Visit to the Senckenberg Natural History Museum

The Senckenberg Natural History Museum (Naturmuseum Senckenberg)

When in Frankfurt, take the opportunity to visit one of the largest natural history museums in Germany, the Naturmuseum Senckenberg (Senckenberg Natural History Museum).  Team members at Everything Dinosaur did just that, visiting the museum just prior to the commencement of a major refurbishment programme.  The spacious dinosaur gallery is perhaps, the most popular gallery in the museum and it is certainly worth a look around, but in addition, there are plenty of other gems to spot amongst the extensive collection of The Senckenberg Research Institute.

Tyrannosaurus rex Greets Visitors to the Naturmuseum Senckenberg

T. rex replica outside the Frankfurt museum.

A well-known Frankfurt landmark. The T. rex outside the Naturmuseum Senckenberg .

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Dinosaur Gallery

With a life-size replica of T. rex to be found opposite the main entrance, visitors to the museum will not be surprised to discover that a cast of Tyrannosaurus rex can be found in the ground floor dinosaur gallery.  The near forty-foot long replica positioned on a landscaped area over the road from the entrance to the museum, is in very good condition, given the amount of attention the Frankfurt T. rex was getting from young dinosaur fans who were delighted to get up close to the statue and run between the Theropod’s giant legs.

A Cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex Skeleton in the Dinosaur Gallery

T. rex skeleton at the Frankfurt Natural History Museum

The museum’s dinosaur gallery. Naturmuseum Senckenberg

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Dinosaur Gallery

Although the gallery is quite large and all the life-size dinosaurs that occupy the floor space are mounted on raised platforms, visiting the gallery later in the afternoon, affords the visitor the best views as towards closing time the galleries are much less busy.

For us, a highlight of the dinosaur gallery was being able to view the marvellous Bob Nicholls replica of Psittacosaurus, the dinosaur featured in a recently published scientific paper that examined the idea of counter shading in forest dwelling dinosaurs.  This beautiful model demonstrates how our views about the appearance of dinosaurs has changed.  Contrast, for example, Bob’s remarkable replica with some of the painted images of dinosaurs that occupy the walls of the dinosaur gallery.

The Life-size Psittacosaurus Replica on Display

Life-size Psittacosaurus replica.

A model of the dinosaur called Psittacosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The beautifully preserved fossil Psittacosaurus specimen that was used in the recent study into dinosaur colouration can be found in the Senckenberg Research Institute’s vertebrate fossil collection.  The fossil probably came from the Yixian Formation of Liaoning Province (north-eastern China), most likely from an illegal smuggling operation.  However, the specimen was purchased by the Frankfurt museum (see photograph below).

To read an article from Everything Dinosaur about this exciting area of research: Calculating the Colour of Psittacosaurus

A Cast of the Psittacosaurus Fossil on Display at the Museum

A Psittacosaurus fossil.

Psittacosaurus fossil on display at the Senckenberg Naturmuseum (Frankfurt).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As well as specimens of Diplodocus, Iguanodon, Triceratops (T. prorsus) and Euoplocephalus, look out for the wall-mounted Plateosaurus and the collection of dinosaur eggs.

An Oviraptor on Display Next to Examples of Dinosaur Nests and Eggs

An Oviraptor and dinosaur eggs exhibit.

An Oviraptor and its nest.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With many of the information panels written in both German and English, these thoughtful displays are most illuminating.

Other Museum Highlights

The mammal gallery is most impressive, look out for the Quagga display (an extinct sub-species of plains Zebra), one of just a handful of specimens in the world.  In the marsupial area, a Thylacine can be found, standing amongst its close relatives the Tasmanian Devil and the Quoll.

The Thylacine is Included in the Marsupial Mammals Display

A Thylacine on display.

A Thylacine is included in the Australian mammals part of the gallery (Senckenberg Museum).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Spectacular Displays of Ancient and Not So Ancient Prehistoric Elephants

Large elephants on display.

Prehistoric elephants on display at the Senckenberg Museum (Frankfurt).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Messel Oil Shales and Marine Reptiles

For the keen fossil fan, there is a substantial display of invertebrate fossils helping to get across the concept of deep time as well as explaining biostratigraphy (check out the ammonites that help to illustrate this).  An entire side gallery has been dedicated to the remarkable fossils from the Messel Oil Shales.  We suspect this part of the museum has been recently modernised, the displays were well lit and the many different types of animal and plant fossil from the Messel pits were thoughtfully showcased and grouped by Phyla and Orders.

Part of the Messel Oil Shales Gallery

Part of the Messel gallery (Senckenberg Museum).

The atmospheric Messel gallery at the Senckenberg Museum (Frankfurt).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The marine reptile gallery was also most impressive.  There were a large number of replica fossils on display including spectacular examples of Ichthyosaurs, Placodonts, Plesiosaurs, Turtles and Nothosaurs.  Visitors to the museum also have the opportunity to view examples of giants of the sea around today with a most informative Cetacean gallery.  It was also a pleasure to see explanation panels on the evolution of the whale family along with specimens representing Basilosaurus and Ambulocetus, the Ambulocetus tying in nicely with the Messel fossils exhibit.

 An Exhibit Explaining How the Plesiosauria “Flew” Underwater

An underwater flyer (Plesiosauria).

A display explaining how marine reptiles “flew” underwater.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

One of the Displays from the Spectacular Cetacean Gallery

Ancient whales on display.

