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Archive for September 2009

Dear Darwin

Charles DarwinThe world has changed considerably since Charles Darwin was born, 200 years ago. So Jere Lipps, curator at UCMP and professor emeritus of Integrative Biology at Berkeley, wrote a letter to Darwin, filling him in on how things have changed. Jere has been to many of the places that Darwin visited on his voyage on the Beagle, and most of the places Jere visited bear almost no resemblance to what Darwin saw in 1832. Rapid population growth has left its mark. Darwin was no stranger to population growth — it is central to his theory of natural selection — but he probably could not have anticipated the world that Jere describes in his letter. Read Jere's letter to Darwin on the Palaeontologia Electronica website here.

Pterosaur landing made quite an impression

Pterosaur ReconstructionPterosaurs, flying reptiles that lived from the Late Triassic until the end of the Cretaceous Period, are known from their fossilized skeletons and their footprints, which show that at least some of the pterodactyloid pterosaurs walked on all four limbs. Now, one rare set of footprints tells us how these pterosaurs landed on the ground. Kevin Padian, curator at the UCMP and professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, just published a paper on a pterosaur landing trackway, which his co-authors discovered at a Late Jurassic site called “Pterosaur Beach” in southwestern France.

The tracks show that the pterosaur landed feet-first and then dragged its claws before walking off using all four limbs. This is the first set of tracks that show a pterosaur landing. There are still no tracks that show the takeoff.

The way that the pterosaur landed suggests quite strongly that it flapped its wings in order to stall before landing. This would fit with our understanding that pterosaurs were very strong, active fliers. To learn more, read the paper by Kevin and his colleagues in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. There are some great articles about the discovery in the following publications:

San Francisco Chronicle

The Independent

ScienceNOW

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