Press Releases 2013

12th December 2013

Frogs don’t need Harry Potter’s invisible cloak to hide from enemies

Having dangerous and potentially deadly enemies, it is very useful to move unnoticed. Harry Potter and his friends need a magic cloak for that purpose, making them invisible. The Red Rubber Frog, living in the savannas of West Africa, occurs within the colonies of poisonous and aggressive ants, without being harmed by them. Now researchers of the Museums für Naturkunde in Berlin, together with their colleagues from Frankfurt, Würzburg and Switzerland, have identified and synthesized the substances which are used by the frog to inhibit the aggressive behaviour of the ants.

The Red Rubber Frog has no easy life. This species inhabits savannas sometimes being without rain for half a year. In order to not dry up, the frog needs to hide underground in humid soil. As this frog can’t dig himself into the earth, it is completely dependent to use already existing burrows and cracks. However, those are often already occupied by aggressive ants. One of these species, the African Scavenger Ant, reaching 2.5 cm and smelling like sulphur, is particularly aggressive, possessing powerful mandibles and a sting connected with a venom gland. These ants hunt and kill other frogs; however, the Red Rubber Frog even lives in middle of their colonies, apparently not being recognized as an intruder.
Mark-Oliver Rödel, researcher at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, and his colleagues supposed that the frogs make use of chemical substances in their skin in order to move unrecognized between the ants, these mainly relying on their chemical perception of their environment. In the newest issue of the scientific journal PLOS ONE ( these researchers now report on a set of experiments with which they discovered hitherto unknown substances, two new peptides, which contribute to the effect that the ants don’t attack the frog. In order to prove that it is these substances “taming” the ants, the synthesized the two peptides and successfully tested them in Africa with wild Scavenger Ants. For this purpose they offered the ants another favourite prey, termites, either treated or not treated with these peptides. Treated termites were ignored by the ants or only attacked with some delay compared to untreated termites.
The researchers assume that the frogs are able to produce these substances by themselves, and do not need particular food in order to synthesize it (in contrast to poison dart frogs which relay on particular arthropod diets in order to maintain being poisonous). Even freshly metamorphed rubber frogs move unharmed between the ants and adults kept for years in captivity with artificial food didn’t loose their chemical protection.
The authors of this study believe that the substances discovered by them, theoretically could also be useful to tame other aggressive insect behaviour.

Rödel, M.-O., C. Brede, M. Hirschfeld, T. Schmitt, P. Favreau, R. Stöcklin, C. Wunder & D. Mebs (2013): Chemical camouflage – a frog’s strategy to co-exist with aggressive ants. – PLOS ONE.

5th December 2013

World Biodiversity Council IPBES starts negotiations on work programme – How can the German research community contribute?

On December 9th 2013, the 2. plenary of the member states to the World Biodiversity Council (Intergovernmental Science - Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES) will start in Antalya – the Museum für Naturkunde/Natural History Museum Berlin will be present with two observers.

The members states of the Intergovernmental Science - Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, short IPBES, will meet in Antalya in the beginning of December to negotiate its work programme and budget for the upcoming years. IPBES or the World Biodiversity Council is an independent advisory body to the UN, aiming to provide decision makers with information on the current state and development of biological diversity. IPBES is supposed to be an interface between politicians, researchers and other knowledge holders. An important task of IPBES is the preparation of reports, so called assessments, on selected topics on biodiversity. Assessments should summaries all available knowledge on a topic, identify knowledge gaps and present the latest state of research to develop policy recommendations aiming to counter loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The MfN will be represented by two observers, Dr. Christoph Häuser and Malte Timpte, who will support the German delegation and try to identify opportunities for the German research community to contribute to the working programme. They will blog about the conference and the results together with other German observers on Scientist, who would like to contribute to the work of IPBES in the near future, can already take part in an Online-Survey on IPBES working topics by the German Network-Forum for Biodiversity Research – NeFo.

Dr. Gesine Steiner, Director Media & Communication, Tel. +49(0)30 2093 8917 Fax. +49(0)30 2093 8914, e-mail;

14th August 2013

Ancient mammal relatives cast light on recovery after mass extinction

A study of how the ancient relatives of modern mammals recovered after mass extinction raises fresh questions about the capacity for life to recover from cataclysmic events. A growing number of species in the modern world face extinction due to global climate change, habitat destruction and over-exploitation. The fossil record has been used by scientists in a bid to understand how mass extinctions came about, and how species and ecosystems recovered in the aftermath.