The spectacular ancient whales gallery (Senckenberg Museum).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We look forward to learning more about the refurbishment programme for this museum and whilst we appreciate there will be some disruption during this work, we recommend this museum.  It is well worth a visit.

The Skin of a Spanish Titanosaur

Titanosaur Trace Fossils Excite Palaeontologists

Now that team members have published an article on Australia’s newest titanosaurid (Savannasaurus elliottorum), we can turn our attention to another scientific paper, actually published last month, which details an exciting Titanosaur related discovery but this time from Europe, or to be more precise Catalonia in Spain.  Researchers have discovered fossils of skin impressions in rocks that were formed from sediments deposited at the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

A Close View of the Larger of the Two Dinosaur Skin Impression Fossils

Titanosaur skin impression.

Titanosauriform Sauropod dinosaur skin impression (Catalonia).

Picture Credit: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Autonomous University of Barcelona)

How was the Skin Impression Made?

The picture above shows the bigger of the two dinosaur trace fossils.  Large, irregular, quite angular scales can be made out.  However, what the photograph shows is not the actual skin impression but a natural cast. Sometime around 66 million years ago a dinosaur was crossing a stretch of mud close to a river.  It may have slipped and fallen or perhaps it simply rested for a while lying down on the sticky muddy surface.  An impression of the animal’s scales was made in the soft mud.  These marks were later covered by sand, perhaps as a result of the river level rising.  Over tens of thousands of years, this sand was slowly turned to sandstone (sedimentary rock).  Uplift and subsequent erosion exposed the rock layer where the natural cast was preserved and over time the softer mudstone was gradually eroded away leading to the exposure of the natural cast of the dinosaur’s skin.  Trace fossils such as this preserve a moment in time, they preserve evidence of behaviour or activity.  If you look carefully you can see shadows around some of the individual scales, the scales are raised.  This sort of trace fossil is known as an epirelief (raised) fossil.

How do we Know the Fossils Come from a Titanosaur?

In truth, nobody knows for certain what type of animal left these impressions of its skin.  The shape of the scales are similar to other dinosaur skin impressions, so it is very likely that these fossils represent a member of the Dinosauria.  The size of the individual scales are just too big for the Theropod and Ornithopod dinosaurs that are known to have lived in this area some sixty-six million years ago.  In addition, palaeontologists have found the big, rounded tracks of wide-bodied Titanosaurs in similar-aged strata close by.  So, in all probability, these two fossils represent a Titanosaur and it is likely that the two epirelief trace fossils, one about twenty centimetres wide and the other just five centimetres across and within one and a half metres of the other, were made by the same animal at the same time.

Titanosaur Has a Lie Down

A dinosaur rests by the riverbank.

A titanosaurid takes a rest on a riverbank.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton (with some background alteration by Everything Dinosaur)

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona researcher and lead author of the scientific paper published in the “Geological” magazine, Victor Fondevilla, explained that although dinosaur skin impressions have been discovered in Europe before, they don’t come from the very end of the Mesozoic.

He stated:

“This is the only registry of dinosaur skin from this period in all of Europe, and it corresponds to one of the most recent specimens, closer to the extinction event, in all of the world.”

These trace fossils, located in the red sandstone beds of the Tremp Formation (southern Pyrenees), represent some of the most recent dinosaur fossils ever made, coming from the chronozone associated with the period of the Maastrichtian faunal stage immediately before the K-Pg extinction event.  These, in situ Titanosaur fossils come from C29r chronozone or chron, as these slices of time are sometimes referred to.  Thus, they represent some of the last fossils known representing Titanosauriforms.

Victor Fondevilla Points out Where the Larger of the Two Trace Fossils can be found on the Exposed Rock Face

Victor Fondevilla, (Autonomous University of Barcelona) examines one of the dinosaur skin fossils.

Looking at dinosaur skin fossils.

Picture Credit: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Autonomous University of Barcelona)

The Scientific paper: “Skin Impressions of the Last European Dinosaurs” published in Geological Magazine (Cambridge University Press)

To read our article on “Wade” Savannasaurus elliottorum: Titanosaurs Crossing Continents Savannasaurus elliottorum

Carcharodontosaurus – A Very Popular Dinosaur

Carcharodontosaurus – An Enormous Carnivorous Dinosaur

Paleo Paul has been busy with his camera again as this week, team members at Everything Dinosaur were emailed some photographs of the latest addition to his fossil collection, a magnificent broken tooth from a very large Theropod dinosaur.  In his email, Paleo Paul explained that the tooth was from a North African, meat-eating dinosaur called Carcharodontosaurus, a dinosaur whose fossils first came to the attention of the scientific community in the early part of the 20th Century, although Carcharodontosaurus was not named and formally described until 1931.

The Large Theropod Tooth (Carcharodontosaurus)

Dinosaur fan sends picture of dinosaur tooth into Everything Dinosaur

The large, broken Theropod dinosaur tooth identified as Carcharodontosaurus.

Picture Credit: Paleo Paul

Carcharodontosaurus saharicus

Paleo Paul wrote to say that this dinosaur was named and described by the famous German palaeontologist Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach and this is a beautiful specimen.  In many of the fossil carcharodontid teeth that we have examined, the tip of the tooth is often missing and Paleo Paul is lucky to have this specimen in his fossil collection.  This is a broken tooth, the root is missing, this tooth was most probably shed when this dinosaur was alive.  The tooth may have been lost when this carnivore was either feeding or fighting.  Scientists now know that North Africa around 98 million years ago (Late Albian to Early Cenomanian faunal stages) was home to a number of large predatory dinosaurs.  Carcharodontosaurus saharicus is regarded as an apex predator, some of the teeth associated with this species are nearly twenty centimetres long!

