Experts Are Stumped By Strange New ‘Zombie’ Insect They’ve Just Uncovered

With their decaying appearance, putrid smells, and all-consuming desire for flesh, zombies are a terrifying and disgusting concept. But a zombie virus is pure fiction, right? Though this type of illness hasn’t appeared in humans, it has affected other types of creatures. Within insect communities, there are a few different variations of zombie viruses, but the one that afflicts periodical cicadas is one of the worst. It’s also one of the most disgusting.

Periodical cicadas incredibly spend the first 13-17 years of their lives as nymphs, living in the dirt. They grow up to become cicadas with black bodies and red eyes. In their adult state, they only reach a few inches in length. When afflicted by one foreign body, however, they get ever weirder.

BBC Earth / Youtube

It may sound like it’s difficult to study this kind of insect since it takes so long to mature, but different broods of cicadas in different locations emerge at different times. This makes it much easier for entomologists.

Michael J. Raup, PhD, Bug of the Week blog

“It would be very difficult to maintain a research program and train scientists if new samples only arrived every 13 to 17 years,” Brian Lovett, a researcher at West Virginia University, said.

“Road trips to collect from and observe broods are very common among cicada researchers. Aside from ‘following the brood,’ ‘sharing the brood’ [providing colleagues with access to collected specimens] is also standard practice,” Brian said.

Marcus Schneck, Penn Live

As fully-grown adults, cicadas only live for a few weeks. They use that time to molt, mate, lay eggs, and die — a simple existence. In total, they’ll live at least a decade, which isn’t bad for a bug.

Something that could put a damper on this life plan is the Massospora fungal pathogen. This fungus targets periodical cicadas. It attaches to their abdomen, eating its host’s body until it disintegrates and then filling it with its yellow spore self instead. Ew. 

@SaevusWildlife, Twitter

This is an active host transmission (AHT), which means instead of dying as their body is devoured, they fly through the trees, spreading the Massospora. The AHT compels male cicadas to shake their wings.

This movement is similar to a mating dance that female cicadas use to attract a partner. When other male cicadas see this irresistible movement, they rush over to mate with the infected bug. The fungus is spread through touch, so this is how it gets another host.

“To our knowledge, this is the only example of AHT in which the pathogen behaves at least in part as a sexually transmitted disease,” the research team explained in their study. This is definitely a fun fact to share with all your friends.

Scientists have studied the chemical processes behind this bug zombification and discovered a partial psychoactive connection. Psilocybin, which is also the major component in magic mushrooms, is one of the chemicals found in the fungus.

There’s still mystery surrounding how the chemicals in the fungus take over the cicada’s body. Scientists aren’t completely sure about how the process works yet; the fungus is good at keeping its secrets.

Washington State University

“These discoveries are not only super cool but also have a lot of potential in helping us understand insects better, and perhaps learn better ways to control pest species using fungi that manipulate host behaviors,” Angie Macias, a study co-author, said.

The Durango Herald

This isn’t the only mind-control fungus that exists in nature. If you go to the Brazialian jungle, you can find the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the zombie-ant fungus. As the name indicates, this one targets ants.

David Levene

The zombie-ant fungus grows through the ants’ little abdomen, taking control of its body movements and forcing the ant to climb high up a leaf stalk. Then, the ant is compelled to clamp its mandibles into the leaf. 

@KieranSuckling, Twitter

No longer in control, the ant helplessly waits as the long stem of the fungus sprouts from its head. When it’s fully grown, it releases spores into the air, infecting any other nearby ants.

Normally, the stem is one of the foraging paths near an ant’s colony. When the spores float down, they infect other ants within the larger group too, creating a self-sustaining cycle of forced manipulation and death.  

This study almost seems too sci-fi to be real. The more technologically advanced humanity has become, the more we now understand how strange nature can be. And current realizations about the AHT fungi might only be the tip of the iceberg.

“It is almost certain that there are undiscovered Massospora species, never mind the other AHT fungi, and each of these will have developed its own intimate connection with its host’s biology,” Angie said.

Wikimedia Commons

Who knows what kind of AHT fungi and insect pairings are waiting for someone to stumble upon them? There’s always a chance that one may interact with our human bodies and force people to spread their condition across the globe.

But not much of a chance. The point is, unless you’re a researcher or have an extremely compelling reason, stay away from strange species. Scientists have learned the hard way that while some monstrosities are natural, others are man-made.

It was 2019, and a team of researchers in Hungary had a pressing problem on their hands. The sturgeon that had formerly thrived in Russia’s waters were becoming endangered, and science needed a way to help boost sturgeon populations again.

Bob Brawdy/Tri-City Herald

What was then, and is still, the problem with sturgeon? They’re a fish in high demand, due to their prized roe — or fish eggs — which are harvested and cured with salt to sell as caviar.

Channel 4

Unfortunately, sturgeon don’t reproduce or mature quickly, so compared to the rapid rate they’re harvested from the wild, they aren’t able to replenish their numbers in time for the next fishing season.

VCU Rice Rivers Center

Over the years, this problem has led to sturgeon becoming critically endangered. In 2020, the fish was just one IUCN conservation status away from being confirmed extinct in the wild.

