Top 10 Fossil Species Discovered in 2013 (Part One)

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For many of us Dinosaurs stay in the past, or at least our childhood. Often we forget about the active and progressive field of Paleontology. Here is my short list of the ten fossil species uncovered in 2013 (no particular order) I think are awesome.

1. Deinogalerix Masinii
ERA:  Late Miocene [about 10 to 7 Ma (million years ago)
Location: Italy

This guy was an insectivore/herbivore feeding on beetles, dragonflies, crickets, etc. and by our terms a giant in comparison to its present day counterparts. Technically Masinii is a hedgehog without spines meaning it likely look like a bad-ass moonrat. They lived on an island which is now the Gargano peninsula in Italy. Like many animals endemic to islands, Masinii came to a larger size through  insular gigantism, which is to say he got bigger because there was less competition from other predators on the island than elsewhere. As with the Galapogose or Madagascar he was subject to isolated evolution and likely only came to be in Gargano region. Deinogalerix (from Ancient Greek, “terrible/terror” + “shrew”) masinii was about one and a half the size of the common hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus, around 1 to 1.5 feet (30-45 cm) long and while he would probably run if he saw you, I’m sure the nimble little beast would give you start if you turned over the log he was rutting around under.

2. Lythronax Argestes
ERA: Late Cretaceous Period (between 95-70 MA)
Location: American Southwest

Lythronax, translates as “king of gore” getting him on the list automatically. The specific name, “Argestes”, refers to its geographic location in the American Southwest, specifically a geologic unit known as the Wahweap Formation, abundantly exposed in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. He was a tyrannosaurid, and I can hear your mind grinding… “Sounds like a T-Rex, but I know from Spielberg that’s from the Jurassic era.” Unfortunately Spielberg confused an entire generation of amateur dinosaur enthusiasts for years. Most of the iconic dinos in all three movies are from the Cretaceous Period.

Lythronax and T-Rex had a lot in common since T-Rex likely descended from Lythronax. Rex probably would have won a grudge match with his dear old granddad since he was nearly twice his size. Inspite of his diminutive stature in comparison to T-Rex, Lythronax possesses several unique and useful features, a short narrow snout with a wide back of the skull with forward-oriented eyes. Previously paleontologists thought this type of wide-skulled tyrannosaurid only appeared 70 million years ago, whereas Lythronax shows it had evolved at least 10 million years earlier. This skull gave him binocular vision… all the better to see you with my dear. He was 24ft long and weighed about 2.7 tons. He also gave Paleontologists a lens on how tyrannosaurids developed differently from southern Laramidia (Utah, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico), although belonging to the same major groups, differ at the species level from those on northern Laramidia (Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas and Canada). This begs the question: Was there a natural land or water barrier separating the two groups? In anycase “The Gory King” gets on the list and perhaps the title of the next black metal album I write.

3. Ocepechelon
ERA:  Late Cretaceous (about 67 MA)
Location:  Khouribga Province of Morocco

This giant prehistoric sea turtle had a 28 in. skull (that’s the size of an average person’s torso) making it one of the largest marine turtles ever found and more importantly he  had a mouth reminiscent of a swordfish’s and fed by way of suctioning, previously unknown to the world of paleontology. Many living aquatic vertebrates, including walruses, whales, and some freshwater turtles; acquire food through suction feeding – ingesting prey with large amounts of water by creating a pressure difference between an expanded oral cavity and the surrounding water. While “eating through a pippet” doesn’t generally strike fear into the heart, Ocepechelon moved about the prehistoric sea via massive flippers and consumed his prey whole and alive. Had we been around when this creature lived we undoubtedly would have ridden it like a knuckle dragging Aquaman.

4. Siats Meekerorum
ERA: Late Cretaceous (about 100 MA)
Location: Utah

While this monster muncher, named after a cannibalistic monster from the mythology of the Ute Native American people (awesome), is not a tyranosaurid [it is more closely related to carcharodontosaurian group of theropods (some sources say allosaurid)] it was a direct competitor with T-Rex. He’s important not only because he was a nine meter, four ton murder machine, he fills in a huge gap of time for large predators as well. Until we found Siats there was a massive gap in the fossil record between T-Rex and previous carcharodonstosaurians.  30-million-year gap to be approximate. He proves while T-Rex was a terror king, Rex was kept in his place (and physically smaller) far longer than anyone expected.

5. Panthera Blytheae
ERA: Late Miocene and Early Pliocene (4 to 6 MA)
Location: Tibet

Blytheae is the oldest big cat ever found. He was likely the size of a clouded leopard (about a yard long and 20 or so inches high). Now that isn’t huge, but it had to compete for food with saber toothed cats and bear dogs. BEAR DOGS! Not only is that impressive, but more importantly we know now large cats (lions, tigers, and cheetahs. Hell yeah) started their evolutionary paths up to 3 MA longer than expected. I love me a huge cat. The grandaddy of huge cats trumps our pussy.

Part Two to follow too… heh.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

-Danger

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