A Close up of the Denticles (Serrations on the Teeth)

A close up of the denticles on the side of a Theropod dinosaur tooth.

A close up of the serrations on the side of the tooth.

Picture Credit: Paleo Paul

The photograph above shows a close up the tooth serrations (denticles) which are found on the carinae (sharp edges) of the tooth.  The shape, number and size of these denticles are helpful when attempting to identify which dinosaur the tooth likely came from.  Denticles can be found on both the leading edge (anterior) and the rear edge of the tooth (posterior), most Theropod teeth have two carinae therefore, in bilateral symmetry, but not always, the carinae can be offset or even split in some genera.  Being able to see clearly defined denticles such as these reflects the high degree of preservation of this particular fossil tooth.  Well done to Paleo Paul for getting a super close up photograph!

An Apex Predator

Carcharodontosaurus saharicus was very probably the top predator in its environment.  In the Everything Dinosaur database, we record C. saharicus as being potentially, up to fourteen metres long, reaching a head height of nearly six metres and weighing in excess of 6,000 kilogrammes.  It really was a formidable animal.  Carcharodontosaurus is very popular amongst dinosaur fans and Paleo Paul also sent in a couple of pictures of his CollectA Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus model

The CollectA Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus in a Dinosaur Diorama

The CollectA Carcharodontosaurus dinosaur model.

The CollectA Carcharodontosaurus provides an excellent example of what palaeontologists think this dinosaur looked like.

Picture Credit: Paleo Paul

The CollectA Carcharodontosaurus provides an excellent example of what palaeontologists think this dinosaur looked like.

To view the CollectA Deluxe range of scale prehistoric animal models: CollectA Deluxe Scale Prehistoric Animal Models

Paleo Paul likes to modify and repaint his prehistoric animal replicas, but in this instance he has decided that the CollectA Carcharodontosaurus needs no such makeover. It is just fine as it is.

The CollectA Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus on the Prowl

CollectA Carcharodontosaurus model.

CollectA Carcharodontosaurus prehistoric scene.

Picture Credit: Paleo Paul

Our thanks once again to Paleo Paul for sharing his photographs with us.

Titanosaurs Crossing Continents – Savannasaurus elliottorum

“Wade” Finally Gets a Name – Savannasaurus elliottorum

An Australian Titanosaur, nicknamed “Wade”, whose fossilised bones were discovered in 2005, has been formally described and named.  Say hello to Savannasaurus elliottorum, the scientific name may not be as catchy as its nickname, but this specimen does represent one of the most complete Titanosaurs discovered in Australia to date and its discovery is helping palaeontologists to piece together how these giant, herbivorous dinosaurs crossed continents, spreading out from South America and reaching Australia via Antarctica.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Titanosaur Savannasaurus elliottorum

Savannasaurus elliottorum

An illustration of the newly described Australian Titanosaur Savannasaurus.

Picture Credit: Travis Tischler/Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum

An Australian Giant

David Elliot, one of the co-founders of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, the museum established close to the town of Winton in Queensland that exhibits many of the Cretaceous fossils found in this region, spotted some fossil bones sticking out of the ground early in 2005.  Mr Elliott returned to the site later in the day with his wife Judy to take a closer look at the fossil fragments.  He hoped that the bones might represent a Theropod, but this idea was quickly put to one side when his wife “clicked” two bones together to make a distinctive metatarsal (toe bone) of a Sauropod.

The site was excavated in September 2005 by a joint Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum team and seventeen pallets of bones encased in rock were recovered.

The Location of the Savannasaurus elliottorum Fossil Find

Savannasaurus fossil site.

The quarry from which the fragmented bones later identified as Savannasaurus were excavated.

Picture Credit: Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum/Site photo circa 2005

It has taken more than ten years or preparation work for the fossilised bones to be removed from the single silt stone concretion that encased them.  Everything Dinosaur has regularly reported on Australian dinosaur fossil discoveries and kept tabs on the progress of the “Wade” preparation work.

To read an earlier article (2013), on the preparation work: An Update on Wade the Aussie Dinosaur

Why “Wade”?

The nickname for this new species of Titanosaur honours Australian palaeontologist Dr Mary J. Wade.  During her long career, Dr Wade did much to help conserve and promote the extensive, exposed fossil bearing strata of Queensland.  She worked on a number of iconic Australian dinosaurs including Muttaburrasaurus as well as helping to map and study Precambrian fossils that were later to be described as Ediacaran biota.

Although one of the more complete Australian Titanosaur fossils yet described, the material is highly fragmentary and only about five percent of the skeleton has been recovered.  The fossils consist of one neck vertebra, several cervical ribs, eight dorsal vertebrae making up a partial sequence, several rib fragments, sacral vertebrae and at least five fragmentary tail bones (caudal vertebrae).  Limb bones are represented, several toe bones, elements from the ankle, bones from the manus (front feet) as well as incomplete humeri (upper arm bones).  The research team and volunteers were also able to recover a partial left radius and a highly fragmentary ulna and parts of the hip girdle.  Although no cranial (skull) material was recovered, the team were confident, almost from the start, that these bones represented a new species.  The fossils come from a site called “Belmont Station”, ironically, nearby cranial material from another, previously described Titanosaur was found (Diamantinasaurus matildae).  In the scientific paper which describes Savannasaurus, published in the journal “Nature”, the authors, which include lead researcher Dr Stephen Poropot, (Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum), describe the braincase and neck bones of Diamantinasaurus.