World Wildlife Fund

In recent years, scientists monitoring sturgeon populations realized something needed to be done. The demand for caviar showed no signs of abating. As long as it fetched a high price at market, fishers and illegal poachers would continue to chase the money.

NRDC

So, in Hungary, researchers Jenő Káldy and Attila Mozsár, along with a team of eleven other contributing scientists, set out to solve the sturgeon problem. They thought they had a method that might help the fish reproduce more quickly.

Attila Moszar

Since the sturgeons’ low numbers made it even more difficult for male and female sturgeon to find one another and to mate, the research team countered with the idea that if female sturgeon could reproduce without male sturgeon, the species could bounce back more quickly.

Firstpost

Though the idea of asexual reproduction in a sexual species sounds impossible, the team reasoned it wasn’t. They were aware of an existing method called gynogenesis, which takes sperm from a similar species, treats it to eliminate competing or unwanted DNA, and then introduces it to the specimen.

That sperm can then send a biological signal that encourages the specimen’s eggs to develop. If done properly, the specimen will produce offspring that are 100% the same species as itself, are healthy, and are able to reproduce normally.

Firewall33/Reddit

So, the team figured they had a pretty good shot at getting it to work. They harvested and treated sperm from specimens of American paddlefish, which are native to the Mississippi River Basin and would never naturally encounter Russian fish of any kind.

Wikimedia Commons

The American paddlefish is also endangered, and previous conservation attempts to hybridize it with other breeds of sturgeon had been unsuccessful. So the research team believed that there was little to no risk of the two fish actually crossing.

The Clarion-Ledger

However, the two fish share a common ancestor and are part of the same order of basal ray-finned fishes, called Acipenseriformes, so they weren’t totally biologically incompatible — and boy, did that turn out to have an eye-opening effect.

Jin et al./Fossil Forum

At first, when the experiment was getting underway, nothing seemed amiss. Once fertilized with the paddlefish sperm, the female sturgeon specimen seemed healthy and normal, and the scientists reported no reproductive problems.

Yorkshire Post

However, when the sturgeon’s eggs hatched, the Hungarians were shocked to discover that despite the two species’ apparent biological incompatibility, the baby fish carried a variety of characteristics of both the paddlefish and the sturgeon.

Kaldy et al.

Perplexed, the scientists named the new Frankenstein creatures “sturddlefish,” a portmanteau of both creatures’ common names. With the ridged, dinosaur-like backs of sturgeon, and the long, paddle-shaped noses of paddlefish, they looked almost prehistoric.

Flórián Tóth

Although the team didn’t get the results they’d hoped for, they made the important discovery that sturgeon can breed with other species, possibly opening the doors for similar conservation efforts for sturgeon in the future.

Nemzeti Agrárkutatási és Innovációs Központ

And there’s no risk of the hybrid sturddlefish breeding with wild fish. They’re safely in captivity inside the Hungarian research facility, and even if they accidentally escaped, their hybrid nature would render them sterile.

Jenő Káldy

Although the results were interesting, the problem of sturgeon and paddlefish over-harvesting still remains. Many of the fish aren’t farmed for their meat, but only for their caviar, and are discarded after being harvested.

Andrea Cooper / Roads & Kingdoms

Moreover, the roe-collecting process, which must be begun while the fish is alive, is often barbaric. While it’s possible to extract roe through a small incision in the female fish, after which she is sutured up and allowed to go back to swimming, it’s often done with the intent to let the fish die.

Aquaculture Alliance

Is caviar really tasty enough to hunt a species into extinction? For the time being, apparently so — but maybe people are just blissfully unaware of how the food is produced. Strange as the sturddlefish may be, natural species can be just as shocking. One newly discovered insect defied all scientific convention.

Gordon Ramsay

As the name would suggest, most visitors to the Tembe Elephant Park come to see gigantic pachyderms. However, a 2014 sighting at the South African preserve turned the world’s attention to a much smaller beast.

Barbara Wright, an entomologist at the Wild Tomorrow Fund, had long eyed the park as a hotbed of insect activity. She asked the staff to phone her “if they saw anything interesting that crawls on 6 or 8 legs.” It wasn’t long before her phone started ringing.

Dr. Wright didn’t hesitate. Rushing over to examine this sighting, she recognized a spider that could very well be the most unique specimen of her career. She had to be careful, of course. The bug was as beautiful as it was deadly.

WTF Entomology

The spider looked like an absolute terror. Wright confirmed that she’d never seen anything quite like it before, either in person or in print. That being said, it did bear a strong resemblance to the most infamous spider family.

It was definitely in the “widow” family, a branch of arachnids known for their striking designs and deadly venom. Though this spider didn’t have the classic hourglass design, her abdomen bore a more chilling sight.

KPCC

From Wright’s point-of-view, the curving white lines looked just like a screaming human face. Fortunately, the entomologist felt the furthest thing from horror when examining the bug. She recognized that it could be a breakthrough.

Unable to find another one of its kind, Wright kept a close eye on what she called the Phinda button spider. As it turned out, its striking design wasn’t even the most groundbreaking feature of the insect.

