Titanes Ammonite

Not only were they huge, but it appears that this Titanes Ammonite pictured below was a free swimming predator, as it’s fossils are so often found in layers of marine sedimentary rock that shows no evidence of bottom life, that is, they were laid in deep water. So like squid, which are also mollusks, they would have roamed the sea looking for eats. They would have also been fast moving, as the Jurassic seas were full of predators, and indeed many fossil ammonites have puncture marks that perfectly match the teeth of the jaw from mosasaurs, which were sort of like reptilian orcas. A mosasaur would probably have eaten you, or at least taken a chomp at your dangling supermodel legs (it’s always supermodel looking legs that get chomped in movies, never some dumpy looking dude’s), but hell, a mondo gnarly mega giant ammonite like the fucker pictured here might have, too. Eats are eats. It was fast and rugged and mean in those Jurrasic oceans, so these ammonites were thickly shelled. There’d been an arms race between predator and prey since invertebrate predators were invented back in the very late pre-Cambrian (maybe 550 million years back) but all we got now are the fossilized shells, none of the soft bodied creature that lived in and protected by the shell (sort of like, in principal anyway, how are soft brains live inside and protected by our skull), the predators developing stronger and stronger jaws as prey developed stronger and stronger shells. These huge coiled ammonite shells must have been uniquely strong, dealing with a variety of giant swimming reptiles and sharks so vast and terrifying the SciFi channel is still making really cheesy scary megalodon movies today.

Alas, all we got now are the fossilized shells, none of the soft bodied creature that lived in and protected by the shell (sort of like, in principal anyway, how are soft brains live inside and protected by our skull), and no ammonites survive today to tell us how their innards worked. One asteroid and poof, they’re gone, though some species did cling on to existence for an extra 200,000 years. That sounds like quite a stretch, after all recorded human history only goes back 5,000 years, but 200K is scarcely a blip in deep time, almost nothing at all, just long enough for the last of the ammonite species to fail to successfully reproduce in sufficient numbers to survive the new tough times. Sad, really. They developed sometime in the Devonian over 400,000,000 years ago, thrived through all earth’s ups and downs for over three hundred and thirty five million years to have an asteroid just ruin everything. Sometimes shit happens and fucks up everything, to quote, um, well to quote nobody, as no one would be stupid enough to think up that line when trying to sum up such a vast and profound tragedy, so of course it’s the first thing I think of. No wonder I never finished college. But I am rendered wordless, at least pretty and poetic words, trying to describe the empty feeling I get looking at this glorious empty shell of an Ammonite fossil. If only we knew more about them, what they ate, how they hunted, how they mated, what they looked like, even how they propelled themselves. It’s like finding the magnificent binding of a book with all the pages torn out, it’s beautiful but there’s no story inside. Imagine what it had contained, in life, all those hundreds of millions of years of evolution, all the stories, and not even a hint of what they contained. Their story now begins when it’s over with just the saddest postscript imaginable. PS: the earth runs into an asteroid, and the last ammonite fossils we can find are in beds of sediments laid down 200,000 years after the end of the Jurrasic world.

And dig that clever movie tie in. I‘m hoping for a check from Universal any day now.

From the Geology Wonders Facebook page (6/19/19) “Wow. Look at the size of this titan of an Titanites Ammonite! This was found by Andy Randell and team during a visit to southeastern British Columbia.
Photo: Denver Coliseum Mineral, Fossil, Gem & Jewelry Show”

La Brea tar pits

We’re so used to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles we don’t even realize just how incredibly cool and bizarre it is that such a place is right there on the Miracle Mile. One of my favorite places and museums. Saw a pigeon trapped in one of the little pools of tar there once. A thin veneer of water laid on top of the tar, and the pigeon had just walked on in as a pigeon will. It sat there, doomed, illustrating how the thing worked. That was at least twenty years ago, and it’s bones were long ago sucked down into the tar and eventually, in an instant of geologic time, will fossilize into a beautifully preserved skeleton of a pigeon. Still, I felt really sorry for the little thing.

Ciconia maltha from the La Brea Pits. Not a pigeon.

