5 Spectacular Paradigm-Shifting New Scientific Discoveries

5 Spectacular Paradigm-Shifting New Scientific Discoveries

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Sometimes what has seemingly appeared to be true since we can remember is no longer the case, as new scientific discoveries often reveal, thus requiring history books to be rewritten and/or changing the way we previously thought about certain things. Take the case of evolution, with these recent findings on the development of dinosaurs, birds, bats and man perfect examples of how new scientific evidence and research can dramatically alter and even shatter perception and reality.

Mammal Family Tree Topped by Tree Dweller, Of Course

Suminia Getmanovi II

(Images via: University of Toronto)

This past July, researchers identified the world’s first known tree-dwelling vertebrate, a discovery that was 260 million years in the making and ultimately revealed that mammals actually predated the dinosaurs (as opposed to the other way around). Named Suminia getmanovi, this tree dweller lived 30 million years before the first dinosaurs and is actually a distant relative to mammals, including humans. Researchers were able to link this vertebrate’s ancestry to mammals through a feature unique to the Suminia getmanovi and mammals: an opening beyond the eye-socket named a “synapsid.” Apparently, Suminia getmanovi was highly skilled at climbing up trees and clinging onto trunks and branches due to its long fingers and curved claws, which proved advantageous in relation to avoiding larger predators of its time. Also featuring an opposable thumb, this tree dweller was analyzed in a pre-dinosaur mudstone slab that contained more than 15 skeletons of the vertebrate.

Human Evolution Revolution: Tree Dwellers, Not Knuckle Draggers

Human Evolution Revolution

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No need to dust off your Anthropology notes from freshman year of college because human evolution is not as we know it, as least according to North American scientists who claim that humans actually evolved from tree-dwelling chimps and bonobos rather than knuckle-dragging gorillas, as so many textbook illustrations have led us to believe. And how was this discovery made? Well, a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the adult and juvenile wrist bones of gorillas, chimps and bonobos, finding that gorillas have wrists that extend straight down and are more similar to how elephants walk, while the chimps and bonobos have wrists that allow for bending and more flexibility (like humans). In other words, the researchers concluded that it’s not likely that human bipedalism (referring to movement on the two rear limbs) evolved from knuckle-draggers but rather developed from an ancestor that spent a lot of time in the trees and eventually began to walk upright.

A Real Life, Walking Bat Man?

Walking Bats

(Images via: Phys Org, Daylife, Terra Nature)

Continuing on this walking theme, did you know that only 2 of the 1100-known bat species — the short-tailed bat in New Zealand and the vampire bat – actually walk on their feet? If this little known fact is surprising, you haven’t seen anything yet, Bruce Wayne. Recent bat fossil findings reveal that the modern walking bat in New Zealand is actually the descendant of 20-million-year-old walking bats from Australia. Why should you care? Well, it turns out that both the short-tailed bat and the fossil bat – which apparently died off 15 million years ago as a result of climate changes in Australia – share a similar anatomical feature (a groove in its elbow) that functions as part of a specialized muscular system allowing it to move about the ground. What does this mean? Well, it disputes the original idea that short-tailed bats started walking as an adaptive measure to friendly, modern surroundings devoid of predators. As for those ancient walking bats, they were frequently surrounded by predators but were so quick on their feet that they hardly were in danger, except for dramatic climate shifts, of course.

T. Rex and Its Own Mini Me
T Rex Mini Me

(Image via: China Confidential)

Evolution keeps throwing us for a loop here as it turns out that the supreme dinosaur predator – Tyrannosaurus rex – is actually the descendant of a newly-discovered dinosaur that was 8 feet long (or 20 percent smaller in length to T. rex), but still dangerous. While packing a smaller frame, this new dinosaur – Raptorex kriegsteini – maintained the massive jaws, quick legs and tiny arms that still allows the T. rex to intimidate and provoke nightmares today, some 65 million years after its extinction. According to fossil records, the T-Rex predecessor actually lived 125 million years ago, and sustained itself on pig-sized dinosaurs and turtles. Interestingly, this discovery was made when the owner of the fossil – illegally excavated from China — asked to have it examined for scientific value. Sometimes stumbling upon something new is a matter of circumstance and luck.

The Missing Link? Not Sasquatch, But A Bird-Like Dinosaur

Anchiornis Huxleyi

(Images via: Skews Me)

Oh, how the pieces are coming together. Earlier this week, Chinese researchers unearthed a bird-like dinosaur with four wings. Dating back to some 160 million years ago, this discovery — named Anchiornis huxleyi — could very well be the missing link in explaining the still-mysterious evolution from dinosaurs to birds. Only 20 inches in length and comparable to the size of a chicken, this bird-like dinosaur had feathers that covered its arms, tail and feet; features that Chinese researchers suggest indicate the existence of a four-winged dinosaur prior to the transition to birds. Previously, the idea that a dinosaur was an ancestor to birds was disputed, but not no more after this enlightening discovery.

Of course, this story comes a couple of months after another study observed how changing a single gene can cause similar bird populations to split into distinct species. Past and present, it’s safe to say that birds whistle to their own tune when it comes to evolution.