Researchers say the mysterious dino-bird Archaeopteryx probably sported light-and-dark patterned plumage, as illustrated here.
A transitional species that represents a link between dinosaurs and birds may have sported pale feathers that were dark at the tips, a new study suggests.
For the study, detailed in the June 13 issue of the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, researchers used an X-ray beam to identify ancient traces of pigment in fossils of Archaeopteryx, a winged creature that lived about 150 million years ago.
"This work refines our understanding of pigment patterning in perhaps the most important known fossil. Our technique shows that complex patterns were present even at the very earliest steps in the evolution of birds," study co-author Roy Wogelius, an Earth scientist at Manchester University in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.
Rare bird Archaeopteryx was a transitional species between dinosaurs and birds that lived in what is now Germany. Scientists believe birds evolved from theropods, a group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex, during the Jurassic Era, about 150 million years ago.
But recently, researchers discovered that some fossilized feathers contained traces of melanosomes, pigment-making structures. Last year, researchers analyzed some of these melanosomes and determined that Archaeopteryx sported black feathers.
However, the team sampled just a few spots on the feather, meaning the dino-bird's full plumage pattern was still unknown.
Feather is read all over To get a more complete picture, Wogelius and his colleagues used an X-ray beam from a synchrotron radiation light source to do a complete scan of a fossilized Archaeopteryx feather, as well as pigmentation found in the surrounding rock.
The team discovered trace amounts of chemicals associated with pigments, which enabled a reconstruction of the animals' feather pattern. Instead of being all black, it turns out Archaeopteryx sported light-and-dark patterned plumage.
"The fact that these compounds have been preserved in-place for 150 million years is extraordinary," study co-author Phillip Manning, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, said in a statement. "Together, these chemical traces show that the feather was light in color with areas of darker pigment along one edge and on the tip. Scans of a second fossilized Archaeopteryx, known as the Berlin counterpart, also show that the trace-metal inventory supported the same plumage pigmentation pattern."
Understanding the plumage patterns could provide insights into courtship rituals, as well as the health and eating habits of these ancient creatures.
Researchers generally don't care for the term "missing link," but in the case of the oldest articulated primate skeleton ever discovered, paleontologist Christopher Beard says the missing-link label might almost be merited.
"It certainly in some ways could qualify for that term, in the sense that it's a hybrid, or a mosaic," he told NBC News. "It shows a combination of features that we've never seen before in any living or fossil primate. ... But I still would caution against it, because it's a loaded term."
More importantly, the mortal remains of a mouse-sized creature that lived 55 million years ago in China could provide new insights into our evolutionary roots — such as the incredibly small size and frenetic eating habits of our ancient forebears.
"This skeleton will tell us a lot of stories about the origin of primates, and about our remote ancestors," said Xijun Ni of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. Ni heads the international team of scientists who reported their findings in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
ESRF / P. Tafforeau
This is a computer-generated image of the skeleton of Archicebus achilles, superimposed on a background photo of the fossil. The image was rendered from X-ray computed tomography data.
Mat Severson / NIU
The darkened bones in this illustration indicate the surviving elements of the skeleton.
The fossil creature has been dubbed Archicebus achilles. Ni and his colleagues don't claim that the species is directly linked to monkeys, apes and humans, on a branch of the family tree known as anthropoids. Instead, they put it on the next branch over, which gave rise to a different group of modern-day primates called tarsiers. Despite that placement, Archicebus' skeleton shows some anthropoid characteristics — for example, a foot that's proportioned more like a monkey's foot than a tarsier's.
The skeleton "suggests that the common ancestor of tarsiers and anthropoids was in some ways more similar than most scientists have thought," said Northwestern University's Marian Dagosto, another member of the research team.
The findings also lend weight to the idea that primates started out small: Archicebus weighed no more than an ounce and was no bigger than the smallest present-day primate, the pygmy mouse lemur.
How it lived Archicebus lived 10 million years after the demise of the dinosaurs, during an era of rapid global warming known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. The climate was hot enough for early primates to move into more northern latitudes. "It was literally a great time to be a primate," Beard said. He compared the creature's lakeside habitat in China to "a 'Planet of the Apes' before there were apes."