The Fossil Bones of Savannasaurus elliottorum Mapped onto an Outline of the Dinosaur

Savannasaurus elliottorum skeletal material.

Savannasaurus elliottorum outline of skeleton.

Picture Credit: Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum

Plotting the Distribution of the Titanosauria

These two Titanosaurs are being used to help map the dispersal of the Titanosauria across the super-continent Gondwana as this huge landmass began to break up.  Although the fossil record remains patchy to say the least, the fossils, which have been dated to around 98-95 million years ago (Cenomanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous), suggest that by this time in Earth’s history Titanosaurs had dispersed from South America, migrated across Antarctica and entered the landmass that was later to become Australia.

Commenting on the significance of these fossils, Dr Stephen Poropot stated:

“We get a much better idea of the overall fauna.  And as a result, we can start piecing together how climate affected these dinosaurs, how the positions of the continent affected those dinosaurs and how they evolved through time as well.”

The Dispersal and Spread of Titanosaurs Across High Latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere

Mapping the dispersal of the Titanosauria

The spread and dispersal of Titanosaurs across southern latitudes.

Picture Credit: Ron Blakey (Colorado Plateau Geosystems Inc)

Although, palaeontologists have discussed a number of potential dispersal routes, it is likely that these types of dinosaurs had entered Australia from South America, presumably crossing Antarctica.  During the late Early Cretaceous the Earth went through a period of global warming.  Prior to this climate change, Titanosaurs, which were globally widespread in the Early Cretaceous were prevented from reaching Australia by the cold conditions in Antarctica.  Global warming facilitated the dispersal of Sauropods from South America to Australia via Antarctica.

David Elliott Co-founder of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum Poses with the Savannasaurus elliottorum Fossil Material

David Elliott poses with the bones of Savannasaurus.

David Elliott holds one of the metatarsals (toe bones) of S. elliottorum.

Picture Credit: Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum


The genus name is derived from the Spanish (Taino) “zavana”(savanna), a reference to the grassland and pasture in which the specimen was found.  The species name honours the Elliott family for their continuing contributions to Australian palaeontology.

Differences between Savannasaurus and Diamantinasaurus

Although Savannasaurus and Diamantinasaurus were contemporaneous of each other and these giant herbivores may have been roughly the same size, living in the same habitat, preliminary measurements indicate that the forelimbs of Savannasaurus are proportionally quite different from those of Diamantinasaurus.  This may suggest adaptation to a different feeding platform, allowing these large dinosaurs to co-exist without competing with each other for food.

Prehistoric Times (Issue 119) Reviewed

A Review of Prehistoric Times Magazine (Autumn 2016)

The bumper autumn edition of Prehistoric Times has hit the office mat and Everything Dinosaur team members have been eagerly thumbing through its colourful pages.  All hail talented palaeoartist Fabio Pastori whose depiction of the tyrannosaurid affectionately known as Stan (STAN-BHI3033) adorns the front cover.  This is the fifth time that Fabio has produced front cover artwork for Prehistoric Times, it is always a pleasure to see his work and sure enough, there is plenty of Fabio’s amazing prehistoric themed artwork to marvel at inside, look out for the “picture perfect Cryolophosaurus” article.

The Front Cover of Prehistoric Times Magazine (Issue 119)

The front cover of Prehistoric Times magazine (issue 119)

A very colourful and action packed front cover.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

Acrocanthosaurus and Eohippus Inside

 The two featured prehistoric animals in this issue are the monstrous Acrocanthosaurus and the diminutive “dawn horse” Eohippus, Phil Hore does a good job producing updates on these two ancient creatures and both his articles are embellished with plenty of reader submitted artwork.  Amongst our favourites in the Acrocanthosaurus dedicated copy is the line drawing by Rich Morris and the image created by Manuel Gil Jaramallo, which reminded us of the Battat Acrocanthosaurus replica.  Look out for the wonderful model of Eohippus made by the great and sadly no longer with us, Ray Harryhausen, for the 1969 fantasy adventure film “Valley of the Gwangi”.

Regular contributor Tracy Lee Ford dedicates his how to draw dinosaurs series to Torosaurus and unravelling the rather complicated relationship this large herbivore has with other Late Cretaceous members of the Chasmosaurinae clade.  Once again this is a very well written and informative piece.  Fabio Pastori’s artwork can be seen throughout much of this edition of Prehistoric Times.  For example, in an article on spectacular Upper Jurassic fossils “What is Quarry 5?”  Fabio’s illustrations are used to bring various Stegosaurs and Sauropods to life.

To visit the Prehistoric Times website and for information on how to subscribe to Prehistoric Times magazine: Prehistoric Times

Don’t forget to check out part two of the excellent article on dinosaur name pronunciation and the third part of the Golden Age of Burian and his wonderful illustrations of prehistoric landscapes (article by John R. Lavas), this article is worth the cover price alone.

Once again Prehistoric Times delivers, it is jam-packed full of fascinating articles and features, enough to satisfy the appetite of even the most enthusiastic dinosaur fan.

