Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Meanwhile in Nature

Last week's Nature had some interesting articles in case you missed them. First, new ancient fossils purport to be the oldest multicellular life (they're Palaeoproterozoic in case you're curious). Fossils from this "time period" are notoriously difficult to verify as fossils and not just weird rock formations. I'm no expert in geochemistry, but this paper looks unusually thorough in the author's argument that these really are fossils. I'm not even going to try putting these in a creationist context, since I am simply too unfamiliar with paleontology.

El Albani et al. 2010. Large colonial organisms with coordinated growth in oxygenated environments 2.1 Gyr ago Nature 466:100-104.

Speaking of interesting fossils, Lambert et al. report in the same issue the discovery of a giant sperm whale, which they named Leviathan melvillei. What's interesting about it is that it's got teeth in its upper jaw, unlike the modern sperm whale. That makes it a raptorial predator, meaning it could seize its prey. Without upper teeth, modern sperm whales have to use suction to capture their prey. Leviathan had a skull nine feet long with teeth about 14 inches long, making it the biggest bite of all the vertebrates. What I found most interesting was that Leviathan is also found in the Pisco Formation, where Leonard Brand and colleagues have been doing their Piscobalaena whale research. In contrast to the pristine preservation of Piscobalaena, Leviathan's remains are quite fragmentary.

Lambert et al. 2010. The giant bite of a new raptorial sperm whale from the Miocene epoch of Peru Nature 466:105-108.

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