The shape of Archicebus' teeth suggests that it dined on insects. "Animals that are that size have to eat foods like insects that are very rich in calories in order to maintain their high metabolic rate. ... It was probably a frenetic animal," Beard said.
It wasn't the only primate out there. Researchers have found the fossilized remains of creatures from other branches of the primate family tree from around the same time or earlier, in Montana and Mississippi as well as Europe and Asia. That implies that the common ancestor of all primates lived well before Archicebus came onto the scene, and that its progeny spread out quickly.
M.A. Klingler / Carnegie Museum of Natural History
This illustration shows where Archicebus fits on the primate family tree. Click on the image for a larger version.
What sets Archicebus apart is that it's from a line so close to the one that gave rise to humans. Also, its skeleton is so complete that it serves to confirm much of what researchers had assumed on the basis of teeth and other bone fragments. "My first reaction is, 'Boy, we didn't get it all wrong,'" said Jonathan Bloch, a paleontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History who was involved in the Montana fossil find but not the latest study.
How it was found Ni came across the fossil during a field trip to China's Hubei Province a decade ago. A local farmer had found the rock in a quarry, and agreed to donate it to Ni's institute. When the rock was split open, it revealed impressions of the primate on each side of the two halves. The researchers had both rock surfaces scanned with X-rays at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France, so that the fossil could be studied non-destructively in 3-D virtual reality.
The researchers made more than 1,000 measurements of the virtual bones, and compared them with the anatomical characteristics of 157 types of mammals. That's what led them to put Archicebus near the bottom of the tarsier branch of the primates' family tree.
Ni and his colleagues say their findings add to the evidence suggesting that Asia, rather than Africa, was the evolutionary point of origin for primates. But Bloch said there's still some question about that. When it comes to early primates, "we don't have a window to that time yet," he told NBC News.
In any case, Bloch was pleased to hear that Archicebus' skeleton was scanned into virtual space. "That's exciting, because I believe it will allow the rest of us to study the specimen in the same detail that they did," he said.
A lizard the size of a German shepherd once roamed Myanmar, a new fossil analysis reveals.
The lizard, one of the largest ever known, has been dubbed Barbaturex morrisoni in honor of The Doors' singer Jim Morrison, who once wrote a song that included the lyrics, "I am the lizard king/I can do anything."
"This is a king lizard, and he was the lizard king, so it just fit," said Jason Head, a paleontologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who led the study and gave the ancient lizard its musically inspired moniker.
A lizard of unusual size In modern times, most lizards are much smaller than the mammals that share their environment. The few exceptions, such as the gigantic and toothy Komodo dragon, live in places where there are few mammals around (Komodo dragons are found on isolated Indonesian islands, for example).
B. morrisoni lived in a different world. About 36 million to 40 million years ago, the lizard outweighed the mammals that shared its mangrove forest home in what is now Myanmar. It was a gentle giant, with teeth designed for shearing vegetation, not slicing flesh.
The lizard fossils were first collected during expeditions in the 1970s, but they sat unanalyzed in a museum collection for more than 30 years until Head and his colleagues decided to study them. [6 Strange Species Discovered in Museums]
The jaw of B. morrisoni sported a series of ridges that suggest the animal had some sort of throat décor such as a skin flap. The lizard might have looked something like the bearded dragons seen in pet stores today — except instead of growing to be a foot or so long (30 centimeters), the ancient lizard would have been about 6 feet (1.8 meters) from nose to tail, Head said. It would have weighed about 68 pounds (30 kilograms).
"This was a really huge plant-eating lizard, much bigger than anything alive today," Head told LiveScience.
Komodo dragons can grow 10 feet long (3 meters), but they eat meat.
Warm world, big lizards The lizard king discovery helps clear up a mystery about why lizards don't grow as large today as they once did, Head and his colleagues found. No one knew whether large plant-eating lizards are scarce today because they simply can't compete with mammals or because they're limited by modern-day temperatures. Lizards are ectothermic, meaning they rely on environmental heat to keep their body temperature up.
Craig Chandler/University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University Communications
University of Nebraska-Lincoln paleontologist Jason Head holds a fossil and a fossil cast from the jaw of the Eocene lizard Barbaturex morrisoni.