Hiding in Plain Sight the “Higgs Bison”

Cave Paintings Reveal Surprising Clues to Bovid Evolution

The cave paintings left by our ancestors can be very evocative.  The often elaborate and highly stylised frescoes represent life in the very distant past, a life so far removed from today.  However, the paintings, in most cases, a record of the animals that shared the environment with these hunter/gatherers, hide hidden clues regarding prehistoric animals that modern-day researchers are only just beginning to appreciate.

A report published in the journal “Nature Communications” by scientists from the University of Adelaide, documents the study of DNA recovered from fossil bones in order to map how climate change affects large animals.  A surprise awaited the scientists, they have discovered a previously unknown species of bison, only to find out that this bovine was already recorded on the walls of caves across Europe, such as in the Niaux Cave (south-western France).  These cave paintings are dated to around 17,000 years ago (Late Upper Palaeolithic).

Cave Paintings Thought to Be Stylised and Symbolic May Reflect Anatomical Accuracy

A Woolly Rhino depicted in a cave painting.

Cave art depicts a Woolly Rhinoceros

Picture Credit: BBC/inocybe

In 1999, the Australian-based research team commenced the study of DNA extracted from bison bones excavated from a number of sites located in the northern hemisphere, where the Steppe bison (Bison priscus) roamed.  The objective of the study was to assess the impact of changing global climate upon animal populations and in North America the fossil record for bison reflected the impact of a changing world.  Bison numbers crashed around the Last Glacial Maximum (between 18,000 and 21,000 years ago.)  Such data supports the idea that climate change played a significant role in the extinction of “megafauna”.

The scientists then expanded the boundaries of their research by examining data from South America, this also revealed that rapid warming events were a significant factor in large animal extinctions, often with species being further pushed towards extinction by the effect on animal populations by human hunters.

A Puzzle from Europe

When the focus of the research was directed at the fossil record and climate data from Europe, a rather puzzling picture emerged.  By studying mitochondrial DNA (which is inherited exclusively through the maternal line), recovered from fossilised remains, the team realised that the genetic signatures they were finding did not match those expected if the fossils had come from the Steppe bison (Bison priscus).  This was something of a puzzle as palaeontologists had thought that the Steppe bison was the only species to have been present in Europe before 10,000 years ago.

The researchers realised that there were looking at the genes of something novel, an unknown species distantly related to modern cattle and to the exceptionally rare European bison (Bison bonasus), also called the Wisent.  The European bison is Europe’s largest, native, extant terrestrial mammal.  Once widespread, this bovine is now found in a few, remote and protected forests, particularly the Białowieża Forest between Belarus and Poland.  In a story, somewhat similar to the more famous Przewalski’s horse, the last wild Wisent was shot in 1927, but the species clung on thanks to a handful of animals kept in protected reserves.  Modern herds are descended from just a dozen individuals, including one bull from the Caucasus.

The European Bison Also Known as the Wisent (Bison bonasus)

The Wisent (European bison).

The European bison.

Picture Credit: Rafał Kowalczyk

To read about the conservation of Przewalski’s horse: Przewalski’s Horse – A Conservation Success Story

The Elusive “Higgs Bison”

That famous Australian dry sense of humour came to the fore, when the DNA from the fossil bones proved to be neither Steppe bison or modern European bison, the team thought they had a new species but they could not be certain.  The elusive animal was nick-named “Higgs bison”, after all, the team had found evidence of something new, but they were not quite sure what this animal looked like, a parallel with physicists and their search for the Higgs boson particle.

In order to unravel this “Higgs bison” puzzle, the University of Adelaide research team set out to confirm their mitochondrial DNA results by obtaining nuclear DNA from the sixty-four European bison bones involved in the study.  Although, much harder to retrieve, nuclear DNA records all aspects of ancestry, not just the maternal line.  The small amount of nuclear DNA retrieved from the samples demonstrated that the “Higgs bison” was a hybrid, a cross between a female wild cow (extinct Aurochs) and a male Steppe bison.  The team dated this hybridisation event to more than 120,000 years ago.  This ancestry was the same for the Wisent and even though the mitochondrial DNA was different, a consequence of the recent near extinction event for the European bison, the “Higgs bison” was revealed as the ancestor of the Wisent.

Pressure on bovine populations as a result of rapid fluctuations in climate could have triggered the hybridisation process.

Male offspring of the Aurochs/Steppe bison cross were sterile, a common outcome for mammal hybrids.  As a result, several generations of females back-crossed with Steppe bison males (maybe even the same bull), resulting in a genetic ancestry of about 10 percent Aurochs and 90 percent Steppe bison.

Hybridisation Between Female Aurochs and Male Steppe Bison Leads to a New Species

The Evolution of the European bison.

Wisent evolution.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

Genetics and cave art reveal the assymmetric hybridisation between female Aurochs and male Steppe bison. Male hybrid offspring are sterile, and female offspring backbred with Steppe bison for several generations, possibly the same bull.

Looking for More Evidence – the North Sea and Cave Paintings

Having reached this conclusion, the Australian team then set about finding other sources of evidence to support the idea of a newly discovered species of prehistoric bison, resulting from the cross breeding between wild cattle and Bison priscus.  Two strands of supporting evidence were identified, both from surprising sources.

