Prehistoric Parasites from the Silurian

 Rare Discovery Provides Insight into Ancient Parasite

A team of international researchers have got up close to a prehistoric parasite, one that is perfectly preserved along with its 425 million-year-old host.  The ancient parasite, known as a “tongue worm” provides scientists with a glimpse of life and the interactions between species in a warm tropical sea that existed in Britain back in the Middle Silurian.  Fossils of tongue worms are extremely rare, examples have been recovered from Ordovician as well as older Cambrian deposits, the Silurian fossils are exceptionally well preserved, we at Everything Dinosaur believe the fossils to be part of the Wenlock Epoch biota.  The actual location of the fossil find has not been disclosed in order to protect the site from amateur fossil hunters and those keen to exploit the fossil deposits commercially.

The fossils come from a deposit in Herefordshire, close to the border with Wales, scientists from the University of Leicester, who took part in the study stated that the tongue worm represents a new species and they range in size from 1mm to 4mm in length.  Tongue worms have tongue shaped bodies, a distinct head and two pairs of limbs.  At least 140 species are known to exist today, most are respiratory or gut parasites of vertebrates (usually reptiles), these fossils provide scientists with information on how these creatures evolved before they made the move onto land to become parasites of terrestrial vertebrates.

The Computer Model Showing the Ostracod Shell (grey) with the Tongue Worm attached (orange)

Looking at the micro-fauna of the Silurian.

Looking at the micro-fauna of the Silurian.

Picture Credit: Siveter, Briggs, Siveter and Sutton

The picture above shows the pentastomid Invavita piratica and its host, the Ostracod Nymphatelina gravida.

The newly described fossils show the tongue worm species in association with its host, in this case a species of Ostracod (an Arthropod).  It was professor David Siveter, (Department of Geology) at Leicester University, who  made the discovery.  An academic paper describing the new species, named as Invavita piratica, (the name translates as ancient, pirate intruder) has been published in the journal “Current Biology”.  As well as academics from the University of Leicester, the research team included scientists from Imperial College (London), Oxford University and Yale.  Tongue worms belong to the Pentastomida Family, part of the Subphylum Crustacea, although for many years the taxonomic relationship between this group of obligate parasites and other parts of the Arthropoda was disputed.

Professor Siveter, explained that the tongue worms were not “worms” at all, they got their name because one genus resembles the tongue of an animal.  They are an unusual and widespread group of mainly obligate parasites.  An obligate parasite is an organism that cannot complete its life-cycle without finding a suitable host.

The professor stated:

“This discovery affirms that tongue worms were “external” parasites on marine invertebrates animals at least 425 million years ago.  It also suggests that tongue worms likely found their way into land-based environments and associated hosts in parallel with the movement of vertebrates onto the land by some 125 million years later.”

The Computer Model with the Ostracod Shell Removed to Reveal the Internal Parasites

Internal parasites identified by high powered scans and computer modelling.

Internal parasites identified by high powered scans and computer modelling.

Picture Credit: Siveter, Briggs, Siveter and Sutton

The computer image above shows the Ostracod with its shell removed, showing the external pentastomids and a pentastomid near the eggs of the Ostracod (parasites in orange).  The picture shows how this group of parasites got their name.  ”Penta” refers to the number five and these parasites have five anterior appendages.  One is the simple mouth, the others are two pairs of hooks which they use to attach themselves to their host.  The large pentastomid  (top left) is a highly magnified image of a single parasite, not to scale with the rest of the image.

Using sophisticated microscopic scanning techniques and three-dimensional computer modelling, the scientists were able to reconstruct the Ostracod and its parasites.  Some of the tongue worms were found inside the Ostracod’s shell , near its eggs, on which they probably fed.  Other tongue worms are attached to the external surface of the Ostracod’s shell, a unique position for any fossil or living tongue worm.  These tiny fossilised creatures are helping the scientists to understand a little more about inter-relationships between parasites and potential hosts in ancient marine environments.

Back in 2012, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of another ancient Ostracod from the same location.  The fossil had been identified using the same techniques to discover the parasites.  Professor Siveter, named this new genus of Ostracod after his wife.

To read more about this: Ostracod from Herefordshire, reconstructing the Silurian

Everything Dinosaur Publishes Blog Article Number 3,000

Everything Dinosaur Writes 3,000 Blog Articles

It feels like we started this blog sometime back in the Pleistocene Epoch, but that’s not quite the case, the first articles were published in May 2007 and now some eight years later, today, we publish article number 3,000!  Team members at Everything Dinosaur try to put up an article every day, this can be quite a tough ask but given the speed of developments in palaeontology, the wealth of new fossil finds plus of course, our own adventures, there has never been a shortage of things to write about.  A big thank you to the millions of viewers and all those who have re-pinned, shared and tweeted our content, this really means a lot to us.

Celebrating Article Number 3,000 on the Everything Dinosaur Blog

Celebrating our 3,000th blog post.