Research suggests that the survivors of mass extinctions are often presented with new ecological opportunities. The loss of many species in their communities allows them to evolve new lifestyles and new anatomical features as they fill empty niches.

However, it turns out that not all survivors respond in the same way, and some may not be able to fully exploit the new opportunities arising after a mass extinction.

Dr Marcello Ruta (University of Lincoln, UK), Dr Kenneth Angielczyk (Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago), Professor Jörg Fröbisch (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin) and Professor Michael Benton (University of Bristol) examined how a group of ancient relatives of mammals called anomodonts responded in the aftermath of the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history.

Their findings, published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and titled “Decoupling of morphological disparity and taxic diversity during the adaptive radiation of anomodont therapsids”, show that anomodonts remained anatomically conservative even as the number of species recovered.

The mass extinction at the end of the Permian Period - about 252 million years ago - had profound effects on organisms on land and in the sea, with as many as 90 per cent of marine organisms and 70 per cent of terrestrial species wiped out.

Lead author Dr Marcello Ruta, of the University of Lincoln, UK, said: “Groups of organisms that survive such a mass extinction are said to have passed through an evolutionary bottleneck similar to the genetic bottleneck that may occur in a population if many of its members die off. A genetic bottleneck sometimes allows the population to move to a new evolutionary trajectory, but other times it constrains the future evolution of the population. Near the end of the Permian, a large number of anomodont species existed that displayed a wide range of body sizes and ecological adaptations, including terrestrial plant eaters, amphibious hippo-like species, specialized burrowers and even tree-dwelling forms.”

The variety of anatomical features found in anomodonts declined steadily over their history. Even in the aftermath of the mass extinction, when there should have been a lot of empty ecological space, anomodonts did not evolve any fundamentally new features. This suggests that the evolutionary bottleneck they passed through during the extinction constrained their evolution during the recovery.

This is the first study of its kind to address simultaneously changes in species number and anatomical diversity in anomodonts, and to quantify their response to the most catastrophic extinction on record.

Anomodonts are abundant, diverse, and well-studied, which makes them ideal models for evolutionary analyses.

The results underscore that recoveries from mass extinctions can be unpredictable, a finding that has important implications for the species extinctions being caused by human activity in the world today. We cannot just assume that life will return to the way it was before the disturbances.

Funding was provided by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Alexander von Humbolt Foundation and the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research.

For more information contact:
Jörg Fröbisch: phone: + 49 30 2093 8941; email:

12th June 2013

Synchrotron-based chemical imaging reveals plumage patterns in Archaeopteryx

A key collaborator on this project was Dr. Daniela Schwartz-Wings (Curator at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin), who kindly loaned two of the priceless Archaeopteryx fossils scanned in the course of this study.

The accepted paper addresses some serious issues relating to the recently published paper by Li et al (2012) in Science (353, 1215-1219). The morphological variation observed in the pigment generating organelle, the melanosome, in living species is now being used to predict the colour of fossilised organisms. However, because it relies on point sampling, it can only do this at discrete locations on a fossil and therefore cannot currently provide a complete picture of colour or patternation. The approach taken by our team focused on chemistry, using synchrotron rapid scanning x-ray fluorescence imaging (SRS-XRF) and this is presented in our paper to chemically resolve and map pigment biomarkers over whole specimens of one of the rarest fossils in the world, one of the first fossil birds Archaeopteryx. This technique can be used to fill in the vast gaps in the prior structural approaches and provides a complete picture of an organism.
The distribution of copper, nickel, and organic sulphur in two Archaeopteryx specimens (MB.Av.100 and HMN 1880) are strongly controlled by feather structure, but only lighter elements (P & S) are comparable with an additional third Archaeopteryx specimen (the third being WDC CSG100). Our work further elevates the significance of MB.Av.100 among all known Archaeopteryx specimens, given its preservation affords a more compete view of the elemental inventory for this iconic taxa. It is important to note that the subtle variation in pigment concentration and distribution can only be spatially resolved using SRS-XRF mapping, coupled with an understanding of the oxidation state of sulphur present that was determined using XANES spectroscopy. Our study shows how chemical methods augment structural methods (Zhang et al 2010; Li et al 2010; Carney et al 2011; Carney et al 2012) for diagnosing coloration.
This study shows that the distribution of trace-metals and organic species of sulphur in Archaeopteryx can be used to predict the complete feather pigment pattern and show that the distal tips and outer vanes of feathers were more heavily pigmented than inner vanes, contrary to recent studies (Carney et al 2012). This pigment adaptation might well have impacted upon the structural and mechanical properties of early feathers, steering plumage evolution in Archaeopteryx and other feathered theropod dinosaurs….this is a BIG leap forward in terms of our understanding of the evolution of plumage.
This study crucially shows that our non-destructive chemical approach should augment structural methods when diagnosing pigment density and distribution in the fossil record. The quantitative synchrotron-based techniques used by our current study will undoubtedly prove valuable in distinguishing between endogenous and exogenous components for a range of studies involving paleontological and archaeological samples, biological tissues, and forensic investigations.

