Deinocheirus – Done and Dusted (For Now At Least)

Solving the Mystery of “Peculiar Terrible Hand”

Back in November 2013, team members at Everything Dinosaur wrote about of the most intriguing reports to come out of the annual Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology meeting that had just come to an end in Los Angeles.  As the dust settled and the researchers made their way home, here was a chance to reflect on the remarkable work done to help finally resolve a fifty year mystery.  What type of dinosaur was Deinocheirus?

Huge fossilised forelimbs and shoulder bones, discovered by a joint Polish/Mongolian expedition to the Gobi desert in 1965 had fascinated scientists for nearly half a century.  The arms were massive, measuring some 2.6 metres in length (including shoulder blades) and each hand ended in three-fingers, each finger tipped with an enormous, curved claw which in one case was over twenty centimetres long.

Based on these huge arms and a few other scraps of fossil bone, most palaeontologists agreed that the fossils represented a giant form of ornithomimid, a member of the “Bird  Mimic” group of Theropod dinosaurs.  Although the arms were much bigger, they did resemble the arms and hands of agile, fast running ornithomimids such as Struthiomimus and Dromiceiomimus.  A formal announcement was made about the discovery in 1966, and Deinocheirus “Terrible Hand” was described based on this holotype material in 1970.

This was the cue for every dinosaur book publisher to include a picture of the fossil material in virtually every dinosaur book produced in the seventies and eighties, although very few attempts to illustrate the dinosaur were actually made if we recall correctly.

The Holotype Fossils of Deinocheirus (Deinocheirus mirificus)

Fearsome arms of Deinocheirus

Fearsome arms of Deinocheirus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The woman in the photograph is Professor Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska, the scientist who led the 1965 expedition.  Although the limbs have been repositioned and remounted since this picture was taken, it does provide a very good impression of the scale of those fossilised limbs.

Writing in the journal “Nature” the scientists behind the paper presented at the conference last year have revealed more about the “enigma” that is the Ornithomimosaur Deinocheirus mirificus.  Turns out that this bizarre Theropod is even more amazing than previously imagined.  In the journal, the scientists describe two new specimens of Deinocheirus that were discovered in the same formation (Nemegt Formation) as the original holotype material.  These much more complete fossil remains have enabled the researchers which include Phil Currie (University of Alberta), Yuong-Nam Lee and Hang-Jae Lee (Geological Museum, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources) as well as Pascal Godefroit (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences), to build up a comprehensive picture of what this dinosaur looked like, where it lived and what it ate.

A New Interpretation of Deinocheirus (D. mirificus)

A bizarre looking Theropod after all.

A bizarre looking Theropod after all.

Picture Credit: Yuong-Nam Lee/Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources

It is certainly the largest member of the Ornithomimosauria known to science, with an estimated length of around 11 metres, several tonnes in weight and standing about as tall as a modern-day Giraffe, but it was no vicious super predator.  Studies of the feet and hind legs indicate that this animal was probably a slow walker, one with a huge pot belly to boot.  A pot belly?  This dinosaur had an expanded pelvis with strong muscle attachments.  It probably had a large gut to help it digest the tough plant material that it ate.  The skull measures over a metre in length, but there were no teeth in the deep jaws.  Indeed, over a 1,000 gastroliths have been found in association with the fossils, along with fish remains in the body cavity indicating that this animal was probably a mega-omnivore, eating plants, but also insects, small animals and fish.

Deinocheirus lived next to a large river.  Seventy million years ago, this part of Mongolia resembled the Upper Nile.  The broad, wide toes with their blunt claws were ideally suited to assist this animal when walking over soft mud. It probably wandered into the river to feed on soft water plants, to catch the occasional fish and to avoid the attentions of the Tyrannosaur Tarbosaurus.  However, evidence that Tarbosaurus fed on Deinocheirus has been preserved on some of the bones.  Whether or not the bite marks and feeding gouges that have been identified indicate that Tarbosaurus predated on these large bipeds, or whether these marks were made as a result of scavenging a carcase remains unclear.  However, the deep, “U-shaped” wishbone of this dinosaur and those big shoulder bones suggest that this ponderous giant could inflict some serious damage should any unwary tyrannosaurid venture too close to those huge arms.

