Strange Science Turns 25

On June 20, 2021, Strange Science: The Rocky Road to Modern Paleontology and Biology turns 25! (The site launched in 1996 under the URL www.turnpike.net/∼mscott and transitioned to www.strangescience.net several years later.) Below is a selected timeline of discoveries and announcements in the fields of biology and paleontology — at least one for every year since Strange Science launched. For more detail, visit the full timeline.

1996-Alan Walker and Pat Shipman publish a description of advanced Vitamin A poisoning in a 1.7-million-year-old Homo erectus skeleton, citing it as evidence of early hominins looking after each other.

Sinosaur

1996-Chen Pei Ji unveils Sinosauropteryx prima from Liaoning, China, a feathered dinosaur.

1997-Paleontologist Karen Chin receives a 17-inch coprolite excavated in Saskatchewan. Estimated at 65 million years old and full of crunched bone, it is likely the calling card of a T. rex.

1998-Paul Hoffman, Alan Kaufman, Galen Halverson and Daniel Schrag publish a Neoproterozoic snowball Earth theory arguing that in the late Precambrian, the Earth underwent global glaciations followed by extreme greenhouse conditions.

1999-Chinese paleontologists discover an exceptionally well-preserved feathered dinosaur. Their American collaborators nickname the fossil Dave the Fuzzy Raptor.

2000-A research team led by Paul Sereno discovers Rugops primus ("first wrinkle face") in the Sahara.

2000-Sally McBearty and Alison Brooks publish "The Revolution that Wasn't" challenging the long-held notion of a "big bang" in human intellectual evolution approximately 40,000 years ago. Instead, they cite evidence for earlier appearances of modern behavior.

2001-Chris Henshilwood and collaborators discover and describe 77,000-year-old artwork: stones carved with lines and triangles, from Blombos Cave on the Southern Cape coast of Africa.

2002-Michel Brunet and collaborators publish a description of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, a hominid fossil from western central Africa. Suspected to be 6 to 7 million years old, it is possibly the oldest hominid fossil yet found.

2003-Paleontologists in Germany identify the world's oldest pantry: an underground burrow system probably dug by an extinct species of ground squirrel or hamster. Estimated at 17 million years old, the food stash is stuffed with more than 1,800 fossilized nuts.

2004-X. Wang and Z. Zhou publish a description of the first known pterosaur egg containing an exquisitely preserved embryo. Though the egg is slightly smaller than the average chicken egg, the embryo sports a 27-centimeter wingspan.

Homo floresiensis

2004-Peter Brown, Mike Morwood and collaborators announce the find of a 1-meter-tall hominid skeleton on the Indonesian island of Flores. Found near the remains of giant lizards and pygmy elephants, the new species is formally named Homo floresiensis and nicknamed the hobbit.

2005-Adrian Glover and Thomas Dahlgren announce the discovery of a new species of marine worm, discovered off the Swedish coast, that lives on whale bones on the sea floor. They name the species Osedax mucofloris, meaning (literally) "bone-eating snot flower."

2006-Paleontologist Neil Clark suggests that some Loch Ness "sightings" may have been inspired by partial glimpses of traveling circus elephants taking dips in the lake.

2007-John Kappelman and collaborators announce the find of a 500,000-year-old hominid skull from Turkey showing signs of tuberculosis. The researchers argue that condition could be induced by a Vitamin D deficiency resulting from a dark-skinned individual migrating to an area with less sunlight.

2008-Susan Evans, Marc Jones and David Krause describe a bowling-ball-sized fossil frog from Madagascar. The frog is named Beelzebufo ampinga, translated loosely as "armored devil toad" or more loosely as "fossil frog from hell."

2009-Gabriele Gentile and colleagues describe a previously overlooked pink iguana, referred to as "rosada," on the Galápagos Islands.

2009-Nicholas Conard and collaborators describe 35,000-year-old flutes, one nearly complete flute carved from bird bone, and flute fragments carved from ivory, discovered in Hohle Fels Cave in Ulm, Germany.