Allosaurus

Any dinosaur obsessed school kid knew that in One Million Years B.C. Raquel Welch was chased by an allosaurus and not a tyrannosaurus, though by the time that kid was in high school the genus of the dinosaur mattered less than the topography the dinosaur was chasing. But allosauruses had bigger arms than those silly things dangling from the upper torso of Spielberg’s (and artist/designer Crash McCreery’s) tyrannosaurus, not that you’d notice if you were Jeff Goldblum. But had it truly been a Jurassic Park, it would’ve been an allosaurus ignoring Goldblum’s jokes. The allosaurus was the iconic apex predator of the Jurassic Age, the eater of the brontosaurus, going back easily 150 million years, whereas T Rex was the apex predator of the Cretaceous period, a mere 70 or 80 million years ago. As I watched the movie that occurred to me, but for once I shut up.

Anyway they found a new allosaurus. Groovy.

A Late Jurassic allosaurus (named Gwangi) beautifully rendered by Ray Harryhausen for The Valley of Gwangi (1969) battling an unnamed Cretaceous styracosaurus. Again with the paleontological discongruities. Also, cowboys.

Meterorite

A thirty plus ton meteorite dug up in Argentina. A larger one had been dug up nearby some time ago. The area is spattered with numerous other craters. Here’s the scary part—apparently both the two ginormous meteorites and the other craters were from the same meteor shower that freaked the locals out of their ever loving minds between 4200 and 4700 years ago, or in the parlance of the press, about the time of the Great Pyramids. (Everything is either older than or the same age as the Pyramids in the news.) Allow yourself a moment to consider the modern possibilities of such a meteor shower. Yes, one could hit Trump. But it could hit the San Fernando Valley too.

Just for comparison, they dug up an 66 ton meteorite in Namibia a century ago that smacked into the Kalahari 80,000 years ago. Again, a mind fuck for the locals, whoever they were then. One wonders, if it were seen, how they conceptualized it. How they discussed it. If they painted it on cave walls in ochre, as they seemed to have been doing not far off not long afterward. If they were even there at all.

But I digress.

The Namibian meteorite (since called the Hoba) is a rough square about nine by nine feet and three feet high. Halve that mass for each of the two Argentine. On the other hand, the megameterorite—an asteroid, perhaps a comet—that whomped into the Gulf of Mexico and zapped all the dinosaurs but birds into the cornfield was from seven to fifty miles in diameter. At that high end you could have wrapped the entire San Fernando Valley around it, with a little squeezing here and stretching there, like some weird Arthur C. Clarke novel, just as a thought experiment. Or you could forget you read that sentence. You could put that Hoba meteorite in my living room and still have room for the Christmas tree.

Considering the perfect math of objects orbiting the sun, some of the millions of asteroids in the solar system, some as big or bigger as the dinosaur whomper, are bound to touch, smack or whomp the earth again, many, many times.

I prefer not to think about it.

Gamera

Saw the 1995 Gamera reboot last night. Awesome. Scientific, intellectual, and they flatten Tokyo. He’s—wait, is he a he? There’s no huge swinging giant monster balls, but he does have a violent streak for a turtle—anyway, he fights this neo-Rodan whose name escapes me and they totally fuck up everything scientifically and intellectually. All that plus the usual paleontologists, doomed fishermen, panicky city folk and suicidal reporters. Lots of tanks and jets and rocket launchers, too, plus the occasional pathos. And if some of Gamera’s behavioral traits–bipedalism, fire breathing, spinning, flying, even the touching inter-species empathy–test the credulity of testudine phylogeny, it makes for some groovy giant monster action sequences. So while not exactly David Attenborough, it certainly stands as the Citizen Kane of giant turtle movies.

Coprolite

Today is National Poop Day, apparently, and here is my fossilized poop collection. It didn’t used to be a collection but a stoner asked me what it was and I said it’s a coprolite, and he said what’s that and I said fossilized feces and he dropped it. He apologized profusely but I said don’t worry it only cost me a buck and he laughed and sniffed his fingers and went to wash his hands.

I was told by the fossil poop dealer that it was probably from an amphibian and is probably from the Permian. Which means, if true, that whatever species laid down this shit probably went extinct with 90% of all species on Earth at the end of the Permian a little over a quarter billion years ago. Sad.

Losing it in the tabloids

Brick Wahl losing it in the comments section of a British tabloid:

There is almost nothing correct in this article. Aegirocassis benmoulae was not a lobster. It was not even kind of like a lobster. Not even sorta kinda vaguely like a lobster. Indeed, there is virtually no connection whatsoever between Aegirocassis benmoulae and lobsters. Had you printed the actual artist’s rendering of Aegirocassis benmoulae your readers would have noticed, after tearing themselves away from Kim Kardashian’s ass, that the lobster comparison was a bit of a stretch. Indeed we human beings are more closely related to frogs, flamingos and lungfish than Aegirocassis benmoulae was to a lobster. Which makes me a six and half foot lungfish and you a hopefully soon to be extinct failure of a science editor.