  1. Scientists from Holland reported that amongst the many numerous Steppe bison and Aurochs bones dredged up by fisherman from the North Sea (for much of the Pleistocene Epoch sea levels were much lower and Scotland was joined to Denmark by a wide and extensive plain), bones of a less common, smaller bovine had been found.
  2. French cave art researchers had identified two distinct forms of bison depicted in the artwork of our ancestors, one type resembled the hump-backed, massive Steppe bison, whilst the other depiction was of a more evenly shaped animal with reduced horns, much like a modern-day Wisent.

Depicted in Prehistoric Cave Art – the Newly Discovered Species of Bison

A Wisent (European bison) depicted in Cave Art

820 examples of bison depicted in European cave art are known, two distinct forms have been identified, representing two different species.

Picture: D. Viat/Tourismeoccitanie

Radiocarbon dating of the artworks showed that the wedge-shaped form was drawn when Steppe bison were present on the landscape (around 18,000 years ago), while the small-horned version was drawn when the newly discovered species dominated Europe (after 17,000 years ago).  Each species appears to have dominated Europe for long periods of time, alternating in response to major climate changes.  Thanks to the accurate artwork of Stone Age people, scientists have a good understanding of what this new species of bison looked like.  It had been hiding in plain sight all along.

This study has thrown up a number of surprises.  Apparently, mammals can form new species by hybridisation, even if only rarely.  It also shows that despite the huge bison fossil record the depictions of these ancient creatures made many thousands of years ago, still have a lot to tell us about life in the past.

Everything acknowledges the help and support of “The Lead South Australia” in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: Soubrier, J. et al. Early cave art and ancient DNA record the origin of European bison. Nat. Commun. 7, 13158 doi: 10.1038/ncomms13158 (2016).

Safari Ltd Prehistoric Animal Retirements 2017

Prehistoric Animal Models Being Retired by Safari Ltd in 2017

Much has been said about Safari Ltd’s drip feeding of information with regards to their new models and replicas.  Everything Dinosaur team members have tended to stay on the fence as it were, but we do know that there has not been much said about which models are being retired and coming out of production.  In this brief blog post we intend to address this.  For model collectors and dinosaur fans knowing what new replicas are coming is great, but it is also extremely important to know which models are not going to be made any more.

Lots of Fuss About the New Models but Which Ones are Going?

Some of the new for 2017 prehistoric animal models.

A montage of new model images from Safari Ltd.

Time to flip the coin and give our ten cents worth on the prehistoric animal retirements from Safari Ltd.

Gastornis is Gone!

Fans of this particular “Terror Bird” are going to miss this replica of the giant, flightless Gastornis or should that be Diatryma?  There is still some debate as to just how distinct these two genera are.  However, after a little more than three years, this colourful and highly collectable replica is going to go to that great big aviary in the sky.  Models of “Terror Birds” are rare and with the demise of this particular figure, they are likely to become rarer still.  If you have not got this replica yet, snap it up quick – or should that be “quack” after all, as a member of the Anseriformes, Gastornis is distantly related to today’s ducks.

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Gastornis – Out of Production

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Gastornis

The Prehistoric Life Range – Gastornis

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 Tree Fern Felled!

Also for the chop is the tree fern model, one of three prehistoric plants (cycad and agathis conifer being the other two), in the Wild Safari Prehistoric World range.  These replicas proved to be very popular with dinosaur diorama makers and not being able to add a tree fern or two to prehistoric scenes is going to disappoint a lot of model makers.

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Tree Fern – Gone to Seed

Tree fern model

Wild Safari Prehistoric World tree fern model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With Everything Dinosaur having received news of the demise of the tree fern it seems likely that the cycad and the agathis conifer models could have their days numbered too.   We are still able to source these two prehistoric plants but we suspect that remaining stocks will soon be exhausted.

Toob Strike

The hand-painted designer toob product line is also having a bit of a sort out.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur were sad to see the excellent prehistoric crocodiles toob retired a little while ago and now we hear that the prehistoric sharks and the prehistoric sea life toobs are also being withdrawn from production.

 Prehistoric Sea Life and Prehistoric Sharks Scuttled

Safari prehistoric toobs to be retired.

Prehistoric Sea Life and Prehistoric Sharks designer toobs retired.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These two toobs contained a number of replicas not found in mainstream prehistoric animal model production.  For example, in the prehistoric sharks toob there were models of Cretoxyrhina, Hybodus and Xenacanthus, whilst in the prehistoric sea life toob we know that collectors will miss the Metriorhynchus and the Basilosaurus replicas.  Credit to Safari Ltd for bringing out these models in the first place and we do understand, that in order to introduce new figures some older models, inevitably have to be retired.

Everything Dinosaur will have stocks of these items for a while yet, our advice is simple, purchase whilst you can if you want to add any of these to your model collections.  As these items get rarer and more difficult to obtain, expect prices to rise on auction sites as dealers get greedier and greedier.

To view what’s available from Everything Dinosaur, including rare Carnegie Collection models: Wild Safari Prehistoric World and the Carnegie Collection

Halloween Dinosaur Fun

Trick or Treat with a Dinosaur!

The countdown to Halloween has well and truly started and team members at Everything Dinosaur have been busy sending out lots of dinosaur themed costumes for kids to help very young dinosaur fans get into the Halloween spirit.  Children seem to have a fascination with monsters and dinosaurs like Giganotosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex certainly tick all the boxes when it comes to monstrous animals with big teeth.  After all, a fully grown T. rex had jaws so big that it could swallow a small child whole.  Help your young dinosaur fans get into character with these super dinosaur dressing up costumes.

