Using AI to probe the dawn of animal life

A joint Australian-US team has a plan to use AI to understand the oldest complex fossils on Earth – and they’ve just received a cool US$300,000 (about $410,000) grant from NASA to do it. The natural archive of Earth’s geological record contains fossils and other signals of living creatures, which helps us understand the evolutionary … Continue reading Using AI to probe the dawn of animal life

Animal? Vegetable? Now mineral.

All other photos in this story by Ian Connellan. On a hillside just west of the Flinders Ranges, geologist Mary Droser lounges casually on a slab of 550-million-year-old sandstone. The sun has just hit its golden afternoon angle; it illuminates squiggled lines in the rocks, throwing into sharp contrast some of the earliest evidence for … Continue reading Animal? Vegetable? Now mineral.

Searching for the dawn of animal life

Drone footage courtesy of Associate Prof Diego C. García-Bellido (South Australian Museum/University of Adelaide). If you climbed down through the branches of the evolutionary tree, from child to parent for countless generations, you would eventually meet the greatest-grandparent of us all. But when did that animal evolve? And would we know it when we saw … Continue reading Searching for the dawn of animal life

Huge new fossil species uncovered in Canada

Palaeontologists have dug up a brand new animal species from the Cambrian era, more than 500 million years ago. Remarkably, Titanokorys gainesi was about half a metre long – which is giant compared to most of the other, pinky-finger-sized species alive at the time. “The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling,” says Jean-Bernard … Continue reading Huge new fossil species uncovered in Canada

Animals are ‘shapeshifting’ because of climate change

Some warm-blooded animals are “shapeshifting” in response to a warming climate, growing larger legs, beaks and ears at extremely fast rates to better regulate their body temperatures. “There are these bio-geographical rules that describe trends in body shape, and one of these is called Allen’s rule,” says Sara Ryding, a bird researcher at Deakin University … Continue reading Animals are ‘shapeshifting’ because of climate change

‘Never skip leg day’ – Tetrapods evolved superfast

When did tetrapods evolve from fish? Around 390 million years ago and it happened really, really quickly, according to a team of researchers from Harvard University. Despite representing a major evolutionary shift to life above water, the details of how fish grew legs and came on land somewhere between the Middle and Late Devonian (approximately … Continue reading ‘Never skip leg day’ – Tetrapods evolved superfast

How snakes got their fangs

The mystery of the evolution of snake fangs may have been solved by scientists at Flinders University. Fangs have evolved independently time after time among many lineages of venomous snakes, but are rarely seen in other reptiles. Now, scientists have revealed that microscopic features of snake teeth – that may have evolved for an entirely … Continue reading How snakes got their fangs

Did the slowing of the Earth’s rotation create life as we know it?

Animals may have evolved because the Earth’s rotation slowed, resulting in longer days and higher oxygen, according to new research published in Nature Geosciences. The rise of oxygen was necessary for animals to evolve, but for decades researchers struggled to explain the factors that controlled this nearly two-billion-year process. Now, an international team of researchers, … Continue reading Did the slowing of the Earth’s rotation create life as we know it?

In search of the oldest animal

In the latest instalment in the quest to find our oldest animal ancestor, a Canadian geologist has unearthed a sponge-like fossil on an ancient reef – from a mind-bending 890 million years ago. If confirmed to actually originate from a sponge, this will become the oldest known physical evidence of animal life on Earth. If … Continue reading In search of the oldest animal

Ancient bird turns out to be a lizard

A bizarre, extinct animal that puzzled researchers and was previously misidentified as bird has now been classified as a new species of lizard, according to an international team of researchers. The new species, Oculudentavis naga (named in honour of the Naga people of Myanmar and India), has been described in a new paper in Current Biology. The specimen used to … Continue reading Ancient bird turns out to be a lizard

Why do humans have bigger brains than apes?

Human brains grow three times larger than those of our primate cousins – and researchers have just figured out how.  In a study led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, researchers identified a molecular “switch” that can make ape and human brain organoids grow like the other. “This provides some … Continue reading Why do humans have bigger brains than apes?

Ants with armour

Scientists have discovered another clue to the evolutionary success of leaf-cutter ants: they have biomineral armour, the first time this has been discovered in insects. The calcite biomineral has been extremely important in animal evolution, according to Cameron Currie from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, senior author of a study published in the journal Nature … Continue reading Ants with armour