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Tiktaalik Not a Missing Link

Has all the colorful artwork of the fish-a-pod been for naught?  Three European biologists claim that Neil Shubin’s famous Tiktaalik fossil, supposedly of a fish evolving into a four-footed land dweller (see 05/03/2006, 11/13/2008) which has garnered iconic status in the media (01/16/2008), is not a missing link after all.     The situation is […]

An Evolutionary Fly in the Turtle Soup

A new fossil turtle was found.  Is it a missing link?  That depends on whether you believe the popular press or the scientists.     National Geographic News and Science Daily both led off with the missing link angle, complete with an artist reconstruction of the fossil turtle found in China named Odontochelys.  “Since the […]

Turtle Vaults Over 65 Million Year Evolutionary Hurdle

The Scots are bragging about their latest missing link – a swimming turtle.  The BBC News could hardly contain the excitement over this claim to evolutionary fame: “The new species forms a missing link between ancient terrestrial turtles and their modern, aquatic descendants,” the article said.  But along with celebration, there were admissions of ignorance: […]

Polishing Darwin’s Icons

Finch beaks, peppered moths, transitional forms – the standard props for evolution have been scrutinized ad infinitum for decades.  Can anything new be said about them?  Find out in these recent articles. Peppered moths:  The peppered-moth story just about collapsed when investigators realized that the famous pictures that adorn textbooks were staged, because the moths […]

Monster Mash

Just before Halloween, it’s time for tricks and treats about monsters in the fossil record.  Here’s a list of recent stories about scary beasts: Dino Dance:  Are these potholes tracks or weathering marks?  PhysOrg and Science Daily were among news outlets reporting a new interpretation of formations by a grad student at the University of […]

Another Strange Chinese Fossil Found: Dinosaur or Bird?

Feathers and wings are among the most distinguishing characteristics of birds.  “Integumenary features” have been found on some dinosaur fossils, and true feathers have been found on some strange-looking extinct birds.  The news media often try to marry the two into a committed relationship using exaggerated artwork.  They have been found imagining feathers on fossils […]

A Turtle Missing Link: Are We Missing Something?

Everyone knows the iconic drawing of the parade of human evolution (see 09/23/2008 commentary); now, its turtle counterpart is making the rounds.  An article on New Scientist shows the march of progress from lizard to turtle.  The title says, “Fossil reveals how the turtle got its shell.”  Something is missing from the article, though: a […]

Walk the Ediacara Two-Step

Controversy is swirling around claims that footprints have been found in rock 30 million years earlier than the Cambrian explosion.  The press release on Ohio State shows a picture of parallel rows of dots that a team from Ohio State claims look like footprints of a worm-like or millipede-like animal.  The rocks are said to […]

Did This Dino Have Bird Breath?

Birds are the only vertebrates with a unique one-way, flow-through breathing system that includes hollow bones.  Their unique respiratory system is part of the set of features that allows flying with its need for rapid metabolism.  Science news outlets are clucking wildly about another putative missing link between dinosaurs and birds: “Meat-eating dinosaur from Argentina […]

End of the Neanderthal Myth?

A grim Neanderthal face stares out from the cover of the October 2008 National Geographic Magazine.  Coinciding with the cover story is a TV special, Neanderthal Code, about the Neanderthal genome.  Both are replete with artwork from the magazine’s army of illustrators charged with putting flesh on bones and bringing lost prehistories to life.  The […]

Fully Gecko 40 Million Years Earlier?

Amber, or fossilized tree sap, usually contains remnants of insect parts.  One piece, mined in the jungles of Myanmar, contained the foot of a gecko – alleged to be 100 million years old.  That’s 40 million years older than the previously claimed oldest gecko fossil.  This critter may have skittered under the feet of dinosaurs.  […]

Human Skeletons Found in Sahara

They went looking for dinosaur bones, and found human skeletons instead.  That’s what is being reported by National Geographic and the Los Angeles Times.  A barren wasteland in the Sahara, covered with sand, has turned out to be a treasure trove of evidence of human occupation.  The area appears to have been a lakeside paradise […]

How Much Is Known About Climate History?

Scientific papers on earth history can seem very erudite and confident, filled with jargon and named periods that appear carved in stone.  Every once in awhile, though, a surprise discovery raises questions about how sound their timelines and models really are.  Get a load of this opening to a review by Jacqueline Flückiger,1 an environmental […]

Dinosaur Soft Tissue: Fooled by Slime?

The claim made in 2005 that soft tissues in dinosaur bone had been discovered (see 03/24/2005) has been challenged by new research published in PLoS One.1  Maybe the pliable stuff is just slime.     Thomas Kaye from the Burke Museum of Natural History in Seattle with two colleagues were actually hoping to find more […]

Another Evolutionary Statistic Is Wrong

Marine invertebrate diversity has not increased dramatically over time, contrary to conventional wisdom.  That’s the conclusion of a team of 35 researchers who spent a decade analyzing seashell fossils from around the world.     Science Daily reported the story July 7.  A week later, on July 14, Science Daily reported a follow-up story, entitled, […]
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