Dinosaur Halloween Fun!

Dinosaur costumes.

Dinosaur dressing up costumes for Halloween.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaur Trick or Treat!

Give your little ones a treat this Halloween!  With bright and colourful dinosaur dressing up costumes for three years and upwards, there’s bound to be something on the Everything Dinosaur website to get your little monsters roaring with excitement.

To see the range of dinosaur dressing up costumes, dinosaur hats and dinosaur masks, all specially designed for budding young palaeontologists, check out Everything Dinosaur here: Dinosaur Dressing Up

With the chest sizes of our dinosaur costumes starting at just sixty centimetres (24 inches), even children as young as three years of age can join in the dinosaur themed fun.  Whether it is dressing up for school, getting ready to go out trick or treating or simply joining in the Halloween activities at home, these dinosaur costumes are ideal.

Glow in the Dark Dinosaur Stickers and T. rex Skeletons

For that extra touch of authenticity make your young dinosaur fan’s day by giving him or her their very own dinosaur glow in the dark wall sticker.  Just switch of the light and watch your dinosaur skeleton glow in the dark!  Everything Dinosaur stocks a wide range of prehistoric animal stickers, it’s enough to get your own bones rattling with fright!

A Range of Dinosaur Themed Glow in the Dark Stickers

Dinosaur glow in the dark stickers.

Glow in the dark dinosaur stickers for Halloween.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For glow in the dark dinosaur themed stickers, dinosaur face masks and a whole trick or treat basket of prehistoric animal products visit: Everything Dinosaur

Perhaps you might even try out some prehistoric inspired food!  Here is a link to a recipe for a simple and easy to make jelly themed snack that we call “insects trapped in amber”, very creepy or should that be creepy-crawly!

How to make “insects trapped in amber A Prehistoric Party Treat Especially for Halloween!

Scary Dinosaur Skeletons Depicting Creepy Cretaceous Critters

Glow in the dark Tyrannosaurus rex.

A glow in the Dark T. rex wall poster

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The fossil record provides plenty of evidence of some very scary creatures that lived in the past.  Huge teeth, big claws and frightening scales, tusks, horns and amour seem to have been quite prevalent amongst the Dinosauria.  Which one do you think was the scariest?

It only requires to say to all our customers and followers of our social media platforms – happy Halloween!

Did a Comet Aid the Rise of Mammals?

A Change in Sorting Tray Colour Leads to New Comet Conclusions

The idea that a period of rapid global warming that occurred some 56 million years ago was caused by an extraterrestrial impact event has been postulated before.  However, a team of American scientists, writing in the journal “Science” have published a new paper that supports the idea that a comet striking the eastern coast of North America may have played a role in a dramatic climate change.  A change that greatly benefited the Mammalia and helped to establish them as the dominate megafauna on our planet.  Indeed, it could be argued that one group of mammals, the primates, did particularly well in the resulting “hot house Earth”, our ancient ancestors got a boost, which in the long-term contributed to our evolution.

Fresh evidence to support the idea of a body from outer space crashing into Earth which resulted in a spike in global temperature (referred to as the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum or the PETM for short), came when scientists switched from black sorting trays to white-coloured ones when examining drill core sediments from three sites located off the Atlantic coast of the United States.  The white sorting trays allowed the researchers to identify many more black-coloured, glassy, silica spherules (called microtektites).  These objects suggest that there was some sort of high energy impact event, perhaps a six-mile wide comet crashing into the ocean.  This would have instigated a rapid release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which led to global temperatures rising by around six degrees Celsius over the next thousand years or so.   As temperatures soared, great swathes of the planet became densely forested, the poles were ice free, thus providing a whole range of new habitats for the mammals to exploit.

Spotting Tiny Black Objects Against the Background of a Black Sorting Tray

Finding black microtekites in a black sorting tray.

Microtektites as first seen in a sediment sample from the onset of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

Picture Credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Finding Microtektites

The tiny, glassy, tear-shaped or round objects, the microtektites have been found in marine sediments from three locations near to the stratigraphic level of the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary.  The characteristics of these spherules are consistent with microtektites associated with debris caused during an extraterrestrial impact.

Morgan Schaller, an Assistant Professor of Earth and environmental sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and corresponding author of the scientific paper, explained that the microtektites provide evidence of a catastrophic impact event having taken place.

He explained:

“This tells us that there was an extraterrestrial impact at the time this sediment was deposited, a space rock hit the planet.  The coincidence of an impact with a major climate change is nothing short of remarkable.”

Assistant Professor Schaller was helped in the research by Professor Miriam Katz and graduate student Megan Fung, (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), along with James Wright and Professor Dennis Kent (Rutgers University).  Professor Kent first postulated the idea that a comet impact could have led to the release of large amounts of CO2 that resulted in climate change back in 2003.  He based his theory on magnetised clay particles found in New Jersey that he proposed were altered by the space impact.  However, his views have been challenged by a number of other scientists.  The idea of a comet striking the Earth has gained further credence following the discovery of relatively large amounts of microtektites from the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary.  These objects could have formed when molten material flung out by the impact solidified in mid-air.

A Photograph of One of the Microtektites from the Drill Cores

A close-up of a microtekite.

A close-up of one of the microtektites identified in the study.

