Penguins Lived Alongside Dinosaurs (Probably)

Giant Prehistoric Penguin 1.5 metres Tall

Ancient leg bones, found in Palaeocene-aged deposits located on the shoreline of Pegasus Bay near the city of Christchurch (New Zealand), has led scientists to propose that dinosaurs would have been familiar with penguins.  In addition, the leg bone fossils indicate that after the dinosaurs died out, some penguins became super-sized, standing around 1.5 metres tall.  The avian fossil material was excavated from sediments along the Waipara River, close to where this river meets the sea (Pegasus Bay).  It has been estimated that this giant, primitive penguin lived in a coastal environment some 61 million years ago.

Researchers from the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research (Frankfurt, Germany), have concluded that the penguin lineage is much older than previously thought, suggesting that these marine birds very probably evolved during the Late Cretaceous and the first kinds of penguins would have been very familiar to dinosaurs that wandered the remnants of the southern continent Gondwana.

A Super-sized Palaeocene Penguin

Penguin fossil comparison.

New specimen (left) compared to W. manneringi and an extant Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) on the right.

Picture Credit: Senckenberg Society for Natural Research

The picture above compares the fossil leg bones of the newly discovered penguin species, with that of another, smaller Palaeocene penguin found in the same area Waimanu manneringi, which was formally described in 2006.  The bones on the right are from the largest living species of penguin, the Emperor penguin (A. forsteri).   This fossil supports the theory that the ancestors of modern Aves rapidly diversified after the end Cretaceous extinction event occupying a number of niches that had previously been occupied by other types of bird and Theropod dinosaurs.

An Illustration of Waimanu manneringi

Waddling with dinosaurs.

Penguins probably waddled next to dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Senckenberg Society for Natural Research

Although, Waimanu manneringi was a contemporary of the giant penguin, it had a different body plan, resembling a cormorant.  The two types of penguin were very different, this suggests that basal penguins probably evolved prior to the end of the Cretaceous.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Paul Scofield (Canterbury Museum, New Zealand), explained:

“We believed up until this specimen was discovered that there was very little variation amongst these Palaeocene penguins.  We are now starting to understand that shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs there were in fact two quite different groups of penguin.”

No Scientific Name as Yet

The lack of autapomorphies (distinctive features) and the fragmentary nature of the fossils has deterred the researchers from seeking to name their new prehistoric bird.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“The fossils probably represent a new species, however, with so few fossils to go on and with a lack of distinctive characteristics in the bones, it is not possible to erect a new species at the moment.  Should more fossil material be found, especially skull material, then a new prehistoric bird species could come about.”

The Prehistoric Penguin Compared in Size with a Modern Human

New Zealand giant penguin size comparison.

South Island giant penguin compared to modern human.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The orientation of the leg bones suggests that, just like modern penguins, this ancient feathered friend probably waddled, walking in the same manner as its extant, smaller cousins.  The fossil discovery is highly significant as it will likely be used as an “anchor point” to determine how the penguin family evolved.  It is also very likely that other penguin species existed during the Palaeocene Epoch in this part of the world, but their fossilised remains have not yet been discovered.

The scientists are optimistic that the fossil site, just twenty miles north of the city of Christchurch, will yield further evidence of ancient sea birds.  Although, around twenty-five percent bigger than the largest penguin species around today (Emperor penguin), these fossils do not represent the largest penguin known to science.

To read more about one of the largest known penguin species: Picking up a Giant Prehistoric Penguin

Penguins were not the only creatures around today, that would have been familiar to the dinosaurs.  Everything Dinosaur wrote an article after research had been published back in 2008 that suggested the bizarre duck-billed platypus co-existed with duck-billed dinosaurs.

To read the article: Duck-billed Platypus and the Duck-billed Dinosaurs

Everything Dinosaur – New Website

Everything Dinosaur – New Website

Today, Everything Dinosaur has launched its new website, part of a major investment programme for the UK based specialist retailer of dinosaur models and toys.  The site has been redesigned to make it much more user friendly, especially for those visitors that access Everything Dinosaur via a mobile device.  The improved layout is easier to navigate and the customer breadcrumb trails and product search functions have been made more efficient and intuitive.

The New Homepage of Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur's website

The new front page of the Everything Dinosaur website.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The site has improved security features to ensure that all customer data is held safely and in accordance with best practices for web-based retailers.  New shipping options are being offered for the company’s growing number of international customers.  For example, there are now tracked and signed options available for all countries that currently offer such postal services.  Shipping costs, especially UK postage costs continue to be subsidised and a lot of dinosaur toys and models can still be sent out for just over £3.00 GBP, which represents remarkable value considering the rise in postage elsewhere on the Internet.

To see Everything Dinosaur’s new website: Everything Dinosaur

Just like life on Earth, the new website is designed to be constantly evolving.  Customers will find it easier to sign up for the company’s newsletter and shortly, FEEFO product ratings and customer reviews will be available to view on line.  The streamlined and upgraded product categories will make shopping for dinosaur toys and games much easier and in the background, currently hidden from view and waiting to “go live”, are several new product areas, reflecting Everything Dinosaur’s expanding product range.  Collectors of prehistoric animal models are going to have even more choice than ever, all thanks to Everything Dinosaur’s growing model and replica ranges.