The Eocene epoch, when B. morrisoni lived, was much warmer than today. Based on the size of the lizard and the metabolism it would need to get that large, Head and his colleagues estimate that global average temperatures were 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 degrees Celsius) higher than today.
"This was a greenhouse world," Head said. "There was no ice at the poles. There were higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," trapping heat.
In this hot environment, the lizard king outgrew the plant-eating mammals in its ecosystem as well as many of the meat eaters, Head said. That growth ability suggests the presence of mammals is not keeping lizards down today; it's likely lower global temperatures.
"When we had these very warm climates in the past, we had much different ecosystems, and reptiles could compete with mammals much more successfully," Head said. Plants may have also flourished more readily in this steamy climate, providing more food for the herbivorous lizards.
The findings, reported Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, reveal how ancient ecosystems can hold up a mirror to modern ones, Head said.
"Paleontology is really vital for understanding not only where we've come from, but where we are now, and where we're going in the future," he said.
This fossil pair, an armored stegosaurus (left) and allosaurus (right) were discovered locked in combat in a Wyoming quarry, with the allosaurus jaw clenched around one stegosaurus foot.
By Nidhi Subbaraman
The hunting allosaurus used its head like a baseball bat, knocking its prey sideways before using its teeth to tear away flesh.
Allosaurs, which were built like tyrannosaurs only smaller, lived and dined in North American, Europe and Asia in the late Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago.
"Allosaur would strike sideways like a crocodile and pull straight back," Eric Snively, a biomechanics researcher at Ohio University, told NBC News. The dinosaur bit into its prey with teeth as sharp as knife blades, and then tugged the flesh away with upward strokes — just like a falcon does today. The big difference is that Allosaurus stood 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall.
With a skull full of cavities, allosaurs were airheads. But those air pockets made for a lighter nut and a faster, more powerful head-butt. Snively and his colleagues believe it was swung effectively, like a baseball bat held by its thick end. The team explains their findings in Paleontologia Electronica.
Snively and a team at Ohio University made CT scans of the cast of an allosaur fossil called Big Al, and filled in tissue patterns using modeling software. Then they simulated the movements of the dinosaur's neck and head. "The head and neck were precision instruments," Snively said. "Despite being moderately long and nasty-looking, it was wielded like a surgeon wielding a scalpel."
The dino's larger cousin, Tyrannosaurus rex, lacked some of that grace. "T. rex was like a gorilla with an ice pick," Snively said. The larger carnivore would bite into its prey and thrash it around like a crocodile.
Tooth marks found on fossilized bones suggest that allosaurs feasted on giant long-necked dinosaurs, and there's also evidence that they also dined on stegosaurs. Some of the creatures that allosaurs ate were dead already — since most predators scavenge when they can, Snively says — but at least some of its prey would have been eaten alive.
Witmer Lab / Ohio U.
This illustration shows the skeleton and soft tissues of an allosaur's head and neck.
Nevertheless, the brontosaur serves as a totem for Switek, a prolific science writer whose work has appeared in Wired, Smithsonian, Slate, Scientific American and now most frequently on National Geographic's Phenomena blog network (as Laelaps). His earlier book, "Written in Stone," laid out the broad sweep of stories told by the fossil record — and in "My Beloved Brontosaurus," he focuses in on the what, where and when of the dinosaurs' heyday in the Mesozoic Era.
As you page through the book, you'll learn that not all dinosaurs have gone extinct. (Birds are dinosaurs.) You'll find out that the dinosaurs didn't start out as the rulers of the reptiles. (Crocodilians came first.) You'll delve into the back-and-forth debates that have occupied paleontologists for decades. (Was T. rex a hunter or a scavenger? Almost certainly both.) And you'll also get some great tips for future road trips in the American West.
Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook edition of "My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs" by author Brian Switek, read by the author.
Misconceptions and marvels Switek talked about dinosaurs and tour directions during an interview last week. Here's an edited version of the Q&A that will whet your appetite for "My Beloved Brontosaurus":
Q: So many myths about dinosaurs are exploded in your book, but is there one big misconception that you want to set people straight about?