Celebrating our 3,000th blog post.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The aims of our humble web log have not changed since we started.  We try to write articles using non-technical language that inform readers about the latest dinosaur and prehistoric animal research.  In addition, we act as a source of information for new fossil finds and updates on fossil hunting expeditions.  Our blog has proved to be a useful resource for dinosaur fans and model collectors as we have published quite a lot of information about new products and ranges coming to the market.  From the feedback we receive, we are also aware of the number of teachers, teaching assistants and home educationalists who regular visit our blog site and use the information we provide for lesson plans and other educational activities.  With this blog and our sister site (Dinosaurs for Schools), Everything Dinosaur has built up quite a following from primary and secondary school teachers.

The Everything Dinosaur blog is getting to be quite a sizeable beast, for example, much bigger than a Dreadnoughtus, a huge, long-necked dinosaur from Argentina, that we discussed on this web log back in September 2014.  If you were to print out all our articles out onto A4-sized paper and lay them end to end, then this paper chain would stretch for approximately 750 metres.  Or to put it another way, in terminology that dinosaur fans might appreciate, our printed out blog would stretch the length of twenty-seven Diplodocus dinosaurs.

To read the article on Dreadnoughtus: A Little Detail on a Great Big Dreadnoughthus

If we were to try to print out our entire blog, even on our biggest, fastest printer, we estimate that to produce all the articles, it would take over two days.  That’s a lot of time standing around the printer!

Given the amount of correspondence we receive from collectors, schoolchildren and delighted parents, we could quite easily post up pictures, drawings, photographs of fossils and such like several times a day, but for the time being, we shall have to limit ourselves to the single post.  However, please be assured, we respond to all those correspondents who require a reply, just as we read all the blog comments from our readers on this site.

On behalf of everyone at “Everything” we would like to say a really big thank you to all our readers.

Fossil Site Threatened (Hall Dale Quarry)

Former Quarry Could be Transformed into Housing and Commercial Development

The huge Hall Dale Quarry near Matlock, Derbyshire, could be transformed, with the potential loss of an amazing fossil location, if the local authority grants permission for a mixed residential and commercial development on the site.  Hall Dale Quarry is a disused limestone quarry.  We at Everything Dinosaur, don’t know when the quarrying of limestone blocks ceased, what we do know is that the rocks exposed at this location contain a huge diversity of Carboniferous invertebrate fossils.  Fossils are extremely common at the quarry, whilst many amateur collectors split the boulders with heavy-duty chisels to access the fossil material, just a few minutes exploring the scree on the quarry floor will yield plenty of specimens.  Fossils of a variety of Brachiopods, Crinoid stems and large Corals litter the site and with careful searching some nice examples of marine Gastropods (mainly internal moulds), can be discovered too.

The strata represents a shallow, marine environment and the rocks at the quarry are part of the Eyam limestone formation.  They date from the Early Carboniferous (Visean faunal stage of the Middle Mississippian Epoch [345-328 mya]).  The site is hidden from the road and is approached via a small path leading through a wooded area, although it is just a few minutes’ drive from the bustling centre of the Derbyshire market town of Matlock, once at the quarry face, it’s a different world.  On the day Everything Dinosaur visited, the quarry was deserted, we did not see a single person for the best part of three hours.

A View from the Helicopter Pad at Hall Dale Quarry

Hall Dale Quarry (Derbyshire)

Hall Dale Quarry (Derbyshire)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The rock strata forms a series of platforms (three in total), Hall Dale Quarry is a popular location with climbing clubs, the sheer rock faces and huge piles of stone provide plenty of different climbing routes to explore.  We would advise that fossil collectors stay on the ground level, there are plenty of fossils to be found and there is no need to climb the boulders.

Enormous Boulders at Hall Dale Quarry

Huge boulders - can you see our rucksack?

Huge boulders – can you see our rucksack?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

During our research, prior to our fossil hunting trip, we visited the excellent website of UK Fossils: UK Fossils.  As we prepared for our visit, we came across a news article from November 2014 that outlined plans for the development of this rural space, what is termed a brownfield site.  4M Property Partners had submitted plans to convert the quarry into a development consisting of mixed residential and commercial properties.  Plans had been submitted to the council to build some 220 houses, and to convert 400 square metres into a restaurant and a café.  In addition, the planning proposal contained details of some 6400 square metres of office space.  We at Everything Dinosaur are not sure exactly how fossil collecting would be affected by these developments, we are also unsure as to how the planning application has progressed.  However, we would like to express our concern that such an amazing place might be lost forever.

Whilst we can appreciate that Matlock, like many towns in the UK, may have a need for more houses and that such a development might boost the local economy, as we stood in the quarry, totally in awe of the spectacular scenery and surrounded by evidence of a tropical, marine environment that existed some 340 million years ago, it seemed such a shame that this location might soon be unrecognisable.

Many Different Types of Invertebrate Fossil can Be Found in the Scree

Fossils can be found in the scree.

Fossils can be found in the scree.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

There may be an urgent need for more local housing.  The town of Matlock might desperately require additional commercial properties.  We feel that we are unable to comment with regards to these development plans, but we sincerely hope that the developers have at least considered the need to preserve some part of this remarkable location’s fossil heritage.  There are fewer and fewer places in this country, where people can simply stop and stare and admire rock formations and the fossil treasures they contain within.  These special sites demonstrate the rich geology of our landscape and allow visitors to explore life in the past.  We hope that any development is undertaken in sympathy with the astonishing geology of this location.