Improved, Clearer Images and a “Cleaner” Layout for Products

Everything Dinosaur's new website

A new website layout for Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Customer Views and Opinions Helped Shape the New Website

Customer feedback and opinions have been taken into consideration as part of the website improvement programme.  A special category has been created to highlight new arrivals.  This will help dinosaur fans to keep up to date with new products which have come into stock.  In addition, the appearance and layout of all the products has been improved, helping customers to access top quality product images and lots more information on dinosaur models and other prehistoric animal themed toys and games.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The new website has been launched today, it has taken nearly two years of planning and hard work to get the new site up and running in the way that our customers wanted.  However, this is only the start of, what will be, a programme of continuous improvement and investment going forward.  The team members at Everything Dinosaur are really excited about all the new developments.”

Easier to Use Shopping Cart

The new website is being hosted on a new platform.  The shopping cart function has been improved and it is easier to navigate, toggling between the shop and the cart is quicker and more convenient.  Naturally, Everything Dinosaur customers can be assured that as with the previous website, security is state of the art and the three-dimensional customer protocols are all in place to ensure that sensitive customer data is protected.   The protection offered by the new website has been enhanced with new secure transactional gateways and upgraded site conduits.

Everything Dinosaur has been trading on line for a dozen years or so, but the website domain including the blog site has been owned by the company for nearly twenty years.  The launch of the new website, part of a continuous programme of customer service improvements, represents a new chapter in the history of the company dedicated to all things dinosaur.

Unlike the Woolly Rhino, the giant prehistoric fish Dunkleosteus, Pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus and of course the non-avian dinosaurs – Everything Dinosaur is far from extinct!  In fact, thanks to it’s enthusiastic team members and loyal customers, the company continues to thrive.

The Half Tonne Rat

Super-sized Rodent Re-Writes Family Tree

The skull and jaws from a pair of giant rodents, that represent an extinct species that could have weighed as much as half a tonne, are helping to re-shape the rodent family tree.  Study of these new fossils have led researchers to propose a formal revision of the three known species of the genus Isostylomys into just one species, Isostylomys laurillardi.

These are the best-preserved fossils to date of this extinct group, which was previously known only from skull fragments and individual teeth, the scientists report in a new study, published in the “Journal of Systematic Palaeontology”,

The new fossils of the two rodents, an adult and a juvenile, paint a more complete picture of these extinct and massive rat-like animals.  For example, the fossil discoveries raised questions about how these giant rodents were classified within their genus, and hint that several species that were thought to be related may instead be a single species.  The fossils add to our knowledge regarding giant members of the Dinomyidae family and is helping palaeontologists to reappraise the phylogeny of this once diverse and speciose group of South American mammals.

The Giant Miocene Rodent Isostylomys laurillardi (Adult and Juvenile)

Isostylomys laurdillardi a giant prehistoric rodent.

Isostylomys laurillardi (adult and juvenile).

Picture Credit: Renzo Vaira/Taylor & Francis

The fossil material comes from the exposed cliffs in the Río de la Plata coastal region of southern Uruguay.  The fossils have been dated to the Miocene Epoch (9.5 to 10 million-years-ago approximately).  The researchers, including lead author, Dr Andres Rinderknecht of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (Uruguay), examined the teeth and skulls of fossil specimens, comparing them to the bones and teeth of the largest living rodent the Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris).

The research team conclude that, due to similarities in the adult’s and the juvenile’s teeth structure, previously found fossils, which were smaller and thought to belong to a different species, were in fact from the same species.

Skull and Jaw Fossils of Isostylomys laurillardi

Isostylomys laurillardi fossil material (MNHN 2187)

Skull in ventral view (A), skull and mandible in left lateral view (B), and mandible in occlusal view (C).

Picture Credit: Taylor & Francis

The picture above shows the adult skull in ventral view seen from underneath, (A), and the skull and jaw viewed from the side (B).  Picture (C) shows the jaw in occlusal view, the scale bar is five centimetres.

The authors have consequently proposed that members of the subfamily Gyriabrinae could represent juveniles belonging to other subfamilies of Dinomyidae and that three known species of the genus Isostylomys should be merged into just one species, Isostylomys laurillardi.

Commenting on the team’s conclusions, Dr Rinderknecht stated:

“Our study shows how the world’s largest fossil rodents grow and we describe fossil remains of a giant rodent baby and an adult.  Comparing them we conclude that from very young the giant rodents already were very similar to the adults which allows us to deduce that the great majority of the hypotheses before posed were wrong.  The juvenile and the adult analysed here represent some of the largest rodents known to science with some of these animals weighing almost a ton.”