Somebody had to say it, if David Attenborough won’t.

Alas, this comment was deleted by The Express. I knew I shouldn’t have said Kim Kardashian’s ass. Arse maybe.

express_logo 

Lobsters the size of HUMANS swam the seas 480 million years ago, new fossil reveals
A Caribbean lobster

A GIGANTIC lobster bigger than a human once populated the oceans, a new fossil find has revealed.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/563304/Lobsters-size-HUMANS-swam-seas-480million-years-ago

Quirks of fate

It seems that 70,000 years ago the global population of homo sapiens was reduced to less than 26,000. Apparently they teased out that bit of info through some genetic analysis. As humans were by then in Africa and across much of Eurasia, that means we were very sparse on the ground. All seven billion of us spring from remarkably small numbers of people. Indeed, it’s been suggested that as few as seventy individuals came across the Bering Strait land bridge to eventually people the entire western hemisphere. We’ve had more than seventy people in our pad at parties. I never thought of them as a genome before. Well, I did once and got my face slapped. But I digress.

A million or so years ago our antecessor species Homo erectus seems in the genetic analyses (if I knew how they do this I’d tell you) to have been reduced to less than a thousand individuals….and remained like that on the razor’s edge of extinction for maybe a hundred thousand years. Everything we are was dependent on a population the size of a very small town or a medium sized high school or the fans of failing rock band in a big, mostly empty concert hall. Somewhere in that tiny population was some of us, genetically. Whatever genetic factors helped members of that population survive a particularly brutal hundred thousand years of Darwinian natural selection (as other related human species went extinct) lies deep in our own genome. And when 70,000 years ago something happened globally that reduced Homo sapiens to less than 25,000 individuals, we survived while the last of Homo erectus died out, unable to survive what it had once survived for a hundred thousand years. No one ever said natural selection was fair. It’s anything but. The fossil record is full of species of humans and proto-humans no longer here. Fleshed out by talented artists, they gaze at us with all the pathos of a Rembrandt. You can sense their intelligence and emotions. Then you look at the skulls again, bare and ancient and hopelessly extinct. There but for quirks of fate, is us.

Hominin hominin hominin

Many years ago I was reading Donald Johanson’s Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind and watching The Honeymooners at the same time. Bad idea. This one note bit popped into my head and I have not been able to shake it since. Three decades later I asked myself what would Richard Dawkins do? So I meme the thing.

Why so excited Ralphie boy, what did you find there, the jaw of a baboon?
N-N-N-Norton, I found a homina homina homina.
Calm down, Ralph, it looks like the jaw of a Pliocene baboon to me.
Homina homina homina.
But let me take a closer look.
Homina homina homina.
You’re right, Ralph, it’s not a baboon, not with these incisors.
Homina homina homina.
Good lord, Ralph, you’ve found a homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Hi Ed, Hi Ralph, Alice home? Just what are you two so excited about?
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Let me see that jaw. Why it’s, it’s a homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Hi Ralph, Hi Ed, Hi Trixie, what are you three babbling about?
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Let me see then. Why it’s a hominin!
Hominin hominin hominin.
Hominin hominin hominin.
Hominin hominin hominin.
I’ll call it Lucy.
Ralph!
I’ll call it Alice then.

Dinosaurs

But dinosaurs didn’t die out. The finch peeping incessantly outside the window right now is a real live annoying little fuck of a dinosaur and is not extinct. Nor was the chicken you ate last night. Well, that particular chicken is extinct, but not the entirety of chickenness. However, non-avian dinosaurs died out–duck billed whatevers and spiky triceratops and clunky ankylosaurs and vast and bulbous titanosaurs. They all went poof instantly or not long after the meteor hit and volcanos belched. As did soaring pterosaurs and swimming mosasaurs and paddling plesiosaurs. Even polyglyphanodonts went extinct at the end of the cretaceous. True, they were only lizards, maybe three feet long and not the least bit scary, but I only posted this so I could say polyglyphanodont. Polyglyphanodont. Polyglyphanodont. Polyglyphanodont. Too much fun.