A Few Minutes Collecting and So Many Fossils

A multitude of fossils can be picked out from the scree.

A multitude of fossils can be picked out from the scree.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Wishing to express our concerns, the team member who visited the site contacted the planning department of Derbyshire Dales District Council.  A very helpful person in the department explained that the planning team could be emailed, allowing concerns about the need to develop the location in sympathy with the geology of the area to be put on record.  Everything Dinosaur subsequently did this and in addition, emailed Natural England to raise awareness of the development of this brownfield site with that organisation.

Raising Awareness About the Potential Loss of the Quarry

If you have collected fossils at Hall Dale Quarry and wish to make a point with reference to the re-development of this site and the potential loss of this fossil collecting location, then we would urge you to do so.

Planning application reference: 14/00541/OUT (please quote this reference when emailing the planning department or Natural England).

Email: planning@derbyshiredales.gov.uk to contact Derbyshire Dales District Council (we would advise that you include a contact telephone number in your email, so that a planning team member can get in touch)

Email: consultations@naturalengland.org.uk (again quoting planning reference: 14/00541/OUT) to get in contact with Natural England

Whilst we do understand the difficult and often challenging job of district councils and we aware of the potential economic benefits to the local community this project may bring.  We at Everything Dinosaur feel that it is important, to at least place on record a desire to consider the development of Hall Dale Quarry which takes into account the remarkable fossil bearing strata to be found at this location.

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Would a Dinosaur Make a Good Pet?

Year 2 at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School Consider a Pet Dinosaur

Children in Year 2 at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School (Matlock, Derbyshire), have been tackling the tricky question of would dinosaurs make good pets?  This poser is one of the questions being explored as part of a series of themes for the summer term.  So far the children have learned about dinosaur eggs and taken part in some outdoor measuring activities under the guidance of their enthusiastic teacher Miss Sutcliffe.  It’s a good job the school has a large playground, especially when it comes to working out how tall a Brachiosaurus was.

Brachiosaurus was one of the largest of the dinosaurs, a huge plant-eater, fossils of which have been found in Upper Jurassic rocks.  The children estimated that a twelve metre tall Brachiosaurus would be the same height as nineteen Year 2 children.  This is a super exercise and certainly helps children gain an appreciation of the size and scale of some of the biggest dinosaurs.

One of the Biggest Dinosaurs of the Late Jurassic

A typical Brachiosaur.

A typical Brachiosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Trouble is, Brachiosaurus (the name means “Arm Lizard” as the forelimbs were larger than the back legs), was not the tallest of the Dinosauria.  As more fossils have been found so different contenders for the “tallest dinosaur “accolade are proposed.  One contender, known from four neck bones and a handful of other fossil specimens found in rocks dating from the Early Cretaceous of the United States, is Sauroposeidon (the name means “Earthquake Lizard”).  Sauroposeidon is pronounced sore-oh-poh-sigh-don.  One of the neck bones measures 1.4 metres long, that is taller than most of the Year 2 children at the school.

Size estimates for Sauroposeidon do vary.  With so few fossils to study, it is difficult to work out just how tall, or indeed just how long or how heavy this dinosaur was.  Palaeontologists are not even sure if Sauroposeidon had the same basic body shape of Brachiosaurus.  However, if it did, then it could have been around 18-20 metres tall.

Sauroposeidon Compared to Brachiosaurus

Scaling up Sauroposeidon and comparing it to Brachiosaurus and an extant African elephant.

Scaling up Sauroposeidon and comparing it to Brachiosaurus and an extant African elephant.

If nineteen Year 2 children are as tall as a twelve metre high Brachiosaurus, then can the class work out how many of them would be needed to be the same height as a twenty metre tall Sauroposeidon?

Miss Sutcliffe and her teaching assistant have certainly developed a challenging and engaging scheme of work for the class.  The dinosaur workshop we conducted certainly helped as we were able to answer the children’s questions and some of those questions were quite challenging.  For example, we were asked how did dinosaurs chew bones?  Fortunately, some of the fossils we had with us were useful in demonstrating how some types of dinosaur ate.

The spacious and well-organised classroom had lots of dinosaur themed displays.  We were informed that after our visit the children would be designing a habitat for their dinosaurs.  This links nicely into the English national curriculum as this enables the children to learn about living creatures and what they need to survive.  Perhaps the children can compare the world of the dinosaurs with habitats seen today and the types of animals that exist in those habitats.   It was pleasing to note that Year 2 had a good grasp of the terminology related to ecosystems and food chains.  For example, the children were able to explain all about omnivores.  Our cast of the lower jaw of a Pachycephalosaur (Dracorex hogwartsia), proved useful when it came to explaining about animals that ate both meat and plants.  Dracorex might make a good pet dinosaur, it would have helped keep the school’s vegetable garden pest free, but a downside might be that it would be tempted to eat all the flowers!

A Colourful Dinosaur Themed Display in the Classroom

St Joseph's Catholic Primary School (Year 2) dinosaur display.

St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School (Year 2) dinosaur display.