The Giant Incisor of the Adult Isostylomys

Giant rodent tooth fossil (Isostylomys)

MNHN 2187 the giant lower right incisor of (Isostylomys),

Picture Credit: Taylor & Francis

The adult remains found consist of an almost complete skull with a partial jaw, while the juvenile’s remains are of a complete lower jaw and the right calcaneum (heel bone).  Almost all previous discoveries of this kind have consisted of isolated teeth, and small fragments of skulls or jaws, which make this discovery some of the best-preserved remains of giant dinomids known to science.

“Making a Giant Rodent: Cranial Anatomy and Ontogenetic Development in the genus Isostylomys (Mammalia, Hystricognathi, Dinomyidae)”.

By Andrés Rinderknecht, Enrique Bostelmann and Martin Ubilla, published by Taylor and Francis.

The scientific paper: Access the scientific paper here.

The Tully Monster Just Lost its Backbone

“Tully Monster” Mystery Not Solved

Back in March 2016, Everything Dinosaur published an article on the enigmatic “Tully Monster” (Tullimonstrum gregarium), a bizarre creature of coastal waters and estuaries, first described in 1966, but not classified until fifty years later.  Trouble is, the proposal that this thirty-centimetre long, stalk-eyed animal was a vertebrate has been challenged.  It seems that the mystery surrounding how to classify the State fossil of Illinois (fossils have only been found in the Mazon Creek area of Illinois and nowhere else in the world), has not been solved.

The Bizarre Carboniferous Marine Animal Tullimonstrum gregarium

The Paleo-Creatures "Tully Monster" model.

The Paleo-Creatures Tullimonstrum replica.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Paleo-Creatures

Two separate recent studies had proposed that the “Tully Monster” was a soft-bodied vertebrate, one that is related to extant jawless fishes such as the very slimy Hagfish and the Lamprey (a fish, perhaps most famous for causing the demise of Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror, who died from a “surfeit of lampreys”.)

To read an article supporting the T. gregarium was a vertebrate theory: Tully Monster Riddle Solved

Vertebrate Theory Challenged

Palaeobiologists at the University of Pennsylvania have challenged the idea that Tullimonstrum was a primitive fish with a proboscis.  Writing in the academic journal “Palaeontology”, lead author Assistant Professor Lauren Sallan, (Dept. of Earth and Environmental Science) and her co-workers refute the vertebrate hypothesis.

Lauren stated:

​​​​​​​”This animal doesn’t fit easily in classification because it’s so weird.  It has these eyes that are on stalks and it has this pincer at the end of a long proboscis and there’s even disagreement about which way is up.  But the last thing that the Tully monster could be is a fish.”

Sallan and colleagues, which include Robert Sansom (University of Manchester), postdoctoral researcher John Clarke, Zerina Johnason (Natural History Museum, London), Sam Giles (Oxford University), Ivan Sansom of the University of Birmingham and Philippe Janvier of France’s Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, postulate that that the two papers which seemingly settled the Tully Monster debate are flawed, failing to definitively classify it as a vertebrate.

Junior Research Fellow Giles explained:

“It’s important to incorporate all lines of evidence when considering enigmatic fossils: anatomical, preservational and comparative.  Applying that standard to the Tully Monster argues strongly against a vertebrate identity.”

The Ancient Waters of the Mazon Creek Area 300 Million Years Ago

Life in Mazon Creek during the Late Carboniiferous.

Two “Tully Monsters” in the shallow waters of Mazon Creek.

Picture Credit: John Megahan

The Tully Monster has been known since the 1950’s, when the first fossils were found in the Mazon Creek fossil beds in central Illinois.  Since then, thousands of specimens have been identified from this locality, but they are not found anywhere else in the world.

Looking at the history of classification, Sallan explained that at first it was thought to be some sort of marine worm, then it was proposed that it was a form of mollusc, like a sea-slug.  Other palaeontologists have argued that this strange little animal has affinities with the Arthropoda, perhaps a distant relative of today’s shrimp.  Then in 2016, two research papers were published proposing that T. gregarium was actually a member of the back-boned group of animals – a vertebrate.

Evidence for the Vertebrate Theory

One study examined more than 1,200 Tullimonstrum fossils.  In some, the researchers observed a light band running down the creature’s mid-line, which they interpreted as a notochord, a kind of primitive backbone.  They also said it contained other internal organ structures, such as gill sacs, that identified it as a vertebrate, and that the animal’s teeth resembled those of a lamprey.

Assistant Professor Sallan and her colleagues noted that these conclusions are based on a misunderstanding of how fossils in Mazon Creek are preserved.  The Tully Monster samples come from what was once a muddy estuarine area and at Mazon Creek, internal soft tissues are very rarely preserved.  Lamprey fossils have been found in the Mazon Creek area and these fossils are markedly different from their supposed relative the Tully Monster.

In the other 2016 study, the researchers reported that scanning electron microscope images of the Tully Monsters’ eyes had revealed structures called melanosomes, which produce and store melanin.  That paper’s authors argued that the complex tissue structure they saw in the animals’ eyes indicated it was likely a vertebrate.  The Pennsylvania University led team counter this point by arguing that many Arthropods and Molluscs, also have complex eyes.

Sallan added:

“Eyes have evolved dozens of times.  It’s not too much of a leap to imagine Tully Monsters could have evolved an eye that resembled a vertebrate eye.”