This dinosaur had a number of unique skeletal features, it had a pygostyle (fused vertebrae on the end of the tail), like a bird and a much thicker tail than its smaller ornithomimid relatives.  Perhaps one of the most intriguing features are the large number of tall neural spines.  The dorsal and sacral vertebrae have flat, blade-like extensions (neural spines).  To us, these spatulate spines resemble the bones seen in the humps of Bison.  Deinocheirus could have had a sail-like structure on its back, or maybe even a large hump.  It has been suggested that the hump, originally reported upon in 2013, could have been exaggerated. These neural spines could have supported a network of ossified tendons to help support this dinosaur’s huge gut and heavy tail.

An Illustration of Deinocheirus (D. mirificus)

A mega-omnivore that had to watch out for Tarbosaurus.

A mega-omnivore that had to watch out for Tarbosaurus.

Picture Credit: Michael Skrepnick

The model making company Collecta introduced a 1:40 scale replica of the mysterious Deinocheirus back in 2012.  At the time, we commended them for bringing out a model of this dinosaur when so very little of the total skeleton had been studied and described.  With the information regarding the hump, we at Everything Dinosaur amended our scale drawing to give an impression of a small hump over the pelvis, but the latest illustrations really emphasis the hump or sail on this animal’s back.  Ironically, Collecta gave their Deinocheirus model feathers, no evidence of feathers on the original holotype material or indeed on the more recently discovered fossils have been found, but it is thought that a number of ornithomimids were indeed, feathered.

An Illustration of the Collecta Deinocheirus Model (2012)

Scientists speculate that Deinocheirus was covered in simple feathers.

Scientists speculate that Deinocheirus was covered in simple feathers.

As lead author of the scientific paper, Yuong-Nam Lee states the researchers were just as surprised as anyone when they put the complete dinosaur together based on the three main specimens that had been found to date.

Yuong-Nam Lee went on to add:

“The discovery of the original specimen almost half a century ago suggested that this was an unusual dinosaur, but did not prepare us for how distinctive Deinocheirus is.  A true cautionary tale in predicting forms from partial skeletons.”

To view Everything Dinosaur’s origin article on this research, published in November 2013: A Helping Hand for Deinocheirus

To view the range of Collecta scale models available including the 1:40 replica of Deinocheirus: Collecta Scale Models of Prehistoric Animals

Prehistoric Times Issue 111 Reviewed

A Review of Prehistoric Times (Issue 111) Autumn 2014

Summer may be over for us in the northern hemisphere and for the UK the clocks go back next week heralding some months when nights are going to be longer than days.  However, perfect fireside reading has arrived in the nick of time, in the shape of the latest edition of the quarterly magazine “Prehistoric Times” and once again it is jam packed with interesting articles, fantastic artwork and features.  Decorating the front cover is a beautiful rendering of a Cretaceous fight scene between an unfortunate Hippodraco (iguanodontid) and a mob of Utahraptors.  This artwork was created by the very talented Julius Csotonyi and inside this issue there is a super interview with the palaeo-artist and a review of his new book “The Palaeoart of Julius Csotonyi” by Julius and Steve White.  Everything Dinosaur team members were sent a copy of this hardback a few months ago, it really is an excellent book showcasing the talents of a remarkable artist.  The interview with Julius conducted by “Prehistoric Times’s” editor Mike Fredericks, is supported by lots of illustrations which show the range of prehistoric animals and time periods covered by Julius in his new publication.  The scene featuring several Late Cretaceous herbivores demonstrating “dietary niche partitioning” is my personal favourite, although my nephew likes the eyeball-plucking raptor best – still that’s kids for you.

The Front Cover Artwork (Prehistoric Times Issue 111)

Prehistoric Times magazine.

Prehistoric Times magazine.

Picture Credit: Prehistoric Times

One of the featured prehistoric animals is Baryonyx and there are oodles (scientific term), of great illustrations sent in by readers on this member of the Spinosauridae and we greatly appreciated the article by Phil Hore on this Theropod.  We too, like Phil, have speculated on how many fossil specimens ascribed to prehistoric crocodiles in the past may well turn out to be evidence of widely dispersed spinosaurids.  Special mention to our chum Fabio Pastori for a simply stunning Baryonyx drawing.

The magazine has a bit of an “English theme” running through it.  Dinosaur discoveries of southern England are documented in another article, which features the artwork of John Sibbick and there is a well written piece by John Lavas that discusses the impact of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lost World”, a novel that we are informed has not been out of print since its publication back in 1912.  Bringing things right up to date, our review of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” is featured, a book which documents and catalogues the Dinosauria known from these shores.

