Hans-Dieter Sues

An Earful of Jawbones

The middle ear of mammals contains a chain of three tiny bones (auditory ossicles), the hammer (malleus), anvil (incus), and stirrup (stapes). This chain transmits and amplifies sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. The eardrum (tympanic membrane) itself is stretched across an additional bone, the ecto­tympanic. In all other land vertebrates, a…

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Exploring the Realm of Senses in Dinosaurs and Their Relatives

In recent decades paleontologists have been able to document in ever-greater detail the evolution of birds from small predatory dinosaurs. After establishing the broader outlines of this transition, researchers are now focusing on specific adaptations. It is widely believed that birds have no or at most a poorly developed sense of smell. A new study…

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Largest Land-Dwelling “Bug” of All Time

The giant extinct invertebrate Arthropleura resembled some modern millipedes, but could grow to be more than one-and-a-half feet wide, and may sometimes have been more than six feet long. Reconstruction of the giant millipede Arthropleura from the Pennsylvanian and earliest Permian of North America and Europe. The head capsule (marked by an asterisk) is shown…

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A “stocky dragon” from Transylvania

Ancestors of dinosaurs and other animals from the Haţeg Basin in Transylvania may have arrived from what was once a continent of Asiamerica by “island hopping,” suggests a fossil discovery published today. By Hans-Dieter Sues Islands are wonderful natural laboratories for the study of evolutionary change and for that reason have long attracted the attention…

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A new look at old terror birds

By Hans-Dieter Sues About 60 million years ago, a group of extinct ground-dwelling birds of often spectacular size and with proportionately enormous heads, the Phorusrhacidae, first appeared in South America, an island continent until about three million years ago. They are informally and memorably known as “terror birds.” One species, Titanis walleri, crossed into North…

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Old World monkeys and apes diverged later than thought, new fossil shows

A remarkable new discovery redates the evolutionary split between the Old World monkeys and the ape-human lineage. By Hans-Dieter Sues The higher primates of the Old World (Catarrhini) are divided into two major lineages, one comprising the living monkeys of Africa, Asia, and Europe and their fossil relatives (Cercopithecoidea), and the other, humans, great apes,…

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Life will find a way

By Hans-Dieter Sues In the movie The Lost World (1997), the eccentric chaos theoretician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) remarked on the all-too-soon apparent instability of the “Jurassic Park” world: “Life will find a way.” It always does. Some animals and plants make a living in almost unimaginably weird ways. For an evolutionary biologist like…

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Weird wonders at the dawn of animal life

By Hans-Dieter Sues Shortly after World War II, an Australian geologist named Reginald Sprigg discovered peculiar impressions on slabs of ancient quartzite in the Ediacara (pronounced “Ee-dee-acra”) Hills of South Australia. These finds came from a level well below the rocks containing the oldest Cambrian fossils in the region. They did not fit the traditional…

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A remarkable new type of early bird from China

By Hans-Dieter Sues In recent years, discoveries of a spectacular array of Jurassic and Early Cretaceous “missing links,” mostly from China, have allowed scientists to map the evolutionary transition from small predatory dinosaurs to birds in astonishing detail. The ancient lake deposits of the Yixian Formation in the northeastern corner of China have yielded a…

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