Based on Sallan and her colleagues’ examination of Tullimonstrum eyes, these creatures in fact possess what is known as a cup eye, a relatively simpler structure that lacks a lens.

“So the problem is, if it does have cup eyes, then it can’t be a vertebrate because all vertebrates either have more complex eyes than that or they secondarily lost them.  But lots of other things have cup eyes, like primitive chordates, molluscs and certain types of worms,” the Assistant Professor stated.

In this research, not one of more than a thousand fossil specimens studied appeared to possess structures that are believed to be universal in aquatic vertebrates, namely otic capsules, components of the ear that allow animals to balance and a lateral line, a sensory structure along the flanks that enables fishes to orient themselves and to detect their surroundings.

Comparing the Anatomy of Tullimonstrum to Other Creatures

How to classify a "Tully Monster".

Comparing the “Tully Monster” to other creatures.

Picture Credit: Pennsylvania University

Lauren went onto state:

“You would expect at least a handful of the specimens to have preserved these structures.  Not only does this creature have things that should not be preserved in vertebrates, it doesn’t have things that absolutely should be preserved.”

The researchers said that an improper classification of such an unusual species has ripple effects on the larger field of evolution.

“Having this kind of misassignment really affects our understanding of vertebrate evolution and vertebrate diversity at this given time.  It makes it harder to get at how things are changing in response to an ecosystem if you have this outlier.  And though of course there are outliers in the fossil record, there are plenty of weird things and that’s great, if you’re going to make extraordinary claims, you need extraordinary evidence.”

It looks like, for the time being at least the “Tully Monster” has lost its backbone.

Clay Dinosaurs

Clay Dinosaurs

Team members from Everything Dinosaur at a trade fair in Germany met up with some very talented model makers and artists.  A company called “Clay Works”, which is based in Singpore, were promoting their brand of very malleable clay, that once air dried sets solid.  In order to demonstrate what the clay could do, the company had asked a team of very clever and skilled model makers to make a prehistoric landscape.  Everything Dinosaur team members were most impressed, the entire landscape with its cast of dinosaur and prehistoric animal characters had taken more than three weeks to build.

Dinosaur Landscape Created from Clay

Clay prehistoric animals.

A prehistoric scene made from clay.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The company’s trade stand certainly looked most inviting and we were allowed to touch and handle some of the models.  The artists were happy to chat and to explain how the prehistoric landscape came about.  They were genuinely, very fond of their prehistoric creations, even cuddling some of the sea monsters that they had made.

Is That a Kronosaurus You’re Cuddling?

Clay model sea monster.

A sea monster model made from clay.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The number of different prehistoric animals on display was most impressive, the model makers had taken great care to make the models and the prehistoric scene that they had created was a sheer delight.  Well down to Clay Works, we hope you had a prosperous trade show.

“Cretaceous Clay” – A Colourful Prehistoric Landscape

Modelling clay prehistoric animals.

A wonderful prehistoric landscape created using modelling clay.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Review of “Giants of the Lost World”

“Giants of the Lost World” Reviewed

The fauna and flora of South America has always fascinated scientists and academics.  Animals that are around today, such as the giant otter, the bizarre peccary, anacondas and the jaguar, which pound for pound has the strongest bite of any living big cat, are mere shadows of what was once an astonishing menagerie, the likes of which were found nowhere else on Earth.  The public’s imagination has been fuelled by tales of the monsters that once roamed this continent.  American palaeontologist and author Donald Ross Prothero builds on this legacy in his new book “Giants of the Lost World” which documents and describes the incredible prehistoric animals that once dominated South America, many of which truly deserve the mantle of “monsters”!

The Front Cover of “Giants of the Lost World”

"Giants of the Lost World" front cover.

“Giants of the Lost World” by Donald R. Prothero.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

A Window into a Lost World

Professor Prothero gently guides the reader through the history of research and study of the many extinct prehistoric animals of South America, but first he sets the scene.  He discusses the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the adventure story “The Lost World” in 1912.  In Conan Doyle’s tale, plucky Professor Challenger leads a party of explorers to the top of a remote and isolated plateau discovering that dinosaurs and flying reptiles had survived into the 20th Century.  This influential novel has been the basis of many films, radio programmes and television series.  Sir Arthur was very probably inspired by the accounts of his good friend Percy Harrison Fawcett, who led an expedition to the Huanchaca Plateau (Bolivia) and encountered many strange animals that live atop the rocky plateau which rises upwards of nine hundred metres above sea level.

In truth, the non-avian Dinosauria and their kin are long gone, but the fossil assemblage left behind documents a remarkable prehistoric fauna, that once helped shape the thinking of Charles Darwin.  The largest land animals known to science (Titanosaurs) and some of the huge carnivores that preyed upon them, are discussed and the author skilfully updates readers on the fascinating debate about which was the biggest land carnivore of all – look out for the section comparing mega-sized carcharodontosaurids with the equally impressive Spinosaurs.