Tracy Ford continues his series on how to draw dinosaurs by discussing integumental coverings – feathers, quills and bristles on the Dinosauria.  He makes some excellent points and it is great to see a piece that features one of our favourite dinosaur discoveries of recent times, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus.  This little feathered, plant-eating dinosaur makes another appearance in the Palaeo News section, along with updates on the Spinosaurus quadruped/bidped debate, giant prehistoric birds, a newly described Archaeopteryx specimen and a short report on Dreadnoughtus schrani .  Dreadnoughtus is important as a large number of bones have been found, helping palaeontologists such as Dr. Kenneth Lacovara (Drexel University), to estimate the body mass of this huge Titanosaur.  This dinosaur discovery adds a whole new dimension to body mass estimations using femora radii.  Everything Dinosaur wrote a short article on this discovery, it was favourably commented upon by the scientists behind the research paper and we basked in the glory of being praised by the researchers (for a few days at least).

To read more about “Prehistoric Times” and to subscribe: Prehistoric Times Magazine

Dan LoRusso is interviewed about his work on the Battat “Terra” model range and there is a special feature on the bizarre, sabre-toothed Thylacosmilus.  The “English” theme is re-visited once again with a fascinating article penned by Allen A. Debus which examines the way palaeontology was depicted in the popular press of the 19th Century, the list of references at the end of this article is especially helpful.  Amongst the many other features and news stories is an interview with Todd Miller, the director of the film all about the controversy surrounding the Tyrannosaurus rex named “Sue”, the thirteenth documented T. rex dinosaur discovery hence the film’s title “Dinosaur 13″.  We had the very great pleasure of meeting Pete Larson in London just a few weeks before the film’s August 15th premier.  Pete chatted about the documentary and Everything Dinosaur did some work on behalf of the media company responsible for the distribution of this excellent film in the UK back in the summer.

Ah well, summer may be over but at least we have another super edition of “Prehistoric Times” to keep us occupied over those long autumn evenings.

Schleich Anhanguera Model Update

Schleich Anhanguera with Articulated Lower Jaw

Thanks to all those dinosaur fans who sent in questions with regards to the new prehistoric animal models being introduced by Schleich in 2015.  Everything Dinosaur team members have responded to all the emails, Tweets and Facebook comments received and we have hopefully, answered the majority of enquiries.  However, to help answer a couple of the more common questions we are posting up this short blog article.

Mini Dinosaurs (Set of 8)

Mini Dinosaurs from Schleich.

Mini Dinosaurs from Schleich.

Picture Credit: Schleich

The mini dinosaurs will be launched in late January 2015.  Although, marketed as a set of 8 dinosaurs, one of the models will be a Pterosaur (Quetzalcoatlus).  The models will range in size from 3cm to about 5.5cm in length.  They are aimed at the collecting market.

Mini Dinosaurs – Name the Prehistoric Animals

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Available from Everything Dinosaur in January 2015.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Schleich

One of the questions we have been asked is which prehistoric animals do the models represent?  Here is the answer for you:

  1. Triceratops
  2. Stegosaurus
  3. Velociraptor
  4. Quetzalcoatlus (Pterosaur)
  5. Pentaceratops
  6. Spinosaurus
  7. Tyrannosaurus rex
  8. Saichania

Other new introductions by Schleich for January 2015 are in the World of History model series (larger models from 6cm to around 20cm in length).  These models are the Kentrosaurus and Anhanguera (another Pterosaur).  Yes, we can confirm that the Anhanguera has an articulated lower jaw.

Schleich Anhanguera (articulated lower jaw)

Moveable lower jaw on figure.

Moveable lower jaw on figure.

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur team members know all about the other Schleich model introductions, but for the time being we are not able to post up these details.  However, expect to hear some interesting and intriguing news about Schleich’s plans for later on in 2015.  Keep checking out this blog site or our Facebook page for additional information.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing rang or large Schleich dinosaur models: Schleich World of History Prehistoric Animal Models

Those Plucky Placoderms

Armoured Fish Made a Significant Contribution to Vertebrate Evolution

The Placoderms were a hugely diverse and very successful group of fishes, whilst they lasted. For in terms of this groups’ persistence, in geological terms they make a relative short appearance in the history of life on Earth.  As a group the Placoderms were around for approximately sixty-five million years, not a bad innings but nothing like the longevity of other types of fish such as the sharks, rays and certain Actinistians, the Coelacanth for example.  The Placoderms, or to be more correct, the Class Placodermi first evolved in the Late Silurian and they disappear from the fossil record at the end of the Devonian Period.