Picture Credit: Year 2/Everything Dinosaur

We set the class a number of challenges as part of the extension ideas and activities we discussed with Miss Sutcliffe and we look forward to hearing how the children get on as they explore all things dinosaur for their summer term topic.

The Growth Spurts of Indominus rex

The Prehistoric Animals of “Jurassic World” – The Rapid Growth of Indominus rex

There are only another twenty-three days to wait before the movie “Jurassic World” opens at cinemas.  To say that this film has been eagerly awaited is a bit of an understatement, we expect things to reach fever pitch over the next three weeks or so.  In this febrile atmosphere, team members wanted to comment on an aspect of the movie, the fourth in the “Jurassic Park” franchise, that has not been discussed to any great degree.  Now we know this is pure science fiction, the extraction of ancient DNA from amber (or copal, the pre-cursor to amber for that matter), is extremely controversial but if we take all this with a pinch of salt, what gets us is the phenomenal growth rate of the genetically engineered dinosaurs.

Take for example, the new hybrid dinosaur developed by those scientists formerly of InGen and now working for the Masrani Corporation (the fictional conglomerate which owns and runs “Jurassic World”).

Fearsome “super-beast” Indominus rex

The hybrid dinosaur.

The hybrid dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

The growth rate for this hybrid dinosaur, which seems to be made up of a variety of Theropod dinosaurs as well as genetic material from a number of extant creatures, is phenomenal.  In trailers released to promote “Jurassic World”, Dr. Wu the leading geneticist behind the development of this new type of prehistoric animal, states that this dinosaur was designed to be “bigger than a T. rex.“.  In the film, it is believed to be around twelve metres long, a fraction smaller than an adult female Tyrannosaurus rex.

If the project to develop a genetically modified dinosaur was only given the go ahead sometime in 2012, this new species exhibits an accelerated growth rate.  It seems to have grown much more rapidly than any other large Theropod.  It was Masrani’s Chief Executive Officer, Simon Masrani, who announced that the company had been able to successfully engineer a new species, but that was only last year, so within twelve months the subject of this project has developed into a very big animal indeed!

At Everything Dinosaur, we have attempted to map the growth rate of Indominus rex against that of Tyrannosaurus rex.  This work is highly speculative, but we have tried to postulate the growth rates based on the timeline stated by Masrani Corporation and plotted this against the postulated growth rate for a large tyrannosaurid based on the current research.  At least in terms of growth rate, this is a no contest, I. rex wins hands down (or should that be claws down)?

Comparing the Growth Rates of Indominus rex and Tyrannosaurus rex

I. rex versus T. rex growth rates.

I. rex versus T. rex growth rates.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Quite a bit of research has been conducted on the ontogeny (growth) of dinosaurs, such as Late Cretaceous Theropods, an example being Tyrannosaurus rex.  It has been suggested that T. rex did not reach adult size until it got to its twenties.  It may even have had a growth spurt in its teenage years just like us humans.  Compare this to the genetic dinosaur hybrid Indominus rex, it reaches twelve metres in length in the summer of 2015, that means in three years or so it has had a spectacular growth spurt.

How we love the movies!  Of course, this is a science fiction film, the writers and film makers can do what they want, after all, it’s only CGI.  If they want a phenomenally quick growing dinosaur, then that is their prerogative.  When did science actually get in the way of a good film?

We suspect that I. rex will meet its demise at the end of the picture.  Not that we know anything, but just like the “raptors” in the first “Jurassic Park” film (1993),who were about to attack Dr. Grant and company, when a bigger predator intervened,  we suspect that another dinosaur might be responsible for the extinction of Indominus rex.

We shall have to wait and see…

As for certification, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), has given “Jurassic World” a 13 certificate for it contains “intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.”   We are not sure about the UK certification (British Board of Film Classification), but we would expect this film to have a 12A certificate.

Not a Wishing Well and Not a Dinosaur Either

Beijing Museum of Natural History Exhibit (Lotosaurus Confusion)

Team members have read with interest the various media reports about a Chinese museum exhibit being used as a wishing well.  Such is the hold that the Dinosauria seems to have over us, that any vertebrate fossil in a museum, ends up being described as a dinosaur by the media.  We can understand why this happens, but let’s try to put the record straight.

First the story, the Beijing Museum of Natural History has a huge collection of fossils and an amazing array of exhibits of long extinct animals.  Both vertebrates and invertebrates are exhibited, the vast majority of the displays highlighting the extremely diverse fossil assemblage from this part of Asia.  There are lots of dinosaurs to see.  However, the Museum has encountered a problem, it seems that tourists (and we suspect some superstitious locals too), have a habit of putting coins and notes inside the glass case of one of the many Chinese prehistoric animal mounted fossils on view.  The animal concerned is a Lotosaurus adentus, it might sound like a dinosaur but a member of the Dinosauria this reptile most certainly was not.

Museum Exhibit Treated like a Wishing Well

Lucky Lotosaurus?

Lucky Lotosaurus?

Picture Credit: ECNS

The picture above shows the mounted exhibit of the quadruped L. adentus.  Tourists and other visitors have taken to stuffing notes and coins through gaps in the glass case, the specimen makes a rather unusual “piggy bank”.  According to the media reports this practice has been going on for about a year, we suppose it’s a question of one person doing it and others following the trend.

