When penguins ruled after dinosaurs died

What waddled on land but swam supremely in subtropical seas more than 60 million years ago, after the dinosaurs were wiped out on sea and land?

Animal embryos evolved before animals

Animals evolved from single-celled ancestors, before diversifying into 30 or 40 distinct anatomical designs. When and how animal ancestors made the transition from single-celled microbes to complex multicellular organisms ...

Extinction of ice age giants likely drove surviving animals apart

As the world grapples with an extinction crisis, our large mammals are among the most endangered. These threatened species—rhinos, pandas, tigers, polar bears and the like—greatly influence their ecosystems. So what will ...

What is a 'mass extinction' and are we in one now?

For more than 3.5 billion years, living organisms have thrived, multiplied and diversified to occupy every ecosystem on Earth. The flip side to this explosion of new species is that species extinctions have also always been ...

New Australian pterosaur may have survived the longest

The discovery of a previously unknown species of pterosaur, which may have persisted as late as the Turonian period (90-93 million years ago), is reported in Scientific Reports this week. The fossil, which includes parts ...

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Fossils (from Latin fossus, literally "having been dug up") are the preserved remains or traces of animals, plants, and other organisms from the remote past. The totality of fossils, both discovered and undiscovered, and their placement in fossiliferous (fossil-containing) rock formations and sedimentary layers (strata) is known as the fossil record. The study of fossils across geological time, how they were formed, and the evolutionary relationships between taxa (phylogeny) are some of the most important functions of the science of paleontology. Such a preserved specimen is called a "fossil" if it is older than some minimum age, most often the arbitrary date of 10,000 years ago. Hence, fossils range in age from the youngest at the start of the Holocene Epoch to the oldest from the Archaean Eon several billion years old. The observations that certain fossils were associated with certain rock strata led early geologists to recognize a geological timescale in the 19th century. The development of radiometric dating techniques in the early 20th century allowed geologists to determine the numerical or "absolute" age of the various strata and thereby the included fossils.

Like extant organisms, fossils vary in size from microscopic, such as single bacterial cells only one micrometer in diameter, to gigantic, such as dinosaurs and trees many meters long and weighing many tons. A fossil normally preserves only a portion of the deceased organism, usually that portion that was partially mineralized during life, such as the bones and teeth of vertebrates, or the chitinous exoskeletons of invertebrates. Preservation of soft tissues is rare in the fossil record. Fossils may also consist of the marks left behind by the organism while it was alive, such as the footprint or feces (coprolites) of a reptile. These types of fossil are called trace fossils (or ichnofossils), as opposed to body fossils. Finally, past life leaves some markers that cannot be seen but can be detected in the form of biochemical signals; these are known as chemofossils or biomarkers.

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