YouTube / Joe Pietersen

That miracle concerned the spider’s egg sac. These pouches of insect embryos come in many shapes and sizes, with a few species even having shiny pink coverings. But the button spider’s version was a wonder to behold.

Its egg sac was a vibrant, sparkly purple — the same shade that Prince favored in many concerts and music videos. Wright found three such sacs laid around the insect’s home and was eager to inspect them.

Each was sadly infertile, but the silver lining was that the entomologist had no qualms about collecting them for further study. Besides their notable color, these sacs were quite a bit larger than most others from that spider family.

Could the unusual arachnid be an undiscovered species? Wright called in Dr. Ian Engelbrecht for a second opinion. “When Barbara showed me the first photo, I literally could not believe this spider existed,” he recalled. However, their merriment was cut off by a sudden death.

Twitter / baboonspideratlas

Of the insect, that is. They estimated that the female spider lived about two years, and though the loss of their only specimen was sad, it allowed them to more thoroughly analyze its makeup. Wright sent the body to a lab for further answers.

It took a few years, but the scientific community confirmed that the Phinda button spider was a new species by 2019. In addition to its unique physicality, the case was bolstered by the fact that the spider could only survive in a specialized “sand forest” environment.

The spider’s scientific name is Latrodectus umbukwane, with the latter word being a Zulu term for something so spectacular that you can’t ignore it. Basically, you would walk straight into a pole staring at such a magnificent sight.

Twitter

Dr. Ingi Agnarsson was pleased by the results, though not necessarily surprised. “About 70 percent of spider species are still unknown,” he explained, “so we are really in the age of discovery and exploration.” Though knowledge of these unknowns were far from guaranteed.

University of Vermont

Particularly for the newly certified Phinda, its home was drastically shrinking due to deforestation. Wright and her colleagues were desperate to find another member of the species, but never found one — not quite.

Public Radio International

Thanks to a quick survey, they came across many more button spiders! The entomologists kept a close watch on the hatchlings, taking meticulous notes about every stage of their growth.

They were especially thrilled to observe the appearance of a mature male, which took on a more brown color and sported spots that would’ve fit on a leopard’s coat.

Luke Verburgt

The Latrodectus umbukwane represented possibly the biggest zoological find of the year, though scientists uncovered a number of other original species in 2019. But the unknowns that befuddle most experts regard not other animal kingdoms, but our own human origins.

Ever since James Watson and Francis Crick’s team discovered the double helix structure of DNA, humankind has been obsessed with dissecting our own genetic material. In the process, we’ve found that we barely knew our true identities.

Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, found that to be more true with every passing day. He and his colleague Dr. Joao Teixeira delved into the earliest days of our species, only to uncover a genetic bombshell.

Nature

To put it simply, Cooper and Teixeira discovered that our family trees include some unexpected ancestors. But before you send out invites to your next family reunion, you’ll need to take a look inside one of the world’s most famous caves.

The Liang Bua Cave in Indonesia is a natural marvel for locals and tourists alike. What really makes it special, however, are artifacts unseen by most visitors. Deep in the soil are lost items from a primitive civilization — but not one you’ve ever heard of.

Time

The first revelation about Liang Bua came in 2003. Scientists unearthed a number of teeth and other skeletal fragments within the caverns. Though they appeared to be quite similar to human bones, there was something off about them.

New York Post

These pieces seemed too small to have come from humans. Instead, they appeared to be linked to a closely related species that coexisted with us long ago. In other words, the diggers suspected they’d come across a potential “missing link.”

History

It’s no secret that tens of thousands of years ago, the planet Earth was home to all kinds of wild species that are now extinct. But those creatures weren’t limited to wooly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. There were also beings who looked a lot like us.

Kidz Feed

The first human beings, or Homo sapiens, appeared in Africa about 300,000 years ago. As their culture developed, they moved into Europe and Asia. There, they encountered various hominins — archaic peoples who were genetically close to us.

Taking a look at the cave remains, Cooper, Teixeira, and their team members at the University of Adelaide determined they were from a diminutive species called Homo floresiensis. Their short statue earned them a fantastical name in the scientific community.

HowStuffWorks

Informally, evolutionary biologists call them “hobbits.” These aren’t literally the J.R.R. Tolkien creatures, of course. But they did thrive in parts of Asia as recently as 50,000 years ago before dying out. Plus, they might not be as unfamiliar as we think.

Christian Science Monitor

After all, the hominin are in our DNA. Especially as we find ourselves in the middle of the ancestry trend, many people are learning that their genes are up to 2% Neanderthal. Certain physical features support that finding too.

There’s a number of Neanderthal traits that appear in everyday people. Based on our cartoonish idea of cavemen, a prominent brow ridge is likely the biggest giveaway. But more subtle qualities, like long-term depression, are also associated with this humanoid species.

Abroad in the Yard

Neanderthals, however, may not be our only surprise ancestors. Scientists located other EH — extinct hominin — genes in modern humans. Though there’s a chance these species are lost to the sands of time, Cooper and Teixeira felt compelled to take a closer look at the hobbits.

The Conversation

Putting one modern mystery gene known as EH2 under the microscope, the scientists found that it matched the bone samples from Liang Bua. Furthermore, this gene popped up mainly in people living in Southeastern Asia!