A security guard at the Museum, one of Beijing’s leading tourist attractions stated:

“Most of it is five or ten Yuan bills [around £0.50 GBP to £1.00 GBP] and coins from kids and grown-ups…they do it for fun.  We usually don’t stop them since it doesn’t damage the booth or the exhibits.”

The Director of the Museum Zhou Ying has been quoted saying that people might be tossing in money as they believe the specimen will bring them wealth, good luck or better health.  This habit of “donating” to the glass case is going to come to an abrupt end as the Museum has taken steps to prevent this from happening.  Construction workers have been hired to seal the glass case and make it “coin and note proof”.

Perhaps it might be sensible to position a donation box close by.  We are not sure of the Museum’s policy on such matters, but if visitors wish to make a donation, perhaps something could be installed to enable them to do so.  Funds raised could support the educational work of the museum, that’s just a suggestion, but you never know.

Lotosaurus Not a Dinosaur

If you look at the display panels behind the Lotosaurus skeleton in the picture above, you can see some pictures of dinosaurs.  Lotosaurus may be displayed alongside the dinosaurs but it was not a member of the Dinosauria.  Let us explain…

Lotosaurus might be being exhibited in the dinosaur gallery as it was around at approximately the time when the very first basal members of the Dinosauria are believed to have evolved.  The fossils of this barrel-chested reptile come from Hunan Province (south-central China) and date from between 245 and 237 million years ago (Anisian faunal stage of the Triassic).  Most palaeontologists now believe that this bizarre creature is a member of the Poposauroidea clade, part of the Archosaur group, but this phylogenetic analysis has been disputed.  Trouble is, Lotosaurus is such a bizarre creature.  It measured in size from 1.5 to 2.5 metres long, the neural spines were many times taller than they were wide and this suggests that this animal had some sort of sail or large hump running down from its neck, down the back to the tail.  The top jaw is curved over and the robust skull suggests a powerful bite, but there are no teeth in the jaws.   What this animal ate has been debated, the fossil material is associated with having been laid down in a swampy environment.  Lotosaurus could have been a herbivore, but it has also been suggested that this slow-moving reptile might have specialised in eating the abundant shellfish, fossils of which are also associated with sediments to be found in the Hunan Province.   The species was formally named and described in 1975.

 The Very Peculiar Lotosaurus adentus – Definitely Not a Dinosaur

Very strange Triassic reptile.

Very strange Triassic reptile.

Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Although, there may be some debate as to the exact phylogenetic position of Lotosaurus, it was not a dinosaur.  The genus name (we think) means “Lotus lizard” and whilst to some observers it might look like a dinosaur and its genus name does end in “saurus” but it was most definitely not a dinosaur.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Whilst we doubt much of the exhibit in question consists of actual fossil material, we can’t condone this behaviour as money being thrown into a display case would have to be retrieved and the opening of the case and working in close proximity to any fossils could lead to their accidental damage.  In addition, if coins are thrown in and they hit the preserved fossil bone then this could result in the fossil material being chipped and scratched.”

Rise and Shine with Dinosaurs

Dinosaur Alarm Clock from Everything Dinosaur

Do you have trouble getting your little monsters out of bed?   Here’s a handy solution from Everything Dinosaur that is bound to get dinosaur fans roaring with excitement, a colourful dinosaur themed alarm clock.  The large, easy to see hands make telling the time a doddle even if your dinosaur brain is the size of a walnut.  The face of the clock measures around ten centimetres in diameter and it features three very colourful prehistoric animals.  Can you spot the Triceratops?

No Need to Get Alarmed – A Dinosaur Alarm Clock

Dinosaur alarm clock.

Dinosaur alarm clock.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The numbers on the dial are very clear and the alarm lever is a different colour from the hands of the clock so that it can be easily spotted.  This dinosaur alarm clock has child-friendly time settings and controls.  It requires 1 x AA battery (not supplied).

To view the dinosaur alarm clock at Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Bedding Accessories

Help your little monsters to raise and shine with this super dinosaur themed alarm clock.  An ideal accessory for a dinosaur fan’s bedroom.

The Dinosaur Alarm Clock

Rise and shine with dinosaurs.

Rise and shine with dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Kronosaurus – Down on the Farm

Queensland Farmer Discovers Kronosaurus Jaw Fossil

A Queensland farmer, out spraying weeds on his farm near Nelia in the north-western part of the State, has unearthed the fossilised remains of the lower jaw of a huge marine reptile known as a Kronosaurus.  Although the jaw measures 1.6 metres long, it came from a sub-adult, most of the teeth may be missing, but this is one of the best preserved Pliosaur jaws found anywhere in the world.

Robert Hacon of Euroba Station, was taking advantage of the recent rains that have occurred in this drought hit part of Australia to spray some prickly Acacia plants when he noticed some shiny objects in amongst the weeds.  At first, he dismissed them thinking that they were fossilised mussel shells, which are relatively common in this part of the world, evidence to support the idea that much of the land mass we call Australia was part of a warm, tropical, shallow sea back in the Early Cretaceous.  However, curious to find out exactly what the objects were, he returned to the spot a few minutes later and discovered that the recent downpour had exposed a near complete lower jaw bone of a huge marine reptile.

