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Reptile Born 60 million Years Before T-Rex Found in Wyoming



Image Credit: Julius Csotonyi/Smithsonian Institute

The tuatara, the last surviving rhynchocephalian, is linked to a species that once roamed Wyoming, as evidenced by fossils recently discovered in the state.

Around 150 million years ago, a prehistoric reptile that had little in common with modern lizards lived in the area of Wyoming. As an extinct Rhynchocephalia that likely subsisted on insects, this creature may hold the key to understanding the survival of the tuatara, a close surviving relative.

Specifically, it is an Opisthiamimus Gregori. The tuatara of New Zealand is another animal that appears like a lizard but is actually a different species entirely. Lizards are classified as squamates, which is a suborder of reptiles. Similarly, worm lizards and snakes are both members of this genus. After a split during the Triassic Period, lizards and rhynchocephalians became two distinct groups.

Credit: DeMar Jr. et al., doi: 10.1080/14772019.2022.2093139.

The opisthosaurid skeletons were discovered in Wyoming, on top of an allosaurus nest. Scientists discovered four fossils there, including what is essentially a whole skeleton of the reptile, which had a wide range of motion. Today, in the journal Systematic Paleontology, research detailing the discovery of this new species was published.

In an interview, research co-author and curator of dinosaurs at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Matthew Carrano said that the fossil proves rhynchocephalians were a diversified group throughout its evolutionary history. “Since many of the fossils are tiny, damaged, and unidentifiable, it seems likely that there is more “hidden diversity” out there.

The rhynchocephalian Taytalura alcoberi was the subject of a scientific paper published in 2017. Understanding this helped shed light on the divergent paths of evolution taken by reptiles and squamates. Opisthiamimus is almost completely skeletonized, whereas only its well-preserved cranium is known from Taytalura. When combined with the discovery of Taytalura, it demonstrates that the reptile order was exceptionally diversified in the distant past.

I agree with the authors that this is a noteworthy finding from the Morrison Formation,” wrote Tiago Simes, an evolutionary scientist at Harvard University.

The opisthiamimus is a dinosaur-era creature. It existed before Tyrannosaurus rex by 60 million years. As a late Jurassic creature, it shared the world with Archaeopteryx and Stegosaurus (though much closer to the ground than the former two, and much smaller, measuring just 6 inches from nose to tail.)

The tuatara is the sole surviving rhynchocephalian. Two species make up the genus Sphenodonta. Unlike any other animal, tuatara sperm travel at the speed of light. It possesses a single, centrally located eye called a parietal eye, as well as two rows of teeth in its upper jaw and one row of teeth in its lower jaw. Unlike most other reptiles, rhynchocephalians don’t have individual teeth. Their teeth are a part of their jaws.

The tuatara’s unusual appearance has earned it the nickname “living fossil.” No matter how difficult things got, it kept going when no one else could. But that doesn’t make it any less advanced. It had obviously figured out how to keep on living.

Simes cautioned against jumping to conclusions about Opisthiamimus’s phylogenetic position, saying, “I would be careful with the phylogenetic interpretation the authors gave for this species.” This is because Opisthiamimus displays characteristics more typical of sphenodontians that appear later in the fossil record.

Some of the mystery surrounding the persistence of squamates but the extinction of rhynchocephalians might be solved if more fossils of these extinct reptiles could be unearthed.

According to Carrano, one possibility is that the special characteristics of squamates were what ultimately allowed them to triumph over the rhynchocephalians. “The occurrence of rhynchocephalians is decreasing while the occurrence of squamates is increasing. Even if we are coming close in areas like the Morrison Formation, we still lack enough fossils to thoroughly investigate the hypothesis that competition occurs only within settings.

The crew is currently sifting through the Allosaurus nest remnants that were discovered near Opisthiamimus. Whether in the Morrison Formation or elsewhere, more Rhynchocephalia fossils are just waiting to be discovered. If and when discovered, they may prove invaluable in understanding the reptilian evolutionary ancestry.

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‘Queen’ Founding Member Shares Crop Circle Picture



On May 24th, Brian May, a founding member of the rock band Queen who later earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics, posted several images to Instagram of a crop circle seen near Marlborough, England.

“Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary here in the English countryside?” The photos were captioned by May. “I’d never seen a crop circle before. As a result, I’m always skeptical of them. But yesterday, as we flew back from our production rehearsal space, over a location near Marlborough, there was this. […] Who creates these fascinating works of mathematical art? Is it a hoax? Are they created by extraterrestrials? And… how…? And what is their goal?”
Responses to May’s post have been mixed, with some claiming that the phenomenon is paranormal, while others believe that hoaxers are to blame.

Crop circles have sparked speculation in the modern era since at least the mid-1970s, with theories ranging from hoaxers to otherworldly beings to “earth energies.”

Despite the fact that people have claimed responsibility for certain crop circle formations, mysterious circles of flattened plants discovered in fields date back much further than modern-day hoaxers.

W.Y. Evans-Wentz recorded folktales of faeries coming in the night to thresh farmers’ grain in his 1911 book The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. Similarly, in 1678, an English woodcut pamphlet depicts ‘The Mowing-Devil,’ who is shown mowing crops in a circular pattern.

While some dismiss these as folkloric inspiration for modern-day hoaxers, others see them as proof of a phenomenon that predates man-made imitation.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the crop circle photographed by May.