This connection blew Cooper away. In addition to locating another ancestor of modern humans, their testing proved that Homo sapiens interacted with related species far more than scholars initially suspected.

Michael Balter

The dating of hominin remains and basic tools indicated that many likely overlapped with human existence. But in the case of the floresiensis, it turns out they were just as close to us as the Neanderthals.

The Atlantic

Homo sapiens must have occasionally produced offspring with these hobbits, and the legacy of their lost culture lives on in our flesh and blood! Granted, there are still countless mysteries about the origins of humanity.

Inverse

“We knew the story out of Africa wasn’t a simple one, but it seems to be far more complex than we have contemplated,” admitted Teixeira. He and Cooper also realized that their find was more of a stepping stone than an ultimate solution.

Facebook / Joao Carlos Teixeira

Researchers have deduced that there are up to three other unknown hominins who interbred with humans. We could just be one expedition away from cracking this genetic code. After all, the prehistoric hobbits aren’t the only lost species that have recently come to light.

Even by French standards, the department of Charente set itself apart by teeming with the finest wineries in the world. The town of Cognac in particular was famous for its brandy. However, a nearby field held vintages of a different kind.

On The Go Tours

Maxime Lasseron was tucked away in a classroom at the Paris National Museum of National History when he first heard about the area. His professors whispered that it could have been the most promising paleontology site in the country.

At that moment, Maxime knew he had to be a part of the dig. The doctoral student could barely contain his excitement once he got permission to spend the summer of 2019 at Angeac-Charente. Sure, it wasn’t exactly the most glamorous workplace.

The rocky clay of Charente was full of promise. Excavators at the site already made a host of discoveries big and small. And rather than making them think the ground was already depleted, these finds convinced them that something big was waiting down there.

Charente Libre

For one thing, paleontologists dug up more fossils than they could keep track of! The past ten years uncovered specimens that covered millions of years and several periods of geological history. And these finds weren’t even what had researchers really excited.

Scientists located a giant dinosaur toe back in 2014. Measuring at over 13 inches in length, this appendage must have come from a truly gigantic beast. Could the rest of the behemoth still be down in the earth?

All together, paleontologists catalogued over 7,000 dinosaur bones at Angeac-Charente, and yet they were still after the big one. Maxime figured he could help, even if his participation boiled down to hauling away dirt.

Destination Cognac

So Maxime took every chance he got to get down and dirty. Most of his blood, sweat, and tears proved fruitless, right up until he hit something hard and smooth. Hands trembling, he brushed the soil of the surface.

UAF

Amazingly, the object just kept going. Maxime called over a few of his colleagues, and the entire team drove their spades into the ground with excitement. “We kept saying, ‘Oh, there’s more!’” recalled Maxime.

GIPHY

At the same time, Maxime had to take incredible care not to damage his find. They unearthed one bit at a time, and gradually the shape of a humongous bone began to take shape.

It certainly appeared to be a dinosaur, and a colossal one at that. Just by eyeballing this single bone, Maxime estimated that it dwarfed the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex. He couldn’t wait to measure it.

Gizmodo

Once the paleontologists carved out the object from the ground, they all gaped in awe. The bone — which appeared to be a femur — came out to six and a half feet from end to end.

Al Jazeera

Clocking in at 1,100 pounds, the scientists needed to hire a crane to move the bone from the dig site. The half-ton wonder would make its way back to Paris for extensive study. This specimen wasn’t just impressive for its size, either.

SERC

Most skeletal matter of this size broke into many small fragments over the eons. This wholly intact femur, on the other hand, offered up a breakthrough in paleontology. Maxime awaited official word of the bone’s species.

As it turned out, the owner was just the sort of monster they were all hoping for. Maxime dug up the remains of a sauropod, a long-necked herbivore that made its mark as one of the largest dinosaurs to walk the Earth.

Wikimedia Commons

Maxime’s discovery really brought the dinosaur to life. Scar tissue on the surface of the femur revealed the locations of muscles and tendons, shining a bright light on the previously obscure anatomy of this species.

Cognac Torisme

Jean-François Tournepiche, the lead operator at Angeac-Charente, gave Maxime a hearty congratulations. His hard work paid huge dividents for the future of the dig. Jean-François suggested sauropod femur alone meant they’d have funding to continue there for the next 30 years.

Charante Libre

Plus, the locating of one sauropod bone hinted that there could be many more mesozoic treasures awaiting the paleontologists. They still had a lot of digging to do — that much was clear.

For Maxime, the sauropod discovery was an important first step in launching him into paleontological stardom. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to do it all alone. He needed collaborators from all over the world.

Charente Libre

Spread across Montana, the Dakotas, and Wyoming, the Hell Creek Formation is the stuff of a paleontologist’s dream. Composed of mudstones, clay, and sandstones, this deposit is believed to have originated over 65 million years ago.

PaleoAdventures

Yet age isn’t the Hell Creek Formation’s most noteworthy claim — it’s what can be found there that truly makes the deposit special. A treasure trove of fossils have been unearthed over the years, including those of some of the fiercest creatures of all time.