Dr. Timothy Holland (Kronosaurus Korner) Poses Next to the Fossil Jaw

Dr. Timothy Holland provides a scale next to the massive Kronosaurus jaw.

Dr. Timothy Holland provides a scale next to the massive Kronosaurus jaw.

Picture Credit: Patricia Woodgate

 The first fossils of this apex, marine predator were discovered in Queensland in 1889.  At the time, the fragmentary remains were identified as a type of Ichthyosaur, but in 1924 they were reassigned to the short-necked Sub-Order  of the Plesiosauria, the Pliosauroidea.  Most of the fossil material related to the two species of Kronosaurus so far described, have been crushed, severely weathered and distorted, but pliosaurid specialist, Dr. Timothy Holland of Kronosaurus Korner, a museum that exhibits a number of marine reptile fossils found in Queensland, stated that this specimen was one of the best found to date.

An Illustration of Kronosaurus (K. queenslandicus)

A fantastic replica of the huge marine reptile Kronosaurus.

A fantastic replica of the huge marine reptile Kronosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a superb model of the marine reptile Kronosaurus (Safari Ltd).  This replica is part of the now retired Carnegie Collectibles model series.

To see more prehistoric animals in the Carnegie Collectibles model range: Prehistoric Animal Models including Marine Creatures

The fossilised jawbones have been donated to the Kronosaurus Korner museum, they will shortly be put on display to the public.

Commenting on the fossil find, Dr. Holland stated:

“The scary thing is that this creature wasn’t even an adult when it died, it still had a lot of growing to do.  We are thrilled to display the specimen, it’s a timely reminder of Australia’s rich geoheritage and I marvel to think what else lies waiting to be found.”

The skull of this ancient marine reptile made up about a quarter of the animal’s entire body length, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented on the excellent state of preservation and estimated that the total length of the animal would have been approximately seven metres.

A Close up of the Beautifully Preserved Jaw Bones

Some teeth can still be seen in the rounded sockets.

Some teeth can still be seen in the rounded sockets.

Picture Credit: Patricia Woodgate

Posterior parts of the jaw are up to eighteen centimetres thick, indicating that this powerful predator had very strong jaws.  It was most likely the top predator in the marine environment, eating fish, cephalopods and other reptiles.

Over the last few years, Everything Dinosaur has reported on a number of marine reptile fossil finds from Queensland, Australia.  Some of these fossils turn up in very unexpected places, such as the case of Ichthyosaur fossil bones being found in the vegetable patch of a school.

To read more about this amazing discovery: Marine Reptile Fossils Found at School

In Everything Dinosaur’s fossil and palaeontology predictions for 2015, we predicted that there would be some exciting new dinosaur discoveries reported from Australia.  This is certainly an exciting fossil find, but Kronosaurus was not a member of the Dinosauria.  Still, more than half of the year to go so we have plenty of time left to be proved right (just for once).

To see the full list of Everything Dinosaur’s predictions: Everything Dinosaur’s Palaeontology and Fossil Predictions for 2015

The Prehistoric Animals of Jurassic World – Indominus rex

The Making of Indominus rex – “Fierce or Untameable King”

The back story to the forthcoming film “Jurassic World” goes something like this.  With the death of Dr. John Hammond the founder of InGen in 1997, (according to the film franchise timeline), the corporate giant Masrani began negotiations to acquire the company and within twelve months InGen was part of the Masrani conglomerate.  A plan to develop and reopen the “Jurassic Park” attraction was put forward shortly afterwards and in around 2000, the go ahead was given to create a dinosaur led attraction on the island of Isla Nublar.  The attraction, known as “Jurassic World” was built between the years 2002 and 2004, construction materials alone are estimated to have been around $1.2 billion USD.  To give readers an appreciation of the costs of developing the new attraction, the construction of the new Wembley stadium (London), completed in 2007, cost around $2 billion USD in total.  The development of “Jurassic World” was a huge and ambitious undertaking for Masrani, the decision to go ahead with the project coincided with Masrani Global Corporation’s NASDAQ market debut (2000), the theme park was seen as a “flagship” enterprise for the organisation.  With many new shareholders to impress, the park had to be a success and when it opened in June 2005, it proved to be a huge hit, attracting 98,120 visitors in the first month alone.

Masrani – Ten Years of Making Dinosaurs

A decade of dinosaurs.

A decade of dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Masrani

The Need to Build Bigger and Better Attractions

Anyone who has ever played the video game “Theme Park”, (which was originally released in 1994, just a year after the original Jurassic Park movie hit cinema screens), knows that the rides and the park itself needs to be constantly refreshed and updated to keep visitor numbers up.  With visitor numbers at “Jurassic World” beginning to fall or at best plateau, in the last two to three years, investors began to grow concerned.  Revenue from ticket sales, merchandise and other income streams were not growing as strongly as they once were, this prompted Masrani’s Chief Operations Officer, Richard Wiesner, to describe the 2013 results for “Jurassic World” as merely acceptable, despite profits from the theme park exceeding 20 million USD that financial year.