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DoD Announces Expanded Effort to Investigate UFOs



According to a press release issued by the Department of Defense (DoD):

Due to the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2022, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), amended her original directive to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security on July 15, 2022, by renaming and expanding the scope of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Group (AOIMSG) to the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO).

USD(I&S) Hon. Ronald S. Moultrie informed the department today of the establishment of AARO within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, and named Dr. Sean M. Kirkpatrick, most recently the chief scientist at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center, as its director.

The AARO’s mission will be to coordinate efforts across the Department of Defense and other federal departments and agencies in the United States to detect, identify, and attribute objects of interest in, on, or near military installations, operating areas, training areas, special use airspace, and other areas of interest, and, as needed, to mitigate any associated threats to operational safety and national security. Anomaly, unidentified space, airborne, submerged, and transmedium objects are included.

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security (USD(I&S)) Ronald Moultrie will lead the AARO Executive Council (AAROEXEC), which will provide oversight and direction to the AARO along the following primary lines of effort:

1. Surveillance, Collection and Reporting
2. System Capabilities and Design
3. Intelligence Operations and Analysis
4. Mitigation and Defeat
5. Governance
6. Science and Technology

This newly reported expansion of the Pentagon’s UFO investigation program follows low congressional trust in their investigative efforts.

Following the release of the much-anticipated preliminary assessment report on UFOs by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last year, many in the intelligence community were critical of what they saw as the report’s failure to offer any concrete explanations for most of the incidents examined, particularly in light of concerns about secret Russian or Chinese technology.

The Pentagon then promised to revamp the task force in charge of investigating UFOs, which resulted in the formation of the AOIMSG, which has since been renamed the AARO.

This reflects Congress’ growing interest in UFOs, which was most recently demonstrated during a House Intelligence Subcommittee hearing on the subject last May—the first of its kind in more than 50 years.

The congressional hearing allowed lawmakers to question the Pentagon about unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP)—the current government term for UFOs—and for government officials to explain their current position and outline plans to investigate the issue further.

During the hearing, there were few mentions of extraterrestrials, though the Pentagon did express a particular interest in reports containing unusual flight characteristics such as incredible speed, transmedium capabilities, and undetectable means of propulsion.

Since the existence of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP), which reportedly ran from 2007 to 2012, was made public in 2017, congressional interest in UFOs has skyrocketed.

Interest in the encounters between Navy pilots and UFOs grew, and in 2019, several senators, including Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), then vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, were briefed on them.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, led at the time by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), then included a directive in their Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 ordering the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to create a report on “unidentified aerial phenomena” in consultation with the Secretary of Defense.

That bill resulted in the formation of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF), which was in charge of producing the aforementioned preliminary assessment report.


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The Marlborough Monkey is a Cryptid Fans Classic



The latest documentary by researcher and filmmaker Karac St. Laurent, The Legend of the Marlborough Monkey, takes a fresh look at an older and often overlooked series of cryptid sightings in New Hampshire.

Most people don’t think of Bigfoot sightings in the northeastern United States, but St. Laurent has made a compelling case for taking the subject seriously while still having fun along the way.

The film is a tribute to the classic cryptid documentaries of the 1970s, and it was shot to look like an 8mm film being watched on a VHS tape. With thematic music and Robert Ready’s absolutely perfect deadpan narration, viewers could be forgiven for not immediately recognizing this as a documentary shot in 2021.

Despite its aesthetic, the film is very much a product of modern investigation, and St. Laurent conducts field investigations using equipment anachronistic to the 1970s, both solo and in collaboration with Small Town Monsters alum Aleksandar Petakov.

When some filmmakers might have been content to show only the interviews with researchers and witnesses included in the documentary, the field investigations were a nice touch. Folklorist John Horrigan is an especially bright addition to an already entertaining documentary, and his unique blend of wit and historical storytelling could have carried the film on its own.

Horrigan, interestingly, coined the term “The Marlborough Monkey” to describe the hairy humanoid being reported by New Hampshire residents in the 1990s, based on one account in which the witness said the creature looked like an orangutan. Those reports never stopped, and sightings of ‘The Marlborough Monkey’ are still being reported today.

St. Laurent, however, does not stop with stories; similarly to his first documentary, Release the Bodette Film, a variety of evidence is presented for the viewers to peruse. Much like that film, the viewer is ultimately left to decide what to believe, despite the fact that the vast majority of the film approaches the subject from a staunchly materialistic standpoint. Petakov makes a passing reference to high strangeness during an interview late in the film, but otherwise the assumption is that if something strange is going on, it’s most likely an undiscovered primate. This isn’t necessarily a negative, depending on your point of view, and those who prefer materialist science in the hunt for cryptids will appreciate the film’s mainstream take on the phenomenon.

That viewpoint is consistent with the 1970s-era documentaries to which it pays homage, and given the evidence presented, there’s never any sense that the investigation should be taking a different path. If The Legend of Boggy Creek is one of your favorite documentaries, check out The Legend of the Marlborough Monkey.

The Legend of the Marlborough Monkey has a run time of 43:14 and will be available to watch for free on the Crash-Course Cryptozoology YouTube channel starting at noon on September 12th. Expect it to be available on DVD around Thanksgiving.


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