The Fossil Guy

The first documented remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex were actually discovered at Hell Creek by famed paleontologist Barnum “Mr. Bones” Brown. Since then, the Hell Creek Formation has become a world-renown hotspot for fossil hunters.

Paleontologists have dug up everything from dinosaur claws to crocodile teeth to even fossilized salamanders in this deposit, so it only made sense for college student Harrison Duran to make the Hell Creek Formation the site of his excavation in 2019.

Hell Creek Dinosaurs

A fifth-year biology student at the University of California, Merced, Duran had dreamed of exploring Hell Creek ever since childhood. Yet Duran knew he couldn’t just wander into the Montana badlands and start digging — he needed a team.

PigMine 6 / YouTube / The New York Times

That’s where Michael Kjelland came in. A fellow fossil hunter and professor at North Dakota’s Maryville State University, Kjelland and Duran met at a conference and immediately bonded over their love of dinosaurs.

Michael E. Kjelland

Kjelland seemed the perfect partner for Duran’s expedition, as he was familiar with Hell Creek Formation and had unearthed a handful of fossils there in expeditions passed. However, he’d never visited the site Duran intended to explore, making this a first-time experience for both of them.

ABC57

In June 2019, the men arrived in Montana with pickaxes in hand and fossils on the brain. There was no telling what they’d find — if anything at all — but for Duran and Kjelland, that was all part of the fun.

Rock-Cafe

The first three days of digging yielded only dirt for the hopeful fossil hunters, though on the fourth day, they struck something that most certainly wasn’t rock. After clearing away the rubble, Duran and Kjelland could hardly believe what they’d found.

Heavy Metal Science

Nestled upside down in the dirt was a fossilized skull, the base of its left horn partially exposed. The men scrambled to clear the remaining dirt, and when all was said and done, Duran and Kjelland were left face to face with a Triceratops!

Chicago Tribune

“I can’t quite express my excitement in that moment when we uncovered the skull,” Duran recounted in a UC Merced newsletter. “I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was a kid, so it was a pretty big deal.”

NPR

What’s more, the skull was discovered in the presence of various plant fossils from the Cretaceous era. This was a huge find, as these remains allowrf the team a better idea of the circumstances surrounding the dinosaur’s death.

Fossil Guy

“It is wonderful that we found fossilized wood and tree leaves right around, and even under, the skull,” said Duran. “It gives us a more complete picture of the environment at the time.”

hayonkasi

The men were ecstatic over their discovery of the dinosaur, whom they dubbed “Alice” after the owner of the property on which they’d been digging. Yet now came time for the hard part: getting the fossil out of the ground.

Field Museum

“It took a full week to excavate Alice, whose fragile skull was meticulously stabilized with a specialized glue to solidify the fractured, mineralized bones, before an accelerant was applied to bond the structures,” UC Merced reported in their release.

Inside Edition

Once they’d freed her from the dirt, Duran and Kjelland coated Alice in foil and plaster in preparation of transport. They finished off by wrapping the entire skull in memory foam, ensuring that Alice’s journey from the Hell Creek Formation would go off without a hitch.

Following their discovery, Duran and Kjelland founded Fossil Excavators, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to discovering and further educating people about fossils. The foundation will also conduct further research on Alice in the hope of one day putting her on display.

Wikimedia Commons

“It would be amazing for UC Merced to be able to display Alice on campus,” said Duran. “It’s such a rare opportunity to showcase something like this, and I’d like to share it with the campus community.”

Duran and Kjelland plan on returning to the dig site, though neither of them will spill the beans on the exact location. So if you’re looking to dig up the rest of ‘ol Alice, you might just have to pick up a shovel and go find her for yourself.

Yet Triceratopses and T-Rexes aren’t the most significant finds made in the Hell Creek Formation. Just a few years prior, one researcher made an earth-shattering discovery here that changed everything we thought we knew about the last days of the dinosaurs.

Most people would consider a preoccupation with bones concerning, though Robert DePalma’s love of the dead and buried is anything but peculiar. An aspiring paleontologist, the 37-year-old managed to turn his lifelong passion into a curator position for the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.

Robert DePalma / Facebook

But DePalma is perhaps best known for the widely publicized discovery he made near Bowman, North Dakota, in 2012. After receiving a tip from a private fossil collector, DePalma and his team began excavating a site along the well-known Hell Creek Formation.

National Museum of Natural History Unearthed

Initially, DePalma felt the site, dubbed “Tanis,” had little promise, something the collector had made him privy to prior to the excavation. However, after returning to Tanis in 2013, the paleontologist discovered there was more to this unassuming patch of rock than met the eye.

Robert DePalma / Facebook

Just a few meters below the surface, DePalma discovered a host of rare and unusual fossils, including those of species he claimed to have never seen before. It was an incredible find, though one set of bones in particular caught DePalma’s eye — and left him positively stumped.

Sciene Channel / Twitter

Beneath the skeleton of a freshwater paddlefish, DePalma discovered the tooth of a mosasaur, an enormous reptilian predator that made its home in the oceans of the Early Cretaceous period. This puzzled DePalma and his team, for there was no way this creature could’ve existed in the fresh waters of prehistoric North Dakota.