The article is entitled: Synchrotron-based chemical imaging reveals plumage patterns in a 150 million year old early bird. J. Anal. At. Spectrom., DOI:10.1039/C3JA50077B.

Dr. Gesine Steiner, Director Media & Communication, Tel. +49(0)30 2093 8917 Fax. +49(0)30 2093 8914, e-mail;

9th April 2013

Mites hitched a ride on beetles 50 million years ago

Predatory mites are a diverse group of arachnids who use a number of tricks to colonise new habitats. An example would be the so-called ‘tortoise mites’, whose juveniles can secrete a sticky stalk from their back end which they use to attach themselves to insects (such as beetles), who then have to carry the mites with them as stowaways. Here, researchers from Berlin and Budapest reveal remarkable fossils from Baltic amber which show that this clever behaviour – and ecological relationship – dates back nearly 50 million years.

Predatory mites (Mesostigmata) are small, blind arachnids which, as their name implies, typically hunt for other tiny animals in soil and leaf litter. A particularly interesting group of predatory mites are the ‘tortoise mites’ (Uropodina). They don’t live on tortoises; the name comes from the fact that as young animals they resemble a tiny tortoise. These small, short-legged creatures obviously have difficulty walking from one habitat to another. Instead, juveniles of these mites produce a secretion from glands at the back of the abdomen which forms a short, sticky ‘stalk’. Using this, young mites can attach themselves to another (larger) animal such as a beetle. The mites are thus carried as unwelcome hitch-hikers, or stowaways, and (if they are lucky) land in a suitable, food-rich place where they can drop off and continue their life cycle.

Although about 11,500 living predatory mite species are known, they are extremely rare as fossils – only four such species have been described. A research team from Berlin and Budapest recently published the oldest evidence for tortoise mites in the international journal Naturwissenschaften. The fossils were discovered in Baltic amber and what is particularly exciting is that the juvenile mites are attached to longhorn beetles, exactly like certain tortoise mites living today. This behaviour can thus be dated back almost 50 million years and shows that mites and beetles have had an intimate relationship with one another for a very long time. Furthermore, examples of two other groups of predatory mites were also found on these beetles. The researchers suggest that many more fossil mites may yet be discovered hidden on various insects. This project was supported by the EU’s Synthesys program.

Published in: Dunlop, J. A., Kontschán, J. & Zwanzig, M. 2013. Fossil mesostigmatid mites (Mesostigmata: Gamasina, Microgyniina, Uropodina), associated with longhorn beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) in Baltic amber. Naturwissenschaften. DOI: 10.1007/s00114-013-1031-8

Dr. Gesine Steiner, Director Media & Communication, Tel. +49(0)30 2093 8917 Fax. +49(0)30 2093 8914, e-mail;

11th March 2013

The large-scale EU project EU BON: Towards integration with its global counterpart GEO BON

The project's main objective is to support the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON) and Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)

The official Kickoff meeting of the Building the European Biodiversity Observation Network (EU BON) project, organized by the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, took place on 13-15 February 2013 to formally mark the beginning of the project and to set goals and objectives for the future. Among the hottest issues discussed was the integration of EU BON's framework with the Global Earth Biodiversity Observation Network project GEO BON and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Another intention set for the future is the enhanced communication and synchronization between the various partners and work packages.