South America was home to a whole host of unusual meat-eating dinosaurs from the stumpy-limbed Alvarezsauridae with their reduced digits, to the “raptors”, ferocious Deinonychosaurs and the truly odd, apex predators, the abelisaurids.  This book is crammed full of fascinating facts and information that will delight both dinosaur fans and the general reader.

One of South America’s Unusual Giant Theropods – Carnotaurus (C. sastrei)

The South American abelisaurid Carnotaurus (C. sastrei).

A spectacular photograph of the bizarre South American abelisaurid Carnotaurus (C. sastrei).

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

Beautiful Illustrations, Photographs and Full Colour Plates

“Giants of the Lost World” is jam-packed with photographs, colour plates and beautiful illustrations.  Look out in particular for the detailed images included in this most informative text by the very talented Nobumichi Tamura.  We congratulate the author, for his provision of helpful notes and explanations that accompany the images and the very straight-forward and matter-of-fact manner in which he tackles quite complex and challenging areas of current palaeontological research, such as unravelling the family tree of the Sloths and their relatives (Xenarthra).  After all, who can’t help but be intrigued with chapter titles such as “Killer Opossums”, “The Slow Folk” and “Pseudo-Elephants”!

To purchase this very well written and highly informative volume: Smithsonian Books

As a specialist in mammalian evolution, Professor Prothero is an ideal candidate to document and explain the evolutionary history of the marsupials and placentals that once thrived in South America.  Some of these strange creatures migrated northwards, when South America’s isolation ended around three million years ago.  You might be familiar with the Smilodon fossils of the La Brea tar pits of Los Angeles, but the largest of the Smilodon species was a resident of the southern portion of the Americas (S. populator), it would have dwarfed the Sabre-Toothed Cats of the United States and was one of the largest felids to have ever lived.

A Colour Plate from the Book Illustrating the Skull and Huge Canines of Smilodon

Smilodon skull fossil.

A view of the skull of a Smilodon.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

The Land of Reptilian Monsters 

The dinosaurs did not hold the monopoly when it came to giant reptiles.  After the demise of the “terrible lizards”, new reptilian monsters evolved.  The immense fossilised shell of a super-sized turtle (Stupendemys), is proof that monstrous reptiles lived in South America as recently as five million years ago.  The bus-sized Titanoboa is discussed in detail and for fans of crocodiles, this book has plenty to sink your teeth into too.  You might be familiar with apex predators such as the fourteen-metre-long “super caiman” Purussaurus, known from Colombia, Brazil and Peru, but “Giants of the Lost World” contains one or two crocodilian surprises as well.  Check out the curious Mourasuchus, which matched Purussaurus in terms of size, but it may have fed in a similar way to a giant duck!

Everything Dinosaur’s Well-Thumbed Copy of “Giants of the Lost World”

Book cover "Giants of the Lost World"

Everything Dinosaur’s copy of “Giants of the Lost World”.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

This highly informative and well-written book draws to a close with an epilogue that takes a sanguine tone, reflecting on the threats to the existing wildlife of South America, much of which is critically endangered.  Professor Prothero concludes that the extant animals and plants of this enigmatic continent may only be a shadow of a once mighty and monstrous assemblage, but there is still time to reverse the habitat destruction and climate change that threatens to erase the remnants of an amazing biological legacy.

This excellent book does much to raise awareness concerning the diverse and eclectic cast of prehistoric characters that once roamed South America.  Highly recommended.

The book can be purchased here: Smithsonian Books

Book Details:

Title: “Giants of the Lost World: Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Monsters of South America” by Donald R. Prothero.

Publisher: Smithsonian Books

Pages: 174 with 16 colour plates

ISBN: 9781588345738

Yehuecauhceratops – A New Dinosaur from Mexico

Yehuecauhceratops mudei – Mexican Relative of Nasutoceratops

Last week, a new species of North American horned dinosaur was announced.  Named Yehuecauhceratops (Y. mudei), at three metres long, it was little more than a third the size of Triceratops, but its discovery, after a ten-year-long exploration of Upper Cretaceous strata of the State of Coahuila (northern Mexico), is still significant, as it once again demonstrates that towards the end of the Age of Dinosaurs much of the ancient land known as Laramidia was home to very distinct populations of prehistoric animals.

A Model of the Reconstructed Skull of Yehuecauhceratops

A replica of the skull of Yehuecauhceratops.

A model of the skull of Yehuecauhceratops.

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto, Mexico (The Coahuila Desert Museum)

Scraps of Bone but a Significant Bump

Fossils found in the Coahuila Desert in 2007 and in 2011 were very fragmentary and the field team from the Coahuila Desert Museum in collaboration with scientists from Germany who had joined them on the expedition, were not sure quite what they had found.  It was assumed it was a horned dinosaur, after all, the first horned dinosaur known from Mexico, Coahuilaceratops (named in 2010), had been found in the same area.  However, a piece of the head shield showed a small, but significant bump that distinguished the fossils from the Chasmosaurine Coahuilaceratops, the frill had a definite look of a Centrosaurine.

