Gregg Gunnell, fossil hunter, dies at 63. Duke Today, September 25, 2017. Gregg Gunnell, 63, a Duke University paleontologist who oversaw a collection of more than 30,000 fossils from around the world, died of lymphoma Wednesday, September 20 at Duke University Hospital in Durham. Gunnell spent more than 40 years studying fossils hidden in layers of rock for clues to what kinds of animals lived there, what they looked like and how they changed over time.
Why your ancestors would have aced the long jump. Duke Today, Sept. 11, 2017. A 52-million-year-old ankle fossil suggests our prehuman ancestors were high-flying acrobats. For years, scientists thought the ancestors of today’s humans, monkeys, lemurs and apes were relatively slow and deliberate animals, using their grasping hands and feet to creep along small twigs and branches. But a new study suggests the first primates were masters at leaping through the trees. Picked up by New Scientist, the Daily Mail, Futurity and NSF 360.
Fossil expert and primate conservationist Elwyn Simons dies at 85. Duke Today, March 9, 2016. Duke scientist-explorer Elwyn Simons, who studied living and extinct primates for more than 50 years, died in his sleep on Sunday, March 6, in Peoria, Arizona. He was 85. Widely regarded as the founder of modern primate paleontology, Simons was an expert on the history of primates leading up to humans. Simons’ fossil-hunting expeditions and primate conservation work took him all over the globe, from the badlands of Wyoming to the Egyptian desert and the rainforests of Madagascar. From 1961 to 2012, he led more than 90 field expeditions and wrote or coauthored more than 300 books and research articles. Picked up by The New York Times.
Free site lets you download and 3-D print your own fossils. Duke Today, Feb. 17, 2016. Duke assistant professor Doug Boyer’s office is more than 8,000 miles away from the vault at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the fossil remains of a newly discovered human ancestor, Homo naledi, rest under lock and key. But with a few clicks of his computer’s mouse, he can have models of any one of hundreds of Homo naledi bone fragments delivered to his desk in a matter of minutes, thanks to a free online database of digital fossil scans that anyone can download and print in 3-D. Picked up by Discovery, the Raleigh News & Observer, Science News, CBS news and CBS North Carolina.
Old World monkey had tiny, complex brain. Duke Today, July 3, 2015. The brain hidden inside the oldest known Old World monkey skull has been visualized for the first time. The ancient monkey, known as Victoriapithecus, first made headlines in 1997 when its 15 million-year-old skull was discovered on an island in Kenya’s Lake Victoria. Now, X-ray imaging reveals that the creature’s brain was tiny but surprisingly wrinkled and complex. The findings suggest that brain complexity can evolve before brain size in the primate family tree. Picked up by NBC, Science News, the History Channel and the Huffington Post.
Ancient swamp creature had lips like Mike Jagger. Duke Today, September 10, 2014. A swamp-dwelling, plant-munching creature that lived 19 million years ago in Africa has been named after Rolling Stones lead singer Sir Mick Jagger, because of its big, sensitive lips and snout. The name of the animal, Jaggermeryx naida, translates to ‘Jagger’s water nymph.’ Picked up by Science Magazine, NPR, NBC news, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, the Guardian, the News & Observer, the Independent, the Daily Mail, NBC news, the Duke Chronicle, Fox News, Huffington Post, the Telegraph, the Washington Post and The New York Times.
Bird fossil sheds light on how swift and hummingbird flight came to be. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. May 1, 2013. A tiny bird fossil discovered in Wyoming offers clues to the precursors of swift and hummingbird wings. The fossil is unusual in having exceptionally well-preserved feathers, which allowed the researchers to reconstruct the size and shape of the bird’s wings in ways not possible with bones alone. Picked up by Science Magazine, Science News and Discover.
Study proposes alternative way to explain life’s complexity. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. April 12, 2013. Evolution skeptics argue that some biological structures, like the brain or the eye, are simply too complex for natural selection to explain. Biologists have proposed various ways that so-called ‘irreducibly complex’ structures could emerge incrementally over time, bit by bit. But a new study proposes an alternative route.
Uncovering Africa’s oldest known penguins. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. March 26, 2013. Africa isn’t the kind of place you might expect to find penguins. But one species lives along Africa’s southern coast today, and newly found fossils confirm that as many as four penguin species coexisted on the continent in the past. Exactly why African penguin diversity plummeted to the one species that lives there today is still a mystery, but changing sea levels may be to blame. The fossil findings represent the oldest evidence of these iconic tuxedo-clad seabirds in Africa, predating previously described fossils by 5 to 7 million years. Picked up by Discovery, NBC news, Huffington Post, the UK Daily Mail and Scientific American.
Pinpointing extinction risks for ocean animals. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, October 23, 2012. What makes some ocean animals more prone to extinction? An analysis of roughly 500 million years of fossil data for marine invertebrates reveals that ocean animals with small geographic ranges have been consistently hard hit — even when populations are large, the authors report. Picked up by LiveScience.
Why do some island animals become dwarfs and others become giants? National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, March 23, 2012. A new study of huge hamsters and pint-sized porcupines puts an old idea to the test. Also featured in Futurity.
Ice Age coyotes were supersized compared to coyotes today, fossil study reveals. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, February 27, 2012. Coyotes today are pint-sized compared to their Ice Age counterparts, finds a new fossil study. Between 11,500 and 10,000 years ago — a mere blink of an eye in geologic terms — coyotes shrunk to their present size. The sudden shrinkage was most likely a response to dwindling food supply and changing interactions with competitors, rather than warming climate, researchers say. Picked up by the Huffington Post, Wired, MSNBC, and Science Magazine.
Prehistoric predators with supersized teeth had beefier arm bones. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, January 4, 2012. The toothiest prehistoric predators also had beefier arm bones, finds a new fossil study. Picked up by the History Channel, Discover Magazine, MSNBC, Science Magazine, the Huffington Post, Nature and the UK’s Daily Mail.
Ancient crickets hint at the origins of insect hearing. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, January 3, 2012. How did insects get their hearing? A new study of 50 million year-old cricket and katydid fossils — sporting some of the best preserved fossil insect ears described to date— help trace the evolution of the insect ear. Picked up by MSNBC, Futurity and Scientific American.
New fossil tells how piranhas got their teeth. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, June 25, 2009. How did piranhas — the legendary freshwater fish with the razor bite — get their telltale teeth? An international team of researchers uncover a jawbone that sheds some light on the bite. Picked up by Science Magazine, National Geographic News, Fox News, US News and World Report, MSNBC, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.