When it comes to fossils, the headlines are usually dominated by dinosaurs. But many other amazing and important fossil discoveries every year deserve no less respect.
And 2022 is no different. Here are some very interesting discoveries.
The oldest fossilized brain
A 525-million-year-old fossilized worm found in China is likely the oldest brain specimen ever found.
Known as the Cardiodictyon series, the ancient creature belonged to the Lobopodia, a group of extinct, seafloor ancestral arthropods that were abundant during the Cambrian period (541 to 485.4 million years ago).
The specimen was first discovered in 1984, but the original researchers “didn’t even dare to look at it in the hope of finding a brain.” When the new team reanalyzed the fossil, they found not only the brain, but the entire nervous system, which had been carefully preserved.
The shape of the brain and nervous system may also resolve a longstanding debate about brain evolution in arthropods.
Titanic turtle 12 feet
Paleontologists have discovered an extinct, previously unseen species of giant sea turtle in Spain. The massive reptile likely measured about 12.3 feet (3.7 meters) in body length – more than twice the size of modern sea turtles – and is the largest turtle species ever discovered in Europe.
The new species, which the researchers named Leviathanochelys aenigmatica, was identified from fossils from the entire basin and fossilized shell fragments. It probably roamed the oceans of ancient Europe between 83.6 and 72.1 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period (145–66 million years ago).
Frog “death trap”
Between the 1930s and 1950s, over 150 fossilized frogs were discovered at a fossil site in Germany. Ironically, all the frogs appeared healthy when they died, leaving scientists to puzzle over why they were killed.
In a new study, scientists suggest that the frogs may have died during underwater sex. In some species of modern frogs that mate in the water, the males often carry the females underwater when they climb on them, which can sometimes cause the females to drown. Geological records show that the fossil site was a swamp about 45 million years ago, when frogs are thought to have become extinct, suggesting that these animals may have intermarried in the same way.
Previous explanations for the extinction of fossil frogs include extreme environmental changes such as floods, droughts, or oxygen starvation. But through a process of elimination, the researchers believe their theory is “the only plausible explanation.”
The last panda in Europe
A never-before-seen panda species that is likely the last of its kind to roam Europe has been identified after researchers rediscovered a pair of fossilized teeth that went missing in the archives of a museum in Bulgaria. The new species, named Agriarctos nikolovi, has much larger teeth than other European pandas and is therefore likely similar in size to the giant panda found in Asia.
However, the structure of its teeth indicates that these teeth were weaker than those of the giant panda, suggesting that A. nikolovi may have had a more varied diet and may have chewed soft plants rather than hard bamboo.
The researchers believe that A. nikolovi was eventually wiped out by a dramatic change in paleoclimate.
Researchers in China have discovered the remains of a 439-million-year-old shark-like fish with unusual features that “distinguish it from any known vertebrate.”
A recently discovered species, Fanjingshania renovata, was covered in spines and a “bone shield” and is indisputably the oldest vertebrate ever discovered. The team painstakingly recreated what the ancient fish might have looked like using thousands of fossilized skeletal fragments, scales and teeth.
They belong to a group of shark-like organisms known as acanthodes, which are similar to cartilage and osteophytes, a superclass of bony fish. The researchers believe that F. renovata was closely related to the unknown common ancestor of the two groups.
Salamander skull reconstruction
A newly discovered alien species of ancient salamander has received a digital makeover after researchers used x-rays to create a 3D model of the animal’s skull, which has been trapped in rock for more than 50 years.
An ancient lizard named Mamorerpeton Wakei appeared approximately 166 million years ago, during the Jurassic period (from 201.3 to 145 million years ago). Based on its bones, it was likely an aquatic species that swam around ancient ponds and lakes, devouring smaller creatures with suction power. An oddly shaped skull is stuck inside a rock discovered at a fossil site on the Isle of Skye in Scotland in the 1970s.
Paleontologists at the time considered it less important than other fossils; They did not carefully dig out any potential bones from the rock. However, advances in scanning technology mean that a new team of researchers can look inside the rock without opening it up.
oldest flowering plant
Researchers in China have discovered a 164-million-year-old fossilized plant with a perfectly preserved flower bud, making it the closest example of a flowering plant ever found.
The fossil is about 1.7 inches (4.2 cm) long and 0.8 inches (2 cm) wide. It has a stem, a leafy twig, a bulbous fruit, and a small bud about 3 square millimeters in size.
So far, fossil evidence has indicated that flowering plants did not appear until the Cretaceous, but the new discovery is firmly pushing the group back to the Jurassic. The new species was named Florigerminis jurassica.
Deformed “dragon” fossils
Researchers have suggested that a group of bizarre deformed fossils in Ireland likely warped when ancient continents collided to form the supercontinent Pangaea.
The fossils belonged to an extinct genus of small quadrupedal amphibians with dragon-like horns known as keraterpeton. They date back to about 320 million years ago and were first discovered in 1866. Until now, scientists assumed that the fossils were distorted and decomposed by acidic soils.
But a new team of scientists have reanalyzed the remains and found that tiny phosphate crystals inside the deformed bones, known as apatites, date back to about 300 million years ago, when Pangea formed. Researchers believe that apatite comes from superheated fluids from the earth’s crust that came to the surface during the collision of the continents and could deform the bones.
A never-before-seen species of ancient tortoise has been identified from a 70-million-year-old fossil discovered in the Transylvanian region of Romania.
A recently discovered species, Dortoka vremiri, is a side-necked tortoise, 16 of which are currently living.
D. vremiri is closely related to other extinct species of lateral-necked turtles that are about 57 million years old. This indicates that the new species likely survived the end-Cretaceous extinction event that wiped out about 75% of all life on Earth, including non-avian dinosaurs.
Researchers believe the turtles lived in a freshwater habitat on an ancient island that likely protected them from the worst damage caused by an asteroid impact 66 million years ago.
Excellent canned fish
A farm in England was the unlikely source of the Jurassic prize: a treasure trove of 183-million-year-old fossils, including ichthyosaurs, squid and insects, among other ancient animals. But the outstanding specimen was the stunningly preserved three-dimensional head of a fish.
The head, which belonged to an extinct genus of finned fish known as Pachycormus, contained a number of rare fossilized tissues such as scales, teeth and eye sockets.
Source: Living Science