#FossilFriday: A four-legged snake from Brazil points to the origins of modern snakes

It sounds like a contradiction, but palaeontologists from the UK and Germany have discovered a snake with legs! This stunning fossil, found in Brazil, dates from the time of the dinosaurs in the early Cretaceous period, which began more than 145 million years ago. The new species, Tetrapodophis [meaning four-legged] amplectus, has the characteristic anatomical features of a snake,…

A fluffy mammal? A furry tail? Believe it or not, this is a mollusc!

Well, this certainly isn’t the image that springs to mind when you think of molluscs – but the more recognisable snails, oysters and octopus only represent three out of the eight living groups. This beautiful creature is a solenogastre, one of the two vermiform (worm-like) molluscan groups. Solenogastres are found in oceans across the world, from…

Birds and others use structural trickery to produce vibrant blue colours

Peacocks, kingfishers and bluebirds are among some of the most eye-catching of birds, and in many cultures are particularly admired for their rich blue colours. We have long known that red and orange birds take their colour from their food, extracting pigments in the plant and animal matter they consume. Flamingoes are possibly the best-known example,…

In Focus: Can golden moles hear the earth move with a Thor-like ‘hammer’?

The golden moles (Chrysochloridae) are a group of silky and rather endearing group of mammals resembling, but distinct from, the true moles (talpids). Indeed, they are more closely related to elephants and manatees than to moles, shrews, rodents or other seemingly similar animals. They share many features with moles, such as adaptations to burrowing, and inhabit…

Cartilage and encroaching bone in the developing mouse skeleton

This shot of the dorsal neck of a developing mouse embryo visually shows the process of skeletal growth found in all bony vertebrates. The widespread blue stain (Alcian blue) reveals the extensive cartilaginous blueprint for the growing skeleton, which extends by the division of chondrocytes (cartilage-producing cells) guided by signalling molecules across the embryo. The…

Rock-climbing cavefish ‘walks’ like a salamander

One of our interests at the RVC is examining the early history of tetrapods (four-legged vertebrates) and how their ancestors made the transition from water to land. Some studies have examined species of living fishes that can move on land, such as mudskippers and lungfish, but although they are able to make do using their…

April fool! This ‘snail shell’ isn’t quite what it seems…

When is a snail not a snail? What if it’s something totally, completely different? This mollusc-like shell was described as a new species of trochid in 1903, but in fact it comes from an entire different phylum (one of the highest levels of distinction between animals). Any ideas what it might be instead? … It’s an anemone!…

#ThrowbackThursday: Reconstructions show that human brains may have evolved more recently than we thought

The human brain may have evolved much faster and more recently than previously thought, researchers suggest from reconstruction of hominid skulls. By scanning the skull of Australopithecus sediba, one of the earliest complete hominid skeletons, scientists could reconstruct the shape and size of the brain from an endocast of the cranium. Essentially, this means they could use the…