Winnipeg Sun

The layout of the find was also unusual, the fossils deposited haphazardly and some skeletons even buried vertically in the dirt. Combined with the fact that tektites — small bits of natural glass created from meteor impacts — were also present, everyone was left scratching their head.

Mystic Wish

Then, a lightbulb went off: could the tektite fragments found in the Tanis deposit have been scattered here by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs? While some researchers would be quick to accept such a theory, the plausibility of this scenario isn’t exactly cut and dry.

Business Insider

The widely held belief that an asteroid impact caused the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event is primarily based on the presence of the KT layer. This 66-million-year-old band of earth stretches over nearly the entire globe and contains a high level of iridium, an element primarily found in asteroids.

This theory is also supported by the Chicxulub crater, a 112-mile impression in the Yucatan Peninsula that contains the same mineral make-up as the KT layer. Therefore, most scientists assume that the asteroid that created this crater scattered the iridium debris that ultimately wiped out the dinosaurs.

The Silver Ink

If this were the case, then, one would expect to find plenty of fossils in the KT layer: after all, it was during this time that nearly all life on Earth went extinct. However, this actually isn’t true at all — hardly any fossils have ever been found in this layer of rock.

National Geographic

In fact, most fossils are found about ten feet below the KT layer, which, geologically speaking, would amount to thousands of years between the death of these creatures and the fateful asteroid impact. Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that an extraterrestrial object reduced every last dinosaur to rubble.

ValueWalk

Proponents of this alternate theory do still believe that an asteroid impact finished off the last of these prehistoric creatures, though they propose that factors like large-scale volcanic activity and climate change had already wiped out most of the dinosaurs by this point.

The Independent

However, according to DePalma, the Tanis find was the key to finally putting this debate to bed. Not only were the fossils he discovered located within the KT layer, but their haphazard placement suggested they were deposited here just moments after the asteroid struck.

Robert DePalma / Facebook

With this information in mind, DePalma posited that the mile-high tsunamis created by the impact must’ve traveled up river valleys and into freshwater bodies, which is how the mosasaur tooth came to be here. This was big news.

Eager to share his discovery with the world, DePalma sat down with The New Yorker to share the exclusive details of his historic find. However, as soon as the story broke in April 2019, the paleontology community grew outraged.

Nieman Lab

Many of DePalma’s colleagues were upset that the paleontologist had chosen to share his story with The New Yorker instead of a reputable scientific journal. DePalma later published his discovery in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, though many felt this account was significantly less detailed than his New Yorker piece.

Inforum

Even prior to this, however, DePalma was considered by some to be a controversial figure in the world of paleontology. In 2015, he introduced a new species of dinosaur he’d recovered from the Hell Creek Formation dubbed Dakotaraptor, though after presenting the completed skeleton, it was discovered one of the bones belonged to a turtle.

DePalma also stirred up controversy with his business practices, as he retains all control of his specimens even after they’ve been placed in museums and university collections. He also reportedly funds his field work by creating replicas of his finds and selling them to private collectors.

Robert DePalma / Facebook

But the strangest discrepancy of all may be DePalma’s record of the discovery itself. While the paleontologist and his team have made claims about the large number of dinosaur fossils uncovered near the surface of the Tanis deposit, his article in PNAS only mentions one example in a supplementary document.

The San Diego Union-Tribune

As of now, additional papers on Tanis are being prepared that will hopefully clear up the confusion surrounding DePalma’s find. Until then, one can only wonder if DePalma’s discovery will truly change history or simply wind up as the fabrication of another would-be hero in search of fame and glory.

FallonCohen / Imgur

For David Bradt, however, the discovery he made while out hunting was certainly the real deal. While the Montana man was only hoping to return from his hunting trip with something to show for it, he never could’ve anticipated he was about to make history.

Dave Bradt

One November afternoon, Bradt ventured into Montana’s Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge hoping to bag an elk. While he was prepared for a hunt, he never imagined the creature he would find.

Allen Russell Photography

Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on David’s side that day. He hadn’t seen an elk all afternoon, so he decided to walk over to a nearby spring to take a break.

David approached the water’s edge to splash some cool water on his face when he noticed something sticking out from the rocks. Rather than return to his futile hunt, he bent down to investigate.

Based on a life of outdoor experience, Bradt assumed that he had spotted some petrified wood. But when he took a closer look, he realized that it was something much different.

Utah Geological Survey

He found a bone! He assumed that it was probably just from a dead elk or a bighorn sheep that called the refuge home, but something about it didn’t seem right.

David was an avid outdoorsman, but this bone was out of his depth. He notified both wildlife services and the paleontology department of a local museum before reaching out to some unlikely experts for help.

Museum of the Rockies

He called his children! Like most kids, Kellen and Garrison loved dinosaurs. They immediately wanted to get involved and help their dad get to the bottom of this mysterious discovery.

The trio began to clear dirt away from the bone, but something unusual happened: they just kept revealing more and more bone. Eventually they had to go home for the night, making sure to keep the site secret.

The size was beginning to send David’s mind racing. Bones this large had to belong to something massive. “It’s about the size of a cow.” Given how large the bone was, it was getting tough to keep the site secret.