A: There’s one misconception that has a flip side to it, and that’s that dinosaurs are totally extinct. Birds are living dinosaurs. We figured that out about 20 years ago. So whenever we talk about the age of dinosaurs millions of years ago, and how all the dinosaurs are gone, that’s demonstrably not true. At least one lineage is still with us today.
The flip side of that is that dinosaurs became dominant as soon as they appeared — that the dawn of the dinosaurs sparked an immediate rise to ascendancy. The fact is that dinosaurs started out relatively small. They were relatively marginal. They really weren’t all that important until the extinction at the end of the Triassic period, about 200 million years ago, wiped away all the weird crocodile relatives that were the dominant land animals at the time. So the dinosaurian reign was made possible by, and then winnowed back by, extinction. It’s these wonderful extinction bookends that explain not only their origin, but their ultimate destination, bringing us to the birds that live today.
Q: Another issue is the appeal of dinosaurs: For some kids, dino-mania is almost a rite of passage. I love the idea that the book jacket for “My Beloved Brontosaurus” is also a fold-out dinosaur poster — what dinosaur fan wouldn’t love that? What is it about dinosaurs that makes them so appealing, particularly to kids?
A: I think they’re appealing because they demand answers of us. People have been wondering about dinosaurs, pondering what they were and what they were like, even before there was a name for them. I don’t just mean European naturalists. I mean Native Americans, people in ancient Greece and Rome, people in ancient China and India. People in all those cultures found dinosaur bones. They knew that these were the remains of once-living animals, and they created stories of monsters and heroes, myths and legends about creatures from distant times. So we were wondering about the dinosaurs before we even knew what they were.
That continues now, because there’s nothing quite like the dinosaurs. Yes, birds are living dinosaurs – but there’s so much more. There’s nothing like Apatosaurus, or Triceratops, or Tyrannosaurus rex around right now. When you look at their bones, questions immediately come to mind: What did they look like? What did they sound like? How quickly did they move? What did their environment look like? To me, it’s impossible to hear the dinosaur story without wondering about these questions.
Answering these questions puts our own existence in context. You can say all this happened 66 million years ago – but wait a second: What was America like back then? How did it all change? That brings up some very powerful truths about extinction, evolution and survival. It’s these clues from our own distant past and our planet’s distant past that act as milestones by which we can understand our own existence.
J. Brougham / AMNH file
Experts say Tyrannosaurus rex may have had a downy layer of feathers, and probably had a coloration that was more varied than the stereotypical green.
Q: Another way that the book could be read is as a travelogue. It’s almost structured as a series of road trips that you’ve taken to explore all these fantastic fossils. And in fact, that’s what you’re doing along with your book tour. If there’s one dream trip that dinosaur fanatics should take, where would you tell them to go?
A: This is sort of a plug for my home state of Utah: There’s a byway system called the Dinosaur Diamond that runs through a good part of the state and includes the Dinosaur National Monument, where 150 million-year-old fossils are preserved in place; and the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, a place where over 46 individual allosaurs and other dinosaurs have been found. You can head up to Salt Lake City, where the Natural History Museum of Utah opened this last year. As you drive along those highways, there are various dinosaur trackways, lots of attractions, lots of dinosaur celebrities. So if anyone’s looking for a weeklong trip in the American West, that’s the best pre-planned tour there is for a dino fan.
Q: in terms of the frontiers for dinosaur research, there’s been talk about Jack Horner’s "Chickenosaurus" project, and there are always new perspectives on how dinosaurs lived and died. What do you see as the next big thing for dinosaur research?
A: Researchers are finding ways to draw out clues about how dinosaurs actually lived, through new technologies that can be applied to a variety of animals. So we’re looking at the development of better CT scanning technology. Improved CT technology is helping paleontologists get down to a degree of resolution they’ve never had before — and they’re finding clues about bone structure to a degree that was just not possible before.
What’s really exciting to me is the study of dinosaur color. It’s a field that’s moving forward by comparing fossil feathers to modern ones. Paleontologists are starting to reconstruct what colors the dinosaurs actually were. They might be able to identify the evolutionary advantages of colors, degrees of coloration, and maybe some aspects of sexual dimorphism. Everything we’re learning about dinosaur biology is filling in the picture of how they lived in a much more meaningful way.