Picture Credit: Megan Fung (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Black Trays and White Trays

The researchers were searching for micro-fossils in the drill cores (Foraminifera).  Assistant Professor Schaller was the first to notice a microtektite in the sediment he was studying.  Microtektites have not been found in Palaeocene-Eocene boundary strata in previous studies.  Schaller and his team suggest that this is so as microtektites being typically black are very difficult to spot against the dark colour of sorting trays.  When the sediment from the cores was put into white sorting trays the team were able to identify many more.  At peak abundance, the research team found as many as three microtektites per gramme of sediment examined.

Comets are known to contain a lot of carbon, an impact from a comet would release a lot of carbon dioxide, the lack of any iridium layer makes an impact from a rocky body such as an asteroid less likely.  Hence the suggestion that a comet hit the Earth some 56 million years ago.

Doubts Expressed

A number of scientists remain sceptical with regards to this idea.  The size of the microtektites has been noted.  They are all extremely small.  Professor Christian Koeberl, of the University of Vienna is an impact specialist and although he was not involved in this study, he states that the size of the spherules suggests that either they came from a long way away or that they were produced from a rather small impact event, one that would not have had the power to influence the global climate.  It is also possible that the particles may have been displaced from their original deposition, in the absence of dating information it cannot be confirmed that the microtektites come from the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary.

Rapidly Rising Temperatures May Have Helped the Evolution and Radiation of Primates

Ancient Anthropoid fossils from Asia.

The evolution and radiation of primates could have been helped by an extraterrestrial impact event.

Picture Credit: Nancy Perkins

This is an intriguing paper, an extraterrestrial impact very probably played a role in the ending of the “Age of Reptiles”, now it is suggested that ten million years later another impact event provided a stimulus to the radiation and diversification of the mammals.

Families Find Fossils of a Cretaceous “Swordfish”

Australopachycormus hurleyi – Rare Fossils Found

The fearsome marine reptiles that once inhabited the Western Interior Seaway of North America led to this shallow, Cretaceous-age, inland sea being described as “Hell’s Aquarium”, but at the same time much of the land we know now as Australia was covered by an equally dangerous marine environment.  Amongst the myriad of marine reptiles, cephalopods and other exotic creatures, a three-metre fish with a head like a swordfish and dagger-like teeth swam, thanks to two sharp-eyed families scientists have more fossils of this fast-swimming predator to study.

An Illustration of the Giant Predatory Fish Australopachycormus hurleyi 

Australopachycormus illustrated.

An illustration of Australopachycormus.

Picture Credit: Dr Patrick Smith

The Importance of Amateur Fossil Hunters

It is thanks to two families that scientists have some more of these extremely rare fossils to study.  Australopachycormus was a member of an extinct, diverse group of fishes called the Pachycormidae, first described in 2007 from fossils found some several hundred kilometres south-west of the new discoveries.  This group of fish, believed to be basal to the teleosts, evolved into a number of forms including plankton-eating giants such as Bonnerichthys and Leedsichthys.   Australopachycormus hurleyi was the first of the Pachycormidae to have been found in Early Cretaceous sediments in the southern hemisphere, it was not a gentle filter feeder, it would have been a fast swimming, active pursuit predator most likely preying on smaller fish species.

To read an article from 2010 that looks at some of the giant members of the Pachycormidae: Giant Bony Fish Swam in Prehistoric Seas

 An almost complete snout (rostrum) was found by the Johnston family and then, about a week later, the Amos family were walking in the same area and they discovered elements from the skull, backbones, teeth and portions of the front fins.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Tourists and amateur fossil hunters have made a huge contribution in this part of the world.   Fossils are often brought to the surface as agricultural machinery prepares the soil for crops and it is thanks to keen-eyed walkers that many rare and scientifically significant fossils have been found.”

Staff from Kronosaurus Korner, a local fossil museum helped to identify the specimens.

The Fossils Are United in a Single Specimen

Australopachycormus hurleyi fossils.

Australopachycormus hurleyi fossils found by two families.

Picture Credit: Dr Patrick Smith

Dr Patrick Smith, the curator of Kronosaurus Korner explained that thanks to these two families an outline of the skull, the anterior part of the body and that long sword-like rostrum had been assembled.

Dr  Smith stated:

“We know that it was a high-tier carnivore and that it ate other large, fast-moving fish, a bit like marlin do today.  Because it does fit that swordfish-like shape we know he [Australopachycormus] probably lived in that same ecological niche”.

The bony rostrum would have been used as a weapon to stun potential prey before they were snapped up in those formidable jaws.  Dr Smith said he wanted to encourage other amateur palaeontologists and tourists to make their way to the tiny outback township of Richmond, as there were plenty of other amazing fossils just awaiting discovery.

What Does Australopachycormus hurleyi mean?

Whilst compiling this article Everything Dinosaur was emailed and asked how this ancient fish came to be called Australopachycormus hurleyi?  The genus name reflects the fact that despite being a very numerous group of prehistoric fishes, Australopachycormus was the first Early Cretaceous pachycormid to be found in strata from the southern hemisphere.  The genus name means “southern pachycormid”.  The species name honours Tom Hurley who found the holotype material near Boulia in central, western Queensland when exploring the Toolebuc Formation of the Rolling Downs Group (Eromanga Basin).

So, if the Western Interior Seaway is known as “Hell’s Aquarium” we shall have to think of a suitable colloquialism to use when describing the marine biota of Queensland during the Cretaceous.  Suggestions would be most welcome.

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