But why did they have to keep the spot hidden? Rare fossils are quite valuable and can attract robbers looking for a quick buck. But there was something else significant about the site…

One hundred million years ago, the entire region was one giant mud pit on the bottom of an inland sea. That meant the creature, despite being found in the middle of Montana, was likely aquatic.

Scientists initially suspected the bone belonged to a mosasaurus, a giant predatory creature that most resembled a lizard mixed with a whale. As the excavation continued, however, they came to realize they were looking at something else.

Their next best guess was a plesiosaur, similar to the mythical Loch Ness monster. Once again, however, the bones didn’t seem to match up. Without a clear hypothesis, all scientists could do was keep digging.

BBC

More dirt was washed away and, eventually, the scientists started dissolving the rock in order to remove the bones. When the work was done, they unearthed an unusual looking skull.

It was a dinosaur skull! Rather than a traditionally shaped cranium, this one looked more like a big cat or alligator. There was also an unusually large tail wrapped around the mass of bones. Outside help was necessary.

GNS Science

The bones were sent to scientists at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks for analysis. They too, thought the skeleton was similar to a plesiosaur, except for one defining difference.

Plesiosaurs are known for their long, serpentine necks, and this skeleton was lacking that feature. Eventually the scientists reached an undeniable conclusion: this was something new and deadly.

BBC Earth

After further study, experts concluded the skeleton belonged to an elasmosaurus, a variant of plesiosaur. Its neck contained fewer vertebrae than average, however, only measuring seven feet long rather than the usual 18 feet.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Scientists actually weren’t sure what was going on. They had never seen a plesiosaur with this short of a neck before. They were able to come up with one working theory, however…

James Havens

This species, the short-necked elasmosaur, was an undiscovered evolutionary variant of the larger dinosaur. Similar to giraffes and okapis, it appeared that two similar species were roaming the sea at the same time.

Bradt’s discovery just goes to show that finding buried treasure isn’t something that only happens in the movies. In fact, a construction worker operating in Canada found something that people would love to see go toe-to-toe with Brandt’s plesiosaur.

It was any old Monday for Shawn Funk, who was working for the energy company Suncor. He was manning the backhoe in Millennium Mine, located about 17 miles north of Fort McMurrary in Alberta, Canada.

Suncor Energy / YouTube

Suncor was tasked with mining crude oil deep within the mine. Shawn used his machine to excavate through layers of sand that was once rich with marine plants and animals from hundreds of millions of years ago.

Since that distant time, the plants and animals have died and settled to the bottom of the previously existing ocean. Add a little heat and pressure overtime, and the once living organisms turned into hydrocarbons. Crude oil.

Ecocide Alert

Due to the nature of this biological process, Shawn rarely ran into anything other than sand and oil on the job. Which was why, when Shawn returned to work after taking a lunch break, he found it odd the backhoe was humming a different tune.

Suncor Energy / YouTube

In his 12 years of work, he had only ever ran into petrified tree stumps, so he could tell by the very different sound that his machine was striking something different. It was something much harder than both the sand and native rock in the area.

North Dakota Studies

Immediately pulling his backhoe up from the earth, Shawn dumped the contents of the excavator out in front of him. Odd looking light-brown colored lumps spilled out onto the ground. He flipped some pieces over and noticed rows of gray disks…

Suncor Energy / YouTube

In that moment, Shawn knew he needed to stop digging and call someone immediately. Suncor executives called Royal Tyrrell Museum, who quickly realized that Shawn stumbled upon something very rare. The museum flew out two technicians to the site.

Suncor Energy / YouTube

The team was able to locate the large mass that these unusual chunks came from, and from there, Suncor excavators and museum technicians spent 12 hours chipping away at the estimated 15,000-pound rock mass.

Suncor Energy / YouTube

They were finally able to free the rock accretion and lift it from the earth. As they lowered it down to level ground, the 7.5 ton mass fell to the ground and shattered revealing a paleontologist’s paradise…

Suncor Energy / YouTube

They’d found the remains of a prehistoric organism! The museum technicians inspected the mystery creature’s shattered remains and put them back together like a puzzle.

Suncor Energy

When they finished a rough re-assemblage of the creature it highly resembled a realistic, nine-foot tall dinosaur! But the truly remarkable thing about this discovery was that they weren’t looking at a fossil of bones. In fact, there were no bones visible at all: they were seeing bony scutes and plates — the dinosaur was entirely petrified.

National Geographic

Thousands of questions flooded the minds of the museum technicians. How was this dinosaur fossilized so well that it was basically mummified? They were dying to figure out the story of this rare find.

Suncor Energy

The pieces of the petrified dinosaur were taken back to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology for tests and research, where it was discovered the creature lived about 110 million years ago! The dinosaur was very clearly an armored plant-eater, similar to those found in western Canada.

National Geographic

Scientists placed the creature in the genus Ankylosaurus. It’s believed that it died in western Canada and got transported by a massive flood where it ended up at the bottom of a pre-historic ocean.

Wikimedia Commons

A full reconstruction of the herbivore revealed it was four-legged, armor-plated dinosaur covered in spikes with a long tail most-likely covered in spikes to fend off predators — a brand new species called a called Nodosaur!