Perhaps the most famous Placoderm is the giant predator Dunkleosteus.  Several species are known and with some specimens estimated to have reached lengths of around ten metres or more, at the time, (Dunkleosteus lived towards the end of the Devonian something like 370 – 360 million years ago), this fish would have been one of the largest vertebrates ever to have evolved.

Dunkleosteus – An Illustration

Fearsome marine predator of the Late Devonian.

Fearsome marine predator of the Late Devonian.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Dunkleosteus may have looked like a typical Placoderm with its head and thorax covered in articulated armour plate, but the Placodermi, it turns out are being seen as one of the most important group of vertebrates to have existed  It is not just because they evolved into the likes of Dunkleosteus, regarded by many as the world’s first, vertebrate, super-predator, but this group of armoured fishes seems to have achieved a number of “firsts” in terms of the Chordata (animals with a spine or spine-like structure in their bodies).

Firstly, palaeontologists have found a number of fossils that suggest that early members of the Placodermi were amongst the first types of vertebrate to evolve a jaw.  Recently, Everything Dinosaur wrote a short article about a remarkable fossil discovery form China which reveals some remarkable features: A Jaw Dropping Discovery.

In addition, although the majority of Placoderms seemed to have been poor swimmers, with most of them living close to the bottom, a number of families were active and nektonic, indeed these types of fish were the first to evolve paired pelvic fins, a fishy equivalent of legs, although not connected with the spine.  Paired pelvic fins are an anatomical feature found in most types of extant fish today.

Those plucky Placoderms may have been amongst the first types of animal to develop teeth.  Recently a team of scientists from Australia and Bristol University studying fossilised remains of Placoderms from Western Australia found evidence of the first types of teeth, teeth with a structure very similar to our own.  To read more about this: The Origins of a Toothy Grin

Fossils from the same rocks (Go Go Formation) western Australia gave palaeontologists a remarkable insight into the reproductive strategies of many types of ancient fish.  One species of Placoderm, known from just a single fossil specimen represents the oldest example of a vertebrate capable of giving birth to live young (viviparity). Materpiscis attenboroughi was a small, bottom of the reef dwelling fish whose fossilised remains preserved in a limestone nodule showed evidence of an embryo and an umbilical cord.  This was evidence of internal fertilisation within the fossil record and the oldest known case of viviparity.

Materpiscis attenboroughi – A Remarkable Placoderm

Materpiscus means "Mother Fish".

Materpiscus means “Mother Fish”.

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria

The remarkable Placodermi may have just added another evolutionary “first” to their string of impressive attributes.   A scientific paper published in the journal “Nature” provides details on a fossil discovery that hints at the very first example of copulation amongst vertebrates.  The international team of researchers that led the study into the Antiarch (an-tee-arc) Placoderm called Microbrachius dicki state that this was the earliest animal known from the fossil record to stop reproducing by spawning (external fertilisation).

Professor John Long (Flinders University, South Australia), was the lead author of the academic paper.  The Professor, a renowned expert on Devonian fishes had earlier worked on Materpiscus attenboroughi.  The fossils of M. dicki are relatively common.  This small freshwater Placoderm grew to about ten centimetres in length and lived around 385 million years ago.

Professor Long Explains the Key Points of the Research

Studying Placoderms and other Devonian fish.

Studying Placoderms and other Devonian fish.

Picture Credit: Flinders University

Commenting on the research, Professor Long stated:

“We have defined the very point in evolution where the origin of internal fertilisation in all animals began.  That is a really big step.”

A close inspection of a fossil revealed that one of the Microbrachius specimens had a peculiar “L-shaped” appendage.  Further study revealed that this was the male fish’s genitalia.

The Professor pointed out:

“The male had large bony claspers, These are the grooves that they used to transfer sperm into the female”.

On the other hand, the females had a small bony structure at the rear that helped to lock the male organ in place during mating.  Constrained by the anatomy, the fish probably had to mate side by side, a sort of “square dance position” as described by the researchers.

An Illustration Showing the Proposed Mating Position of M. dicki

Mating "square dance" style.