The main objective set for EU BON is to facilitate with its contributions, and thus build a substantial part of GEO BON. EU BON Advisory Board, comprising ten leading experts in data management, biodiversity conservation and earth observation realms has been set up. Dr. Wouter Los - Chairman of the Expert centre for Taxonomic Identification (ETI), and 2nd Vice Chair of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility Governing Board (GBIF) was elected as a chair of the EU BON Advisory Board. It has been decided, with the directions and help of the EU BON's Advisory Board, to achieve that a substantial amount of work should be done towards a more comprehensive vision of the relationship between the two projects and the place EU BON takes as a major contributor

Another aim delineated is working towards collaboration between the currently fragmented biodiversity data sources in Europe in an attempt to create an integrated network and framework for the benefit of the project objective itself, and GEO BON eventually. Dialogue and association with similar or relevant biodiversity projects and initiatives, on European and Global levels, are also encouraged. Organizing a conference is on the project's to do list.

Enhanced communication between the different partners and work packages has been outlined as the engine for achieving of the projects main objectives. A second official meeting has been already assigned for 2014 to measure the progress of EU BON and to set further goals. Meanwhile partners are already organizing workshops to work towards reflecting the directions for development currently set.

EU BON (2012) stands for "Building the European Biodiversity Observation Network" and is an European research project, financed by the 7th EU framework programme for research and development (FP7). EU BON seeks ways to better integrate biodiversity information and implement into policy and decision-making of biodiversity monitoring and management in the EU.

GEO BON stands for "Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network". It coordinates activities relating to the Societal Benefit Area (SBA) on Biodiversity of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Some 100 governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations are collaborating through GEO BON to organise and improve terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity observations globally and make their biodiversity data, information and forecasts more readily accessible to policymakers, managers, experts and other users. Moreover, GEO BON has been recognized by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

More information at:

Dr. Gesine Steiner, Director Media & Communication, Tel. +49(0)30 2093 8917 Fax. +49(0)30 2093 8914, e-mail;

26th February 2013

Venomous snakes of Nepal: doctors and diplomats celebrate book release in Kathmandu

Venomous snakes are an occupational health risk for millions of farmers in Nepal. Today, doctors, diplomats and government officials in the capital of the Himalayan nation celebrated the release of 5000 copies of a new book on the country’s venomous snakes. The book, written by a team of biologists and physicians from Germany, Nepal and Switzerland, is the first to help identify the dangerous reptiles based on photographs and text in Nepali and English editions. It also contains country-specific information on snake bite first aid and treatment. By better educating Nepal’s farmers and health care professionals, the experts hope to prevent suffering and death from snake bites in the country.

The name Nepal immediately evokes images of the Himalayas, trekking and mountaineering. However, about half of the roughly 30 million people of Nepal live on a narrow stretch of fertile plains and low rolling hills along the country’s southern border with India. Here, they share the land with protected areas like Chitwan National Park, world famous for its tigers, rhinos and elephants – and with some of Asia’s most dangerous snakes: various species of krait, cobra und Russell’s viper.

While tourists hardly ever see such reptiles, the risk for the rural population of Nepal is considerable – not only in the hot and humid lowlands, but increasingly in the hills, too. Even Swiss Ambassador Thomas Gass once found a snake in the garden of his Kathmandu residence. “Many people in Nepal worship snakes and fear them at the same time” says Gass, also Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Nepal: „Actually snakes are really useful because they eat so many rats and mice. This way they help secure harvests and control rodent-borne diseases. On the other hand, snake bites are a painful reality in the lives of millions of farmers in Nepal and a big health problem.“
As the knowledge about snakes and snake bite in Nepal is far from satisfactory, the SDC sponsored the production of a new book on the topic, the first to identify the dangerous reptiles based on photographs and text in separate Nepali and English editions. The book was prepared by biologists and physicians from the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) in Frankfurt, Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Geneva University Hospitals, B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences and Tribhuvan University in Nepal. Apart from the descriptions of venomous snakes –at least 18 species are known to occur in the country– it also contains country-specific information on snake bite first aid and treatment. First issued in 5000 copies, it is now meant to better educate Nepal’s farmers and health care professionals and to help prevent disability and death from snake bite.
In the course of writing, the team of authors around Dr. Ulrich Kuch of the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) and Prof. Sanjib K. Sharma of the B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences faced not only scientific, but also linguistic challenges: „At first we thought that concentrating the information on few pages would be the greatest hurdle,“ says Kuch who heads the ‚Emerging and Neglected Tropical Diseases Unit‘ of BiK-F. „But it turned out that translating it into our national language Nepali was the most difficult step,“ adds Sharma: „As we wanted to reach out to a very diverse audience in rural Nepal, from village schools to medical doctors, dealing with the technical text in Nepali gave us some tough nuts to crack.“
Assessing the current knowledge also pointed the team to where additional study is needed most – in the fields of medicine as well as biodiversity research: “Astonishing for me as a clinician was the fact that for some of the dangerous species in Nepal there isn’t even a photo of a live snake, let alone information about their venoms and how they might be neutralized by antivenoms,” says Prof. François Chappuis from the Department of International and Humanitarian Medicine of Geneva University Hospitals and one of the authors of the book.
At the book launching ceremony in Kathmandu, Nepal’s Health Secretary Dr. Prabin Mishra commended the successful long-term collaboration of the Nepalese, German and Swiss researchers and institutions. He announced that the book would be widely distributed to primary health care centres, hospitals and schools in the country in the context of awareness and training campaigns.

