Blogs & Videos: Fossils

Strange sea-dwelling reptile fossil hints at rapid evolution after mass extinction

Two hundred and fifty million years ago, life on earth was in a tail-spin—climate change, volcanic eruptions, and rising sea levels contributed to a mass extinction that makes the death of the dinosaurs look like child’s play. Marine life got hit hardest—96% of all marine species went extinct. For a long time, scientists believed that the early marine reptiles that came about after the mass extinction evolved slowly, but the recent discovery of a strange new fossil brings that view into question.

“Hammerhead” creature was world’s first plant-eating marine reptile

In 2014, scientists discovered a bizarre fossil—a crocodile-sized sea-dwelling reptile that lived 242 million years ago in what today is southern China. Its head was poorly preserved, but it seemed to have a flamingo-like beak. But in a paper published today in Science Advances, paleontologists reveal what was really going on—that “beak” is actually part of a hammerhead-shaped jaw apparatus, which it used to feed on plants on the ocean floor. It’s the earliest known example of an herbivorous marine reptile.

Tully monster mystery SOLVED!

How is it that a Museum can have 1,200+ fossils of a particular species in its collection since the 1960's... and not even know what it is? For decades, it was thought the 'Tully monster' -- a bizarre animal that lived 307 million years ago -- was an invertebrate, like a kind of worm. But in March, Field Museum scientists helped finally crack the mystery of the monster, to reveal it's actually related to lamprey fish. BOOM.

How to Beat Extinction: Live Fast, Die Young

When you don’t know if you have much of a future, you focus more on the now—there’s no point in biding your time and waiting when you could die any day. It seems that evolution follows this rule too—a recent study published by Field Museum scientists in Scientific Reports reveals that for Lystrosaurus (pygmy hippo-sized mammal relatives that lived with the dinosaurs), when the going got tough, the tough got busy.

Seeing Double: How The Field Museum Makes Fossil Casts

Lumbering bear-like creatures that browsed Paleocene forests called pantodonts are some of the many fossil mammals immortalized at The Field Museum. They’re some of the first large mammals after the extinction of dinosaurs, and despite their intimidating canine teeth, they were herbivores. While these animals were likely a dominant species in their time, today they are represented by a limited number of excavated fossil specimens.

The Origin of Mammal Movement: Harvard Adventures, Part I

Paleontologists today look at more than just fossil evidence to learn about organisms that lived millions of years ago. In this case, we're seeking to answer the question: how, and when, did mammals evolve their specialized movements? Turns out, the next step in this process involves dissecting a giant weasel.  This is part one in a three-part series supported in part by The Field Museum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and The National Science Foundation (!!!!). 

“Fire Frogs” and Eel-like Amphibians: Meet The Field’s Newest Fossil Discoveries

Two hundred and seventy-eight million years ago, the world was a different place. Not only were the landmasses merged into the supercontinent of Pangaea, but the land was home to ancient animals unlike anything alive today. But until now, very little information was available about what animals were present in the southern tropics.

“Scarface”: The Dachshund-sized Pre-mammal with a (Possibly) Venomous Bite

Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, huge volcanic eruptions triggered a mass extinction bigger than the one that ended the dinosaurs, changing life on earth forever. Field Museum scientist Ken Angielczyk and his colleagues are now studying this event, the Permian-Triassic Extinction, to learn about how communities bounce back after falling apart. And one newly discovered ancient mammal relative is helping them get closer to their answers—meet “Scarface.”

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