National Geographic

In its petrified state, the Nodosaur weighs about 2,500 pounds, and it’s believed that when alive, it weighed about 3,000 pounds. The Nodosaur would have been a fairly solitary creature 100 millions years ago.

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

It’s miraculous the behemoth’s body remained so intact after such a rough and long distance journey. As of 2019, how this occurred was still a mystery to scientists, but it had to have happened quickly because the dinosaur laid undisturbed for millions of years while it was covered by the substrate.

National Geographic

Because of its pristine condition, scientists were able to use modern scans to get a glimpse inside the dinosaur’s hard exoskeleton. They saw the bone structure and even some internal workings of the beast’s stomach. That’s how well preserved this find was.

National Geographic

Researchers from the museum and around the world worked for six years and for over 7,000 hours to test, preserve, and prepare the remains of this precious find. The Nodosaur is on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum for those wishing to get a look at the closest thing to a real dinosaur.

Wikimedia Commons

In early 2019, scientists were still studying the Nodosaur and its scans to continue to learn about dinosaurs in general, as nothing like this had ever been found before. However, not far away, archeologists made a discovery that rivaled that of the Nodosaur.

National Geographic

See, the Heiltsuk people, the First Nation indigenous to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, have laid claim to the remote Triquet Island for nearly 5,000 years. But archaeologists have dismissed their claim of ownership for one glaring reason…

Simon Fraser University

The continental glacier that formed over Canada during the last Ice Age would’ve also covered Triquet Island, making it uninhabitable. But even with the facts stacked against the Heiltsuk, a small group of researchers took it upon themselves to uncover the truth once and for all.

The Robinson Library

The archaeologists began an extensive excavation of the remote island in the hope of discovering traces of a past civilization. What they found there not only shocked the entire archaeological community, but it also changed history forever.

Second Nexus

Beneath several layers of earth, they found remnants of an ancient, wood-burning hearth. But how could this be? According to researchers, it would’ve been impossible for humans to dig their way through the glacial ice to get to the soil below.

As they continued digging, researchers unearthed additional artifacts, including tools and weapons. This discovery stumped the team as the Heiltsuk people traditionally didn’t use tools of this kind.

The Heiltsuk people had derived their food source from fishing and smoking salmon, utilizing small, precise tools to harvest the fish. The tools and weapons found were much larger and likely would’ve been used to hunt large sea mammals, such as seals, sea lions, and walruses.

What’s more, the team also uncovered shards of obsidian, a glass-like rock only found in areas of heavy volcanic activity. This discovery also puzzled the archaeologists, as there were no known volcanoes near that part of British Columbia. So, how did this rock — and these people — get there?

KLCC

The historians deduced that whoever left these artifacts must have traversed the land bridge that existed between Siberia and Alaska during prehistoric times. Yet researchers still needed cold-hard facts…

Luckily, a closer inspection of the hearth revealed ancient charcoal remains, which the archaeologists quickly brought to the lab for carbon dating. When they received the results, the researchers couldn’t believe their eyes: everything they knew was a lie.

According to the carbon dating report, these bits of charcoal were an astonishing 14,000 years old, making them the oldest carbon remains ever to be discovered in North America.

Even by global standards, this was an extraordinary find. After all, these simple pieces of charcoal were older than the Great Pyramid of Giza and even predated the invention of the wheel! But that’s not the most remarkable fact about this discovery.

The 14,000-year-old discovery placed the earliest Heiltsuk at Triquet Island 2,000 years before the end of the ice age. Therefore, the island couldn’t have been covered by the massive continental glacier. And that’s not all.

Since Triquet Island was surrounded on all sides by water, the early Heiltsuk would’ve used boats to traverse the open waters. Boats, however, were not believed to have been invented until centuries later.

Smithsonian

This meant that the Heiltsuk settled the area 2,000 years before initially believed. If this was the case, then these early men likely crossed paths with some of history’s most formidable beasts.

As the Heiltsuk people made their way south from the land bridge, they likely had to fend off giant creatures like mastodons, woolly mammoths, and giant sloths. But somehow, these humans survived, and it’s likely for one crucial reason.

Thanks to the Pacific Ocean itself, the sea level at Triquet Island remained constant for over 15,000 years. So as the sea gradually eroded the surrounding islands, the great beasts of the Pacific Northwest were kept at bay, leaving the Heiltsuk to a peaceful, secluded existence.

The most astounding realization that’s come to light is the fact that the Heiltsuk people were able to preserve their history orally for nearly 14,000 years. However, they are still being deprived of their history’s legitimacy.

When the media caught wind of the story, they seemed to focus more on what the discovery meant for the scientific community rather than acknowledge the rich history of the Heiltsuk. To many, the media’s portrayal of the nation was seen as highly disrespectful.

As a result, University of Victoria student Alisha Gauvreau — who was present during the excavation — has dedicated herself to shifting the focus of the dialogue toward the Heiltsuk people.

The Heiltsuk claim to Triquet Island stands as one of the oldest land-ownership claims in the world. Not only does this discovery speak volumes about the strength of the Heiltsuk people, but it also represents the indomitable spirit of mankind.

kris krüg / Flickr

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