Q: You mentioned that dinosaurs are appealing to us in part because they tell us how extinction works, and how our own distant past might have unfolded. That suggests that the study of dinosaurs can hold lessons for the 21st century. How can the dinosaur experience best be applied to our own human experience?
A: Dinosaurs shaped our evolution. People often say that the rise of mammals was made possible by the disappearance of all those non-avian dinosaurs. That's true, but it's not just that. Mammals lived alongside the dinosaurs — things like Stegosaurus and Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus. By keeping our furry little ancestors in the shadows, the dinosaurs set the stage for the later evolution of primates.
Yes, those dinosaurs disappeared. But beyond that, we know that we’re changing the global climate in drastic ways. We know we’re distributing invasive species around the world. By looking back at the fossil record, and seeing how dinosaurs reacted to drastic changes, we can begin to outline how organisms today and in the future are going to react to the same sorts of changes. Dinosaurs might hold clues about our future. The past isn't just a static monument to what once was. The fossil record also carries lessons about what will be.
A canine skull found in the Altai Mountains of Siberia is more closely related to modern domestic dogs than to wolves, a new DNA analysis reveals.
The findings could indicate that dogs were domesticated around 33,000 years ago. The point at which wolves made the transition to man's best friend is hotly contested, though dogs were well-established in human societies by about 10,000 years ago. Dogs and humans were buried together in Germany about 14,000 years ago, a strong hint of domestication, but genetic studies have pinpointed the origin of dog domestication in both China and the Middle East.
The Altai specimen, a well-preserved skull, represents one of the two oldest possible domestic dogs ever found. Another possible domestic dog fossil, dated to approximately 36,000 years ago, was found in Goyet Cave in Belgium.
Anatomical examinations of these skulls suggest they are more doglike than wolflike. To confirm, researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences and their colleagues drilled a tiny amount of bone from the Altai dog's incisor and jaw, and analyzed its DNA. They conducted all of the work in an isolated lab and used extra precautions to prevent contamination, as ancient DNA is extremely fragile.
The researchers then compared the genetic sequences from the Altai specimen with sequences from 72 modern dogs of 70 different breeds, 30 wolves, four coyotes and 35 prehistoric canid species from the Americas. [10 Breeds: What Your Dog Says About You]
They found that the Altai canid is more closely related to modern domestic dogs than to modern wolves, as its skull shape had previously suggested. That means that the Altai canid was an ancient dog, not an ancient wolf — though it had likely diverged from the wolf line relatively recently, the researchers report Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
If the Altai dog was really domesticated, it would push back the origin of today's house pets more than 15,000 years and move the earliest domestication out of the Middle East or East Asia, as previous studies have suggested. However, the analysis was limited to only a portion of the genome, the researchers wrote.
"Additional discoveries of ancient doglike remains are essential for further narrowing the time and region of origin for the domestic dog," they said.
A fossil skeleton found in central Nevada's desert years ago has been identified as belonging to a 30-foot-long sea monster that ruled beneath the waves 244 million years ago.
The ferociousness of the creature's teeth suggests that it was at the top of the food chain at the time — and that the time frame for its rise to the top was incredibly quick. The ichthyosaur has been dubbed Thalattoarchon saurophagis (from the Greek for "lizard-eating sovereign of the sea"), and it must have entered its reign just a few million years after one of Earths' biggest die-offs, known as the Permian-Triassic extinction event.
The researchers said Thalattoarchon was apparently the first top predator to emerge in the marine environment after the Permian-Triassic extinction, which is thought to have killed off more than 90 percent of Earth's species. The cause of the extinction is the subject of a long-running debate, with catastrophic climate change among the prime suspects.
"Ecosystems rebuild from the bottom up, and its appearance in the fossil record indicates the full recovery was reached only 8 million years after the P-T mass extinction," lead author Nadia Fröbisch, a paleontologist at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Evolution and Biodiversity's Museum für Naturkunde in Germany, said in an email. "The macropredator niche has been occupied ever since Thalattoarchon appeared — with different players, but the ecosystem structure was essentially modern."