download to the book here:

Dr. Gesine Steiner, Director Media & Communication, Tel. +49(0)30 2093 8917 Fax. +49(0)30 2093 8914, e-mail;

15th February 2013

Knut the Polar Bear to be exhibited at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

From February 16th to March 15th, Knut the polar bear, who died in the Berlin Zoo on 19/03/2011, will be on public display in the foyer of the Museum für Naturkunde, free of charge, following the wishes of a large part of the population. Afterwards, Knut will be added to the scientific research collections of the Museum and be displayed in another exhibition not before 2014. The exhibition entitled "The Value of Nature" will include Knut under the aspects of his extraordinary popularity and his role as ambassador for an endangered species.

"We know this animal has great symbolic power. It stands for the protection of an endangered species and for the fight against global climate change and also for the relationship between man and animal." explained Director General Johannes Vogel. We are aware that public opinion is divided on the decision to have the polar bear mounted, and we do respect other points of view, but we simply cannot please everybody."

While the cause of Knut's death was investigated at the IZW Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, the Museum's exhibition team has been developing a concept on the presentation of the animal, taking as many aspects as possible into account. On the one hand, there are scientists who would like to make such rare celebrities part of their scientific collection. On the other hand, there is Knut the polar bear, eliciting a wide range of emotions that must be accommodated. These include a sense of mourning for the animal with a dread of seeing the animal on display, as well as a sense of curiosity and anticipation at the opportunity to see Knut again. In the Museum's 200-year history, a tradition of mounting interesting animals that died in zoos has developed to make them available to future generations for research and education. This seems to chime in with the needs of many people, as the lasting popularity of Bobby the Gorilla shows, which has been on public display since 1935.

A taxidermy of Knut has been created by mounting the original hide over an artistic sculpture of the animal. The eyes are made of glass. The process of mounting an animal has been well illustrated as part of our general exhibition for many years.

Dr. Gesine Steiner, Director Media & Communication, Tel. +49(0)30 2093 8917 Fax. +49(0)30 2093 8914, e-mail;

14th February 2013

Hope for frogs in a biodiversity hotspot: No chytrid in West Africa

Amphibians are one of the most threatened animal groups in the world. Nearly one third of all species are under acute threat. One of the main reasons for their decline is a fungus which has a nearly worldwide distribution. Under the lead of researcher from the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin nearly 800 amphibians belonging to over 60 species were searched for the disease. Analyses revealed that the fungus could find suitable environmental conditions in West Africa but does not occur yet. Therefore this biodiversity hotspot is beside Madagascar the only chytrid free region in the world.

Under the direction of scientists of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin nearly 800 amphibians were analysed in search of the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). It is assumed that it is responsible for the amphibian decline in many regions of the world. In infected individuals the fungus settles itself into the skin and blocks respiration therein which kills the animals in the end. Chytrid is widespread in Africa and every year new positive records are reported from countries in southern, eastern and central Africa. The current study did not detect chytrid in western Africa despite extensive tests of 62 species from seven countries. This is especially remarkable because an analysis of environmental factors showed clearly that the fungus would find suitable conditions in western Africa. Thus its occurrence should be highly likely.

The international team used a number of different methods and analysed the samples partly genetically, partly histologically in different laboratories which all had experience in detecting chytrid. These consistent negative results were compared to against results derived from modelling environmental parameters from regions where positive records exist. This shows clearly that the occurrence of chytrid is very likely in West Africa. One explanation for this lack, according to Johannes Penner, first author of the study, could be the Dahomy Gap. This natural gap in the distribution of rain forests in West Africa (in the countries Togo and Benin) is probably a natural barrier for the dispersal of the of the fungus.