Pieces of the Head Shield Revealed Unique Morphology – The Fossils Represented a New Species

Fragment fossils representing Yehuecauhceratops.

A small but significant bump on part of the head shield identified this dinosaur as a Centrosaurine.

Picture Credit: The Journal of South American Earth Sciences

In total, Yehuecauhceratops mudei has been described from a partial and very fragmented skull, a thigh bone, elements of the hips, a few ribs and an array of fossil bone fragments.  We at Everything Dinosaur, estimate that only about 3% of the entire skeleton is known.  However, the morphological characteristics were enough for the scientists and their lead author Héctor Rivera-Sylva (The Coahuila Desert Museum), to propose that the fossils represented a new species of dinosaur.

Yehuecauhceratops is a combination of the local Nahuatl word for “ancient” and the Greek for “horned face”, while the species epithet “mudei” honours the Museo del Desierto in Coahuila, as this museum is referred to as the MUDE.

A Model of the Newly Described Horned Dinosaur – Yehuecauhceratops mudei

Yehuecauhceratops Museum Replica

Scientists have constructed a model of the Mexican dinosaur called Yehuecauhceratops.

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto, Mexico (The Coahuila Desert Museum)

CPC 274

Until the publication of the scientific paper describing this new type of horned dinosaur from the Campanian-aged Aguja Formation of northern Mexico, the fossil material had been referred to by their catalogue number, CPC 274.  A model of the skull has been created plus a miniature figure of the dinosaur and the researchers at the Coahuila Desert Museum hope, that one day, the fossils will be able to go on public display.

Over the last decade or so, several new kinds of horned dinosaur from North America have been described.  Yehuecauhceratops was closely related to Nasutoceratops, fossils of which were found in slightly older deposits in southern Utah.  Writing in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences, the team conclude that Mexican Ceratopsia (currently represented by a total of three species), also experienced regional diversification.

It is likely that more horned dinosaur fossils representing new species await discovery in northern Mexico.  There are probably several more Ceratopsians going to be added to the list of Mexican dinosaurs and we look forward to writing about these scientific discoveries.

Late Permian Therapsid was Probably Venomous

Euchambersia mirabilis was Probably Venomous

Detailed scans of the skull of the stem-mammal Euchambersia supports a theory first proposed by the enigmatic Baron Franz Nopcsa ninety years ago, that this Late Permian creature was venomous.  Scientists at the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), concur with the Baron’s idea that this half-metre-long therapsid reptile known from the famous Karoo Supergroup, represents the earliest known venomous terrestrial vertebrate.

An Illustration of the Late Permian Therapsid Euchambersia mirabilis

Euchambersia mirabilis.

An illustration of the Late Permian therapsid Euchambersia.

Baron Nopcsa was an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat who discovered and identified a number of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals around the world.  In 1933, during a trip to South Africa, he looked at the remains of a therapsid found a couple of years earlier by Robert Broom, the fossil was identified as a distant ancestor of today’s Mammalia.  Nopcsa stated that the fossils probably represented an animal with a deadly bite.

Nopcsa declared that this was probably the earliest venomous species ever recorded.  However, his theory couldn’t be confirmed or disproved because venom and venom glands don’t fossilise.  A study of the skull and the upper jaw (maxilla) had shown that E. mirabilis had a huge, deep maxillary fossa (a hollow), associated with a ridged canine.  To the Baron, this implied that Euchambersia possessed a specialised gland situated inside the maxillary fossa that was capable secreting venom down the ridged canine tooth into victims.

CT Scanning Technology Provides Support for Nopcsa’s Theory

A team of researchers from the Johannesburg-based university set out to scan the known fossil skulls of Euchambersia and to create detailed three-dimensional images.  It seems that Baron Nopcsa was right, the 21st Century technology supports the idea that the 255 million-year-old Euchambersia is indeed, the earliest example of a venomous terrestrial vertebrate known to science.  Some extant mammals produce venom, for example, the bizarre Australian Duck-billed platypus (a monotreme), but also amongst placentals there are venomous mammals too.  With a stem-mammal probably being venomous, it puts forward a tantalising idea that in the past, all early mammal forms may have had venom, but as the synapsid lineage that was to give rise to modern mammals evolved, so the venom producing glands were lost.

Known from Only Two Fossil Specimens

The fossils that Baron Nopcsa studied back in 1933, represent a species that is only known from one other set of fossils.  Both specimens were discovered in the same area, just a few metres apart close to the town of Colesberg (Northern Cape Province of South Africa).  The second specimen was not found until 1966.  One specimen is housed in the collection of the Natural History Museum London, the other is at the Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg.

A Closer View of One of the Euchambersia Skulls Used in the Study

Euchambersia mirabilis skull fossil.

A closer look at one of the Euchambersia mirabilis fossil skulls.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

Each specimen was CT scanned at its respective institute, and the London data was sent to the researchers at the University of Witwatersrand.  The three-dimensional models that the images were able to provide gave the scientists the opportunity to explore in great detail the internal structure of the upper jaw.

CT Scans Revealed New Details of Euchambersia Skull and Jaw Anatomy

CT scans suggest Euchambersia was first terrestrial venomous Tetrapod.