2010-The Smithsonian opens its new human origins hall. A week later, Johannes Krause and colleagues announce the find of a fossil finger fragment from an unknown hominid from Siberia coincident with Neanderthals and modern humans (later dubbed Denisovans).

2010-Juan Amat and colleagues announce that flamingos use makeup (admittedly makeup acquired from their own behinds) to pretty up their pink feathers during mating season.

2011-Longrich and Olson describe a newly discovered wing feature on an extinct, flightless Jamaican bird named Xenicibis: built-in nunchucks.

Frog on dime

2012-Eric Rittmeyer and coauthors describe Paedophryne amauensis, a 7.7-millimeter-long frog from New Guinea, "the smallest known vertebrate species."

2013-David Legg describes a Cambrian arthropod with scissor-like front appendages. He names the species Kootenichela deppi after Johnny Depp.

2014-Bryan Sykes and colleagues publish their DNA analysis of 37 hair samples purported to be remains of Bigfoot or Yeti, collected from Russia, the Himalaya and the United States. They announce that two samples match the DNA of fossil polar bears, and the rest match animals such as dogs, cows, horses, raccoons, and goat-like serows.

Hallucigenia

2015-Based on new specimens from Burgess Shale, Martin Smith and Jean-Bernard Caron describe the elusive head of the Cambrian animal Hallucigenia, noting that it is shaped like a spoon with "a really cheeky semicircular smile" next to multiple appendages. They also note that what had previously been mistaken for the head was at the other end of the body — "decay fluids" squeezed out of the gut during fossilization.

2016-A team led by Victoria McCoy publishes an analysis of Tullimonstrum gregarium (the Tully monster, originally found in 1955) concluding that the animal was a vertebrate related to lampreys. One of the paper authors remarks, "If you put in a box a worm, a mollusk, an arthropod and a fish, and you shake, then what you have at the end is a Tully monster."

2016-Gerrit van den Bergh and coauthors announce the find of Homo floresiensis-like fossils from a new site on the island of Flores, about 50 miles east of the 2004 "hobbit" discovery site. The new find, including a partial mandible and some teeth, is estimated at 700,000 years old, more than half a million years older than the fossils found in 2004.

Cat and pterosaur

2016-Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone and coauthors describe fossil pterosaur fragments from Hornby Island, British Columbia. The researchers state that the fossil evidence suggests the individual was nearly full grown when it died, and when it was perched, would be about as short as a house cat.

2017-Jasmina Wiemann and colleagues describe their chemical analysis of some Cretaceous eggs collected in China. Linked to the oviraptor species Heyuannia huangi, the blue-green eggs contain traces of pigments found in modern bird eggshells. Robin egg blue goes back way before robins.

Sloth hunt

2018-David Bustos and coauthors argue that, 12,000 years ago, in what is now New Mexico's White Sands National Monument, humans chased a giant sloth, and the researchers have the tracks to prove it, though the authors aren't in complete agreement about whether the activity recorded by the tracks was hunting or just harassing.

2019-Christian Püntener and coauthors argue that a flattened fossil carapace found near Jurassic dinosaur footprints in Switzerland likely belonged to a sea turtle that wandered onto a tidal flat, died, and subsequently got squashed by the foot of an unwitting sauropod.

Poppy, Sam, ichthyosaur

2019-While being walked by their owner, Jon Gopsill, two canine paleontologists find a 190-million-year-old ichthyosaur on a Somerset beach. Gopsill expresses the hope that the fossil is a new species that can be named after its discoverers, Poppy and Sam.

2020-Based on embryonic fossils found in Alberta and Montana, Gregory Funston announces that tyrannosaurs started their lives roughly the size of chihuahuas, but with longer tails.

2021-Russell D. C. Bicknell and collaborators announce that, similar to modern horseshoe crabs, some trilobite species chewed up prey with their legs.