Therefore West Africa is the last tropical region beside Madagascar where chytrid does not exist. So it could be that the global amphibian decline spares the region? “Unfortunately this is not the case!” says Dr. Mark-Oliver Rödel, Curator of Herpetology at the Museum für Naturkunde. “Unfortunately the conversion and destruction of natural habitats are still the main cause for the amphibian decline”. This also still happens on a large scale in western Africa.

However, it would be one big step if it would be possible to avoid the anthropogenic dispersion of chytrid into western Africa. The researchers also discuss potential routes of the fungus into the region (e.g. via the trade of frogs for the food market) and suggest various precautionary measures. For example the transport of potential fungus infected materials between the regions should be controlled and materials prophylactically disinfected. In addition an early warning system would be useful to detect the appearance of the fungus in Ghana, a potential entry point. Within the combination of all factors contributing to the global amphibian decline, this would eliminate a significant one from western Africa.

Johannes Penner, Gilbert B. Adum, Matthew T. McElroy, Thomas Doherty-Bone, Mareike Hirschfeld, Laura Sandberger, Ché Weldon, Andrew A. Cunningham, Torsten Ohst, Emma Wombwell, Daniel M. Portik, Duncan Reid, Annika Hillers, Caleb Ofori-Boateng, William Oduro, Jörg Plötner, Annemarie Ohler, Adam D. Leaché & Mark-Oliver Rödel (2013) Title: West Africa - A Safe Haven for Frogs? A Sub-Continental Assessment of the Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). PLOS ONE

Dr. Gesine Steiner, Director Media & Communication, Tel. +49(0)30 2093 8917 Fax. +49(0)30 2093 8914, e-mail; gesine.steiner(at)

7th January 2013

Giant fossil predator provides insights into the rise of modern marine ecosystem structures

Embargoed until 7th January 2013, 15:00 Eastern US time – 21:00Uhr MEZ

An 8.6 meter long fossil marine predator was recovered from the Nevada desert in an excavation by an international team of researchers led by Dr. Nadia Fröbisch, a paleontologist at the Museum für Naturkunde, Leibniz Institute for Research on Evolution and Biodiversity in Berlin. The 244 Million year old fossil represents the first top predator in marine food chains, feeding on prey of similar size to its own, comparable to modern day orca whales. Its appearance in the fossil record only 8 Million years after Earth’s most severe extinction event at the end of the Permian period documents the fast recovery and evolution of a modern ecosystem structure after 80-96% of species in the oceans were extinguished.

The fossil was originally discovered in 1997 during a field campaign led by Prof. Martin Sander (University of Bonn) and Dr. Olivier Rieppel (Field Museum, Chicago). After its recovery in the summer 2008 it has now been described in the journal PNAS and named Thalattoarchon saurophagis - the lizard-eating sovereign of the sea. Thalattoarchon is an early representative of the ichthyosaurs, a group of marine reptiles that lived contemporaneously with the dinosaurs and roamed the oceans for 160 Million years. It had a massive skull and jaws armed with large teeth bearing cutting edges that it used to seize and cut other marine reptiles in the Triassic seas.

The ichthyosaur was recovered from what is today a very remote mountain range in central Nevada, USA. Most of the animal was preserved, including the skull (save the front of the snout), parts of the fins, and the complete vertebral column up to the tip of the tail. Supported by a Discovery Grant from the National Geographic Society, it took the team of paleontologists three full weeks to unearth the ichthyosaur and prepare it for its transport by helicopter and truck out of the field.

“Everyday we learn more about the biodiversity of our planet including living and fossil species and their ecosystems” Dr. Fröbisch said. “The new find characterizes the establishment of a new and more advanced level of ecosystem structure. Findings like Thalattoarchon help us to understand the dynamics of our evolving planet and ultimately the impact humans have on todays environment.”

This research is part of a collaborative study of the first author Dr. Nadia Fröbisch and Prof. Jörg Fröbisch (both at Museum für Naturkunde Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung), Prof. P. Martin Sander (Steinmann Institute of Geology, Mineralogy, and Paleontology, Division of Paleontology, University of Bonn), Prof. Lars Schmitz (W. M. Keck Science Department, Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges, Claremont, USA) and Dr. Olivier Rieppel (The Field Museum, Chicago, USA).

The article will be published in the week of January 7, 2013 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Dr. Gesine Steiner, Director Media & Communication, Tel. +49(0)30 2093 8917 Fax. +49(0)30 2093 8914, e-mail;

Last update: 08.01.2014