John Weinstein / Field Museum
A jaw full of 5-inch, knife-edged teeth let this ichthyosaur tear into prey.
Nicole Klein / University of Bonn
The shape of Thalattoarchon's tooth crown with its two cutting edges, as seen here in the field, indicates that the ichthyosaur was a meat eater, not a fish eater.
The empire that this sea monster ruled was far different from present-day Nevada.
"At the time, all land masses were united in the supercontinent Pangea," Fröbisch explained. "Nevada was located in the Panthalassian Ocean, to the west of the supercontinent. The climate was very warm at the time, especially in the equatorial region, though this was slightly farther north. However, the climate would still be considered tropical. The Rockies started to rise in the late Cretaceous [66 million to 100 million years ago] and ended in the Eocene, about 35 million years ago."
The Thalattoarchon fossil was discovered in Nevada's Augusta Mountains in 1997 during a field expedition led by Rieppel and Martin Sander of the University of Bonn's Steinmann Institute — and since then, paleontologists have excavated a partial skeleton, including most of the skull, parts of the pelvic girdle and pieces from the hind fins.
The 5-inch-long (12-centimeter-long) teeth served as the tip-off for the creature's top-predator status. "The cutting edges were previously unknown for ichthyosaurs of that age," Fröbisch said. "The teeth are very large and sit in very robust and strong jaws, which overall indicate high biting force. This ichthyosaur was able to seize and cut prey similar in size to its own."
In a Field Museum news release, Rieppel said the discovery was "a good example of how we study the past in order to illuminate the future." So does this research suggest that a new top predator might emerge relatively quickly after the next mass extinction?
"Hmm — not really," Rieppel replied in an email. "History is inherently contingent — i.e., not predictive — and, as they say, it does not need to repeat itself."
But by studying how species recovered after past extinctions, "one hopes that certain patterns or generalities would become apparent that would reveal rules about the way a biota reconstitutes itself after a catastrophic impact," he said.
In today's news release, Fröbisch also emphasized the lessons that the distant past can teach us about the present and future.
"Every day, we learn more about the biodiversity of our planet, including living and fossil species and their ecosystems," she said. "The new find characterizes the establishment of a new and more advanced level of ecosystem structure. Findings like Thalattoarchon help us to understand the dynamics of our evolving planet, and ultimately the impact humans have on today's environment."
The mammal-like creature known as Pampophoneus biccai takes on a plant-eating Paleozoic creature called a pareiasaur in this artist's conception.
By Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News
Paleontologists have found the skull of a weird but deadly mammal-like monster that terrorized Brazil long before dinosaurs ruled the earth.
The specimen is from the Permian period, more than 260 million years ago. The complete skull measures about 13 inches (35 centimeters) in length and was discovered in 2008 during a scientific excavation on a farm in the pampas region of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. The skull came from a creature that was part of a class of long-extinct vertebrates called dinocephalian therapsids, which predated the dinosaurs and were distantly related to mammals.
In an interview with Discovery News, lead researcher Juan Carlos Cisneros of Brazil's Federal University of Piaui said the critter was a cross between "a tiger and a Komodo dragon, if you can imagine that." A report about the fossil was published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The creature has been dubbed Pampaphoneus biccai: The Latin-derived genus name roughly translates as "pampas killer," and the species name pays tribute to Jose Bicca, the landlord of the farm where the skull was found. The fossil site was identified through an analysis of satellite imagery from Google Earth.
Juan Carlos Cisneros
A photo and a drawing show the skull discovered on a Brazilian farm.
Cisneros told me in an emailed statement that the find is important for two reasons: First, Pampaphoneus is the first Paleozoic terrestrial carnivore discovered in South America. Combining this find with earlier discoveries of plant-eaters from the same time frame will help paleontologists "picture a more complete ecosystem during the Permian period," the statement said.
Second, the skull suggests that this South American species was a close relative to similar dinocephalians previously found in Russia and South Africa. That supports the idea that therapsids were able to disperse easily from one part of the Pangaea supercontinent to the other, during an age when most of Earth's modern-day land masses were linked together.