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Daily Archives: February 15, 2008

Two new flesh-eating dinosaurs discovered in Niger

Two strange new flesh-eating dinosaurs which hunted the rich forests of Africa some 110 million years ago have been unearthed in Niger, researchers said Wednesday.
Both ran quickly on powerful hind legs with the aid of a long tail and competed for prey with a third creature, which was previously discovered and which hunted both in and out of the water.
But the three massive predators likely divided up the rich spoils based upon how their body structures impacted their hunting capacities, said lead author Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago.
The heavy-browed 40-foot long Eocarcharia dinops, or "fierce-eyed dawn shark," was likely the main predator as its powerful claws and teeth could tear limbs and flesh off its prey.
Its brow was swollen into a massive band of bone, giving it a menacing glare, that may have been used as a battering ram against rivals for mating rights.
The short-snouted 25-foot long Kryptops palaios, or "old hidden face," also discovered in 2000, was likely a scavenger because of its short forearms and an armoured snout better suited for digging into carcasses than for snapping at live prey.
The sail-backed 36-foot long Suchomimus or "crocodile mimic," which Sereno discovered in 1997, likely feasted mostly on fish because of its long, narrow snout and hook-like teeth.
"They show us that very early on and for probably at least 20 or 30 million years meat eating was divided up in a way that we don't have on the northern continent," he said in a telephone interview.
The mighty Tyrannosaurus dominated the northern continent but did not reach Africa. Instead these three distinctive carnivores arose and found a way to coexist.
"You've got three big animals, one is getting in with fish but it has huge powerful forearms so is a predator as well, that's the Suchomimus," he said.
"The Eocarcharia has blade shaped teeth: it was definitely an active predator severing limbs and gashing flesh.
"Then you have this other guy (Kryptops) probably picking up the pieces and tracking down dead animals and sticking its short snout that's not very good for live captures into carcasses and going after guts."
Sereno's team discovered the fossils during a rich dig in 2000 in which they recovered some 20 tons of fossils from a site deep in the Sahara.
They have been methodically sorting through the fossils and discovered enough pieces of the Eocarcharia and Kryptops to determine that they were new species, findings which will be published in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.
By examining the bone structure and comparing it to similar species which roamed the area about 90 million years ago he was able to develop a picture of what the creatures would be like.
"Kryptops, he would have had bad breath," Serenos said with a laugh.
With a short neck and "these dinky little arms" Kryptops would have been a balanced, two-legged runner like an ostrich. His face would have consisted of a short, stubby snout with a scaly bill.
"I imagine he would have been pretty brightly coloured," he said, adding that it was possible Kryptops had feathers like many other predators of the time.
He would have been poking his head in and out of the trees looking for a weak or injured creature to attack or to catch a whiff of a carcass.
"Eocarcharia, I imagine to be more of a sabotage attacker," he said, describing its powerful legs and strong forearms.
"It would track something down and gash it and feed on it and maybe leave the entrails and the carcass to Kryptops."
Eocarcharia looks similar to the Tyrannosaurus and has a narrow bird-like scull with dagger-like teeth designed for going through flesh and bone and cutting and severing limbs. It was also likely brightly coloured and could have had feathers, he said.


Astronauts complete successful spacewalk

Two spacewalking astronauts, including a German who fell ill at the start of the shuttle Atlantis mission, successfully replaced a nitrogen tank on the orbiting International Space Station on Wednesday, NASA said.
After spending the night in a decompression chamber on the ISS, the two astronauts, American Rex Walheim and his German colleague Hans Schlegel, walked out into space at 1427 GMT for a six hour and 45 minute mission.
Schlegel was unable to take part in the first spacewalk when he fell ill on Saturday just as Atlantis docked with the space station. His illness had delayed the first spacewalk by 24 hours until Monday.
The Atlantis team is helping to install a European laboratory, called Columbus, which they brought with them from Earth. The research facility gives Europe a key foothold for the deeper exploration of the cosmos.
The two billion dollar lab was brought up to the station on the Atlantis shuttle and attached Monday by Walheim and US astronaut Stanley Love in a spacewalk lasting more than six hours.
Wednesday's second spacewalk was to replace a nitrogen tank on the space station, with the two astronauts first having to remove the old tank, before installing the new one.
The new one, also flown to the space station on Atlantis, will be maneuvered into place with the aid of a robotic arm, and the old tank will be flown back to Earth on the shuttle.
A third spacewalk is planned for Friday when Walheim and Love are due to install a solar observatory on the outside of the Columbus lab, as well as another external facility known as an EuTEF which will contain eight experiments measuring the properties of materials in space.