CT scans showing various views of the Euchambersia skull material.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/University Witwatersrand

Lead author of the report, published in PLOS One, Dr Julien Benoit commented:

“We found that a wide, deep and circular fossa to accommodate a venom gland was present on the upper jaw and was connected to the canine and the mouth by a fine network of bony grooves and canals.  Moreover, we discovered previously undescribed teeth hidden in the vicinity of the bones and rock, two incisors with preserved crowns and a pair of large canines, that all had a sharp ridge.   Such a ridged dentition would have helped the injection of venom inside a prey.”

Dr Julien Benoit Holding One of the Skulls that was Scanned

Holding one of the Euchambersia fossil skulls.

Dr Julien Benoit holds one of the Euchambersia fossil skulls.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

It seems that Euchambersia had anatomical adaptations which were compatible with venom production.  The confirmation of the Baron’s theory strengthens the belief that pre-mammalian therapsids were very diverse and occupied a wide range of niches within Late Permian and Early Triassic ecosystems.  These ancient creatures, distantly related to our own species, diversified as herbivores and carnivores, large and small, burrowing and ground-dwelling species.  As the earliest venomous species and a representative of this early wave of pioneering species, Euchambersia directly reflects the extraordinary adaptive capabilities of these mammalian forerunners.

The scientific paper: “Reappraisal of the Envenoming Capacity of Euchambersia mirabilis (Therapsida, Therocephalia) using μCT-scanning Techniques,” published in the on line journal PLOS One.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the University of Witwatersrand in the compilation of this article.

An Unexpected Early Triassic Marine Ecosystem

American Fossil Site Shows Diverse Range of Marine Fauna Post Permian Extinction Event

A team of international scientists writing in the on line academic journal “Science Advances” have published details of a complex and diverse Early Triassic marine ecosystem that contradicts the commonly held view that life on Earth was slow to recover from the catastrophic End Permian mass extinction.  The fossils of around thirty different species of marine creature have been excavated from shales and limestone near to the city of Paris in Idaho (USA).  Four sites in total have been unearthed in Bear Lake County and they represent a marine ecosystem that existed just 1.3 million years after the Permian mass extinction event, the most devastating extinction event recorded in the whole of the Phanerozoic Eon (visible life).

Just 1.3 Million Years After the End Permian Extinction Event a Surprisingly Diverse Marine Ecosystem Thrived

Early Triassic marine fauna.

The Early Triassic marine fauna of the Paris Basin (Idaho).

Picture Credit: Jorge Gonzalez

A Dynamic Marine Ecosystem

Ammonite and conodont fossils have been used as biostratigraphical markers and the site has been dated to the middle Olenekian faunal stage of the Early Triassic, approximately 250.6 million years ago.  The fossils demonstrate that life, at least in some parts of the world bounced back remarkably quickly after the End Permian extinction event that is believed to have wiped out around 95% of life on the planet.

Lead author of the paper, palaeontologist Arnaud Brayard of the University of Burgundy-Franche-Comté (France) stated:

“Our discovery was totally unexpected.”

The Location of the Paris Basin Site (Modern and Mesozoic)

The Bear Lake (Paris Basin) fossil site location.

The Bear Lake fossil site location (modern and during the Early Mesozoic).

Picture Credit: Romano et al (Science Advances)

The picture above shows (A) the site of the Paris Basin in the context of the geography of the United States, (B) a close up of the location of the dig sites (Paris biota) identified by the researchers.  Picture (C) shows the approximate position of the Paris Basin during the Early Triassic.  The site was very close to the equator during the Early Triassic.

Surprising Fossil Discoveries

The diverse ecosystem consisted of ammonites and other cephalopods, sponges, brachipods and bivalves along with echinoids (sea urchins) crinoids, crustaceans and several vertebrates including marine reptiles, sharks more than two metres long and bony fish.  The Paris Basin ecosystem, included some unexpected creatures.  There was a type of sponge previously believed to have gone extinct 200 million years earlier (leptomitid sponges), and a squid-like group (gladius-bearing coleoids), previously thought not to have evolved until the Late Triassic.  In addition, the scientists report the finding of bones that could represent the earliest-known Ichthyosaur or at least a direct ancestor of an Ichthyosaur. Several other fossils display anatomical characteristics that were thought to have evolved much later (for example, echinoderms), indicating an early and rapid post-Permian/Triassic boundary diversification for these groups as well as previously unknown phylogenetical links between Palaeozoic and Mesozoic taxa.

Brayard added:

“The Early Triassic is a complex and highly disturbed Epoch, but certainly not a devastated one as commonly assumed, and this epoch has not yet yielded up all its secrets.”

Some of the Fossils Representing the Remarkable and Diverse Early Triassic Marine Fauna

Fossils from the Paris Basin (Idaho).

Examples of the multitude of fossil from the Paris Basin.

Picture Credit: A. Brayard, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (A to G); T. Saucède, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (H); and B. Thuy, Natural History Museum Luxembourg (I).