Richard Wiesner stated:

“The world has seen what we have to offer, but they aren’t in awe as they once used to be.  We need to change that.  You can’t expect the world’s greatest theme park to merely rely on the same attractions.  We need to be proactive, thinking of bigger and better things.”

Putting things in perspective, EuroDisney (Paris) over the same period posted a loss of 78 million Euros, but apparently Masrani wanted bigger and better…

Dr. Henry Wu’s Contribution

The chief scientist at InGen, Dr. Henry Wu, one of the world’s leading geneticists, had successfully combined the DNA of a number of plant species to create the “Wu flower” (Karacosis wutansis) back in 1997.  As one of the architects of the prehistoric animals in the failed “Jurassic Park” experiment, Wu was installed as one of the lead scientists to genetically engineer a whole new generation of dinosaurs for the new attraction “Jurassic World”.  InGen remained a separate company within the Masrani portfolio and one can only speculate on where their genetic research took them, but in response to the call to create bigger and more exciting attractions, it was Dr. Wu and his team who were given the task of developing a hybridised dinosaur.  The project to create a genetically engineered, hybridised dinosaur is believed to have started in late 2012.  This was to be an entirely new species, one that had genetic traits from a variety of Theropod dinosaurs combined with other extant (living species) – the Indominus rex project was begun.

Indominus rex – New Dinosaur on the Block

The Group’s Chief Executive Officer Simon Masrani announced in 2014, that the company had been able to successfully engineer a new type of dinosaur.  Once the news story broke, on line ticket sales to the park “skyrocketed”, it looks like 2015 is going to be a very big year for “Jurassic World”.  The dinosaur has been named Indominus rex (fierce or untameable king), note, we at Everything Dinosaur prefer to spell untameable with an extra “e”.  The new dinosaur attraction is due to open this summer and we all know that this is going to end very badly.

As Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) states:

“You just went and made a new dinosaur, probably not a good idea”

New Dinosaur on the Block – Indominus rex

The dinosaur instructs some Pterosaurs!

Classified as a genetically modified hybrid.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

If Dr. Wu’s brief had been to create a bigger, more dangerous, fiercer and more intelligent dinosaur, then the project does seem to have achieved its goal.  We at Everything Dinosaur don’t know quite how the genome for this new theme park attraction was put together, originally there were two creatures, but one was eaten by the other.  I. rex does indeed look to be a mix of different meat-eating dinosaurs, with osteoderms resembling those seen on Abelisaurids (Carnotaurus, Majungasaurus and Rugops are mentioned)  and the Late Jurassic Ceratosaurus, three-fingered hands of an Allosaurid, but with much larger and more highly recurved claws, there is probably a bit of T. rex and a pinch of dromaeosaurid in there too.

Indominus rex – Dinosaur Attraction Due to Open in Summer 2015

A forthcoming attraction.

A forthcoming attraction.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

In the pre-launch publicity for the attraction, it is stated that this new hybrid can run up to speeds of 30mph (48kmh), within the confines of its enclosure and that I. rex can roar as loudly as 140-160db, the sound created when a Boeing 747 jet takes off.  At around twelve metres, that is a phenomenal growth rate, much faster than the estimated growth rate for any other large Theropod.  Amongst all that dinosaur DNA, to obtain such a rapid growth rate, we speculate that some song-bird genes much have been thrown into the mixer, after all, blackbirds for example, can reach almost adult size in just a few weeks.  Although the growth rate of various members of the Theropoda are not that well understood, ontogenic studies have suggested it was actually prey such as Ornithopods that grew much more quickly.

To read about a study into dinosaur growth rates: Duck-billed Dinosaurs Grew Up Fast to Avoid Tyrannosaurs

Just how big this dinosaur could grow can only be speculated.  We suspect that in the forthcoming film this dinosaur will meet its demise, how this happens is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the history of the film franchise.  Could Indominus rex fight Tyrannosaurus rex?  Would a Spinosaurus (the big villain in Jurassic Park III), become involved somehow?  Like millions of dinosaur fans around the world we shall have to wait until the second week of June to find out.

The Chinese Pompeii – Dinosaur Fossils Can be Confusing

Death of Dinosaurs in the Early Cretaceous of China (Lujiatun Unit of the Yixian Formation)

At Everything Dinosaur we define science as the “search for truth” and one of the fundamental principles of scientific working is the examination and assessment of evidence which leads to conclusions being drawn and theories put forward.  However, different scientists can examine the similar evidence and come to contrasting conclusions.  Let’s illustrate this point by looking at two scientific papers published recently that both seek to explain the remarkable degree of fossil preservation seen in a sequence of Lower Cretaceous strata laid down in north-eastern China.  Let’s explore the mystery of the “Chinese Dinosaur Pompeii”.

