How many new fossil species have been discovered this year? Enough to vote for favorites.
The academic journal PLOS One is currently hosting a vote for its readers on what the best vertebrate fossil finds were this year. It’s a wide category, and everything from fish to fowl to–of course–dinosaurs is represented. The only criteria are that the species must have been discovered this year and it had to have a backbone. The top ten will be announced at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting on October 27th.
PLOS One is looking for the most important academic finds, and readers are encouraged to consider the completeness of the find, the thoroughness of the description, and its importance in helping researchers understand evolutionary relationships when voting for a specimen. But given that no one at Popular Science felt qualified to cast a vote on those criteria, we’ve instead compiled a top ten list of the weirdest fossil finds of the past year.
An extinct relative of camels and giraffes, Xenokeryx amidalae (“Strange horn”) is, yes, named after Padmé Amidala from Star Wars “due to the striking resemblance that the occipital appendage of Xenokeryx bears have to one of the hairstyles that the aforementioned character shows in The Phantom Menace feature film.”
When Allkauren koi (“ancient brain” in the Tenhuelche language native to where it was unearthed) was discovered, the paleontologists who found it marveled at the well-preserved skull, offering a glimpse into pterosaur brain structure and the opportunity to admire its bizarre teeth.
Even though it looks like some sort of strange lemur, Microleo attenboroughi, as its name (“small lion”) implies, is actually a marsupial distantly related to the big cats. Its species name honors David Attenborough for his promotion of the natural history of the world.
The Murusraptor barrosaensis (“Wall thief from Sierra Barrosa”) specimen recovered by paleontologists was over 26 feet long and still a juvenile, making it much larger than the more familiar velociraptor. Even so, they discovered its hips were hollow, much like modern birds.
It looks like a living vacuum cleaner, but Atopodentatus unicus (“Eccentric tooth”) boasts a more dubious claim to fame. It’s the earliest known plant-eating marine mammal–a dicey proposition as most animals at the time were carnivores.
There have been plenty of large titanosaur discoveries–a group containing the largest dinosaurs to ever live–coming out of South America recently, but Sarmientosaurus musacchioi (“Sarmiento’s lizard” after the town near which it was discovered) is one of the rare cases where the head was preserved, revealing that it was abnormally small for a creature of its size.
The fossil remains of Albicetus oxymycterus (“White whale” in reference to the whale in Moby-Dick with which the specimen shares a deformed jaw) are on the list of discoveries for this past year, even though the Smithsonian has had them since 1925. The specimen was originally classified as an extinct species of walrus before researchers dusted them off for another look this year.
The paleontologists who discovered and named Machairoceratops cronusi really wanted to draw attention to its awkwardly curved horns. Broken down, its genus name means “bent sword horned-face” while cronusi refers to the Greek god Cronus who was often depicted carrying a scythe.
The paleontologists who discovered Morelladon beltrani (“Morella’s tooth” after the region in which it was found) suspect the tall sail on its back was used to regulate its own temperature and hopefully not large enough to knock it over in a strong wind.
Probrachylophosaurus bergei (“Before short-crested lizard”) is an early duck-billed dinosaur, and its discoverers hope it will reveal how the ornate crests developed on the heads of later species. Its long face is likely due to being nicknamed “Superduck” after it was discovered.