The photograph above shows a selection of fossils from the Paris Basin (A) a sponge fossil and ammonites, (B) leptomitid sponge and tiny brachiopods, (C) an ancient lobster, (D) a new genus of thylacocephalan crustacean and (E) shrimp fossil.  Picture (F) shows another shrimp fossil depicted under ultraviolet light. Whilst picture (G) shows a Gladius-bearing coleoid, a type of cephalopod that previously, had been thought to have evolved some fifty million years later.  A crinoid stem is shown in picture (H) and (I) depicts the remains of a Brittlestar.  Scale bars equal five millimetres for all the pictures, except for photograph (B) – scale bar one centimetre.

The researchers conclude that the Paris Biota highlights the key evolutionary position of Early Triassic fossil ecosystems in the transition from the Palaeozoic to the modern marine evolutionary fauna at the dawn of the Mesozoic era.

 The scientific paper: “Unexpected Early Triassic Marine Ecosystem and the Rise of the Modern Evolutionary Fauna”, published in the journal Science Advances.

Helping to Organise a School Trip to Wren’s Nest

Wren’s Nest and School Trips

Everything Dinosaur has been contacted by a school based in the West Midlands, seeking advice about a trip to the famous Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve, a place we know very well indeed!  This location is a popular destination for local schools which are studying fossils and rocks as part of the National Curriculum (England).  Wren’s Nest is to the north-east of the town of Dudley and it is a designated SSSI (site of special scientific interest), so no hammering at the cliffs of this former quarry is allowed. However, lots of fossils are being washed out of the scree slopes and there is something like seven hundred different types of fossil to collect, nearly ninety of which are unique to the Wren’s Nest area.

The Famous Ripple Beds at Wren’s Nest

Ripples preserved in limestone.

The famous ripple beds at Wren’s Nest SSSI located in the West Midlands.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the famous “Ripple Bed Hill” at Wren’s Nest.  This near vertical cliff face was once at the bottom of a shallow sea.  The “ripples” are the preserved remains of wave action on the seabed, they are around 426 million years old.  Taking schoolchildren to this location, helps them to gain an appreciation of deep, geological time.

How Did the Ripple Beds Form?

These structures formed as a result of massive, probably seasonal storms that swept across the normally, relatively calm sea.  The huge waves generated by the storm, led to the seabed being disturbed, the waves created by the storm had much more energy and their effect was felt much deeper in the tropical sea than usual.  Sand and debris was picked up and washed backwards and forwards over the seabed, creating the ripples.  The seabed was nearly 100 feet (thirty metres), under water and normally it would have been unaffected by usual sea conditions.  However, the symmetrical ripples are evidence of storm damage to this part of the seabed back in the Late Silurian.

After the storm had passed, the sea would have once again returned to its relatively calm state.  Thirty metres down the seabed was once again protected by the effects of normal-sized waves, which could not penetrate deep enough to wipe away the ridges and ripples caused by the storm.  Crinoids, (sea-lilies) soon colonised this part of the sea floor. However, sometime later, perhaps a few months, or perhaps after several years a large amount of mud was dumped on top of the ripples, permitting their preservation.  The mud could have been deposited as a result of exceptional run-off from the land, or perhaps an earthquake or other seismic event led to a large amount of sediment being shifted.  Whatever, the cause the ripples (and the crinoids living on them), were buried.  Palaeontologists have identified a total of twenty-five ripple bed areas in the cliffs that make up this feature of Wren’s Nest.  Each ripple bed represents a separate storm event.

Fossils Galore to be Found

More than 700 different fossils found at Wren's Nest

Lots of brachiopod and coral fossils to find at Wren’s Nest.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Top Tips for a School Visit to Wren’s Nest

The site represents the remains of an ancient coral ecosystem dating between 423-426 million years ago (mya), it is Silurian in age and more than 700 different types of fossils have been found at this site.  A party of schoolchildren will not collect them all, but they are bound to find plenty of fossils to satisfy curious minds.  However, finding your own Trilobite fossil, a “Dudley Bug” Calymene blumenbachii, is most unlikely but you might find a fragment of the exoskeleton, a piece shed when the animal moulted.

• This is an SSSI (site of special scientific interest), no hammers or tools of any kind are permitted on site. However, you don’t need any tools as the constantly eroding scree provides lots of fossils that can simply be picked up.
• There are no toilet facilities at this location
• A mid-week visit is best, either quite early in the morning or in the afternoon, although, the area tends not to be that busy at most times
• When we visit we park close to the Caves Inn (car parking from 9.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday)
• The slopes are a magnet for young fossil hunters who love to try to climb them (and run up and down them), these slopes are very steep and very slippery after rain, so sensible precautions need to be taken.
• There is a slight risk of rock falls, after all, this is an old quarry site, but in all our visits, we have never seen any evidence of this.
• Contact Wren’s Nest here: Further information about Wren’s Nest. You might even be able to arrange short talk by one of the very knowledgeable wardens.

Typical Scree Slope at Wren’s Nest

Wren's Nest SSSI

A view of Wren’s Nest.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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