of the world – there are still many things we don’t know about their physical development.

The problem is that measuring and quantifying child development is also a difficult task; trying to find the height of a crying or squirming child is never easy, but the real problem comes in pinpointing the cause for underdevelopment. Is the child short because he’s malnourished, because he has a genetic condition, because he hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet, or simply because he’s short? That kind of question is very important to answer, but just like with dinosaurs, the data is not satisfying; with children it’s messy, with dinosaurs it’s sparse. But Nathan now believes he has found a better way to gather and analyze child growth data.

Despite not being especially known for this, Nathan is actually not a stranger to analyzing statistical data. When researchers recently looked at the relationship between gross domestic product and childhood stunting and, to everyone’s surprise, they found no correlation—until Nathan pointed out that they were using the wrong statistical methods to analyze the information. The methods he suggested instead—based on his work on dinosaurs—showed that the relationship was actually even stronger than many people in the field had thought.

We need this type of paradigm shift; we need researchers from various fields to interact more and share their knowledge and cooperate with each other – children all around the world suffering from malnourishment need it too. Taking scientific advancements from several fields and using them to benefit mankind is something we’d all like to see.