Last year, a team of international researchers led by Associate Professor of Palaeontology and Stratigraphy at Nanjing University, Baoyu Jiang published a paper that concluded the remarkably well-preserved dinosaur, bird and mammal fossils that form part of the Jehol Biota were created “Pompeii-style” by pyroclastic flows.  A pyroclastic flow is an immense, fast-moving cloud of extremely hot gas and dust that can occur with some types of volcanic eruption.  It would have swept everything before it and killing instantly any unfortunate animal or plant that was in the way.   The research team cited evidence such as criss-crossed cracks on the edges of fossilised bones, evidence of heat stress, microscopic debris showing plant remains that had been blackened by being exposed to very high temperatures prior to fossilisation and hollow bones filled with fine quartz grains, tell-tale signs of a pyroclastic flow.  Although the fossils are some 120 million years old, the same evidence can be found in the bodies of citizens of Pompeii who perished when this Roman town was engulfed by a pyroclastic flow which erupted from Vesuvius back in 79 AD.

Evidence of Sudden and Dramatic Death – Caught in Pyroclastic Flows

Evidence for pyroclastic flows from the Jehol Biota.

Evidence for pyroclastic flows from the Jehol Biota.

Picture Credit: Baoyu Jiang

The picture above shows photomicrographs (photographs of images produced under a microscope), showing thin sections of fossilised bone of two relatively common vertebrate fossils from the strata that was investigated.  The pictures show a dinosaur, Psittacosaurus and a thin section of the bone fossil from an ancient bird, Confuciusornis (top Psittacosaurus spp. and bottom Confuciusornis spp.).  The white arrows indicate missing bone material and cracks can be seen at both the dorsal and ventral edges of the bone.  This evidence supports the idea that the bones were subjected to intense heat, such as that found in volcanic pyroclastic flows.

Victims of a Pyroclastic Flow?

a).

a = Psittacosaurus, b and c = Confuciusornis fossil material

Picture Credit: Baoyu Jiang

Note the position of the limbs in the photographs of the fossils (above), particularly those fossils representing the bird Confuciusornis.  The pose is like that of a boxer.  This pose results from the shortening of muscles and tendons that occurs postmortem and this boxer-like box has been cited as further evidence to support the idea of mass mortality as a result of a pyroclastic event.

Conflicting Views as to How these Fossils were Formed

Associate Professor Baoyu Jiang and his colleagues have studied the flora and fauna preserved in the Lower Cretaceous deposits for many years.  It had been known for some time that volcanoes were active in the area at around this time in the Cretaceous, testament to the frequent eruptions were the many layers of fine, volcanic ash that could be identified in the rock layers.  The paper citing pyroclastic flows as the reason for the remarkable, often three-dimensional preservation of vertebrates led to considerable debate amongst scientists at the time of its publication.  Now another paper has been written, which argues that the fossils of the Lujiatun Member of this Formation do not owe their existence to violent clouds of hot ash, rocks and dust travelling at hurricane speeds, but are the result of slightly more gentle, (but equally dramatic), deposition forces.

A team of scientists from Bristol University in association with the IVPP (Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology – Beijing) and University College, Dublin have reassessed the “Chinese Pompeii” deposits and their fieldwork suggests that the fossils were transported in water which was choked with volcanic ash, rather than have the fossils forming as a result of sudden airborne ash fall.

A New Study Suggests Vertebrates such as Psittacosaurus were Buried by Ash that was Deposited by Water

Overcome by ash carried in water flows not pyroclastic flows.

Overcome by ash carried in water flows not pyroclastic flows.

Picture Credit: Bristol University Press Release

The fossils of the Jehol Biota come from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian and Jiufotang Formations.  Both freshwater and terrestrial creatures are found in the same horizons and some scientists have interpreted these deposits as evidence for mass mortality events.  The research group that included the Bristol-based team, set out to explore the events and mechanisms that led to the exceptional preservation.  By analysing in microscopic detail the sediments and residual fossils from the Lujiatun Member (the vicinity of Lujiatun village) and comparing the strata to fossils in the collections of Chinese museums, the scientists concluded that the beautifully preserved specimens of the Lujiatun Unit are not the result of one single, massive catastrophe caused by a volcanic eruption.  Their study suggests that the fossil-bearing sediments were remobilised and deposited by water.  If this is the case, the Psittacosaurs, other dinosaurs, primitive mammals and birds for example, were not wiped out by one huge, airborne delivery of volcanic ash, but in multiple flood events which carried very high loads of ash and other debris from volcanoes sweeping all before them and burying the unfortunate animals and plants.

One of the problems that occurs when trying to conduct a study such as this, is that many of the fossils in museum collections have been found by local farmers who then sell on the fossil material.  Not very accurate excavation records are kept and therefore it is often extremely difficult to match up a museum specimen with the actual horizon from which it originated.

Commenting on the research, lead author of the scientific paper that has just been published in the journal of “Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology”, PhD student Chris Rogers of Bristol University said:

“Without stratigraphic information of the fossils in the field, it was impossible to accurately establish a mode of death for these animals.  Once we established proper placement of these fossils in the sedimentary sequence it became clear that these animals had been buried by sediments that were deposited by water and not by volcaniclastic flows.”

It is likely that the debate over the nature of the Jehol Biota will rumble on (just like a pyroclastic flow), this is an example of groups of scientists building on each other’s work to better understand how certain fossils are formed.  However, they were formed, the Jehol Biota provides palaeontologists with a unique insight into the flora and fauna of this part of the world back in the Early Cretaceous, a time when the Aves were rapidly diversifying and there were important revisions undergoing in both the Mammalia and Reptilia.

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