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Flying high on a basement fossil find.

Flying high on a basement fossil find

The fossil legacy left by past species usually consists only ofbones, because the soft parts of animals normally decay before fossilization. But recently, while cleaning some stored specimens of extinct dolphin-like reptiles called ichthyosaurs in preparation for display, curators at the Leicestershire Museums in England discovered that some of the animals' skin, tendons, muscle and connective tissues were exceptionally well preserved.

Michael Taylor, an assistant keeper at the museums, reportsin the Jan. 29 NATURE that the soft parts are preserved as finely detailed mineral casts. This occurred after bacteria and fungi, which had first decomposed the original tissue, were killed and preserved by their own waste products, mainly calcium phosphate or apatite minerals.

According to Taylor, the soft tissues around the forelimbsindicate that they acted as hydrofoils and have been used to support a recently proposed theory that some ichthyosaurs, like present-day penguins, "flew' underwater with their forelimbs and used their tails only for steering. The mainstream thinking is that the animals used their large tailfins primarily for propulsion.

Sadly, more fossils that might resolve the swimming questionare probably not forthcoming, he says, because there are few hand-dug quarries from which additional well-preserved fossils might survive excavation. So, he adds, "the paleontologist must excavate in the museum cellar.'
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Title Annotation:stored specimens at Leicestershire Museums lead to dinosaur discovery
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 14, 1987
Words:215
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