Mating “square dance” style.

Picture Credit: Flinders University/Nature

However, copulation using this method does not seem to have stayed around for very long in these Devonian fish.  As fish evolved, they reverted back to external fertilisation (spawning), whereby male and females release sperm and eggs respectively into the water and fertilisation relies more on chance.  It took several more millions of years before the ancestors of today’s sharks and rays evolved copulation.

The Placodermi may be most famous for the likes of Dunkleosteus, but scientists are beginning to realise that these strange, armoured fish may have contributed much more to the evolution of the vertebrates than just the first, back-boned  super-predator!

Nosing Around Dinosaurs

New Study Sniffs Out Details of the Pachycephalosaur Nose

A study into the nasal passages conducted by a team of scientists from Ohio University suggests that certain types of dinosaur used their complicated noses to help cool their brains as well as to enhance their ability to smell.  The study, which focused on specimens from the Pachycephalosauridae family (the bone-heads), involved the development of computer models derived from CT scans of fossilised skulls in order to map the airflow in and out of a dinosaur’s snout.  Palaeontologists have known for some time that a number of different types of dinosaur had very complex nasal passages.  The nasal region although mostly associated with breathing (respiration), also plays an important role in helping to define and enhance a creature’s sense of smell.  In addition, the ability to bring in air at an ambient temperature into the skull may have a function in helping the brain to keep cool.  In the Late Cretaceous of North America, Pachycephalosaurs may have had small brains in their heavily armoured skulls but they did not want them to cook inside those thick heads.

A Model of a Typical Member of the Pachycephalosauridae Family

Nosing around the nasal passages of dinosaurs.

Nosing around the nasal passages of dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lead author of the research, which has just been published in the academic journal “The Anatomical Record”, Jason Bourke (Ohio University) states:

“Figuring out what’s going on in their [dinosaurs] complicated snouts is challenging because noses have so many different functions.  It doesn’t help that all the delicate soft tissues rotted away millions of years ago.”

In order to gain an appreciation of the nasal passages of long extinct dinosaurs, the team examined the snouts of extant relatives of the Dinosauria, namely birds, crocodiles and other reptiles including lizards.  The study of fossil skulls of Pachycephalosaurs was supported by lots of dissections, blood-vessel injections to map blood flow as well as CT scans.  The researchers also relied upon computer models that provided a three-dimensional analysis of airflow.

A technique more commonly applied to the study of airflow in the aerospace industry, a technique called computational fluid dynamics was used to better understand how extant animals such as Alligators and Ostriches breathe.

As PhD student Jason Bourke explained:

“Once we got a handle on how animals breathe today, the tricky part was finding a good candidate among the dinosaurs to test our methods.”

The team turned to a family of bird-hipped dinosaurs known as the Pachycephalosaurs, the bone-headed dinosaurs.  These particular dinosaurs were chosen as a number of specimens were readily available to study in the United States/Canada and skulls attributed to several genera were known.   The thick skulls with their ornamentation may have been used  by these relatively small dinosaurs for head-butting or visual displays.  The skull bones, some of which are several inches thick, has helped to preserve details of the nasal passages which the scientists were able to map and analyse in great detail.

Getting Up a Dinosaur’s Nose

Airflow in the nasal passages in the Pachycephalosaur Stegosaurus validum is mapped.

Airflow in the nasal passages in the Pachycephalosaur Stegoceras validum is mapped.

Picture Credit: Ohio University/The Anatomical Record

One Pachycephalosaur that was studied was Stegoceras (S. validum) and the researchers were able to show that some of the airflow that they mapped would have carried odours to the olfactory region, helping to improve this dinosaur’s sense of smell.  In addition, the team tried to piece together the shape of the nasal concha, otherwise known as the turbinates, that help to direct and manage airflow through the nasal passage.  This small bone, superficially resembles a sea shell (hence the name) and the fossil evidence supports the presence of such a bone but it is not found in the Dinosauria fossil record (as far as we at Everything Dinosaur know).  As the researchers point out, there is the bony ridge preserved on Pachycephalosaur skulls that indicate its presence and when airflow models were created, the best and most efficient ones produced included a turbinate structure within the model.

Commenting on the research results, Jason Bourke stated:

“We don’t really know what the exact shape of the respiratory turbinate was in Stegoceras, but we know that some kind of baffle had to be there.”

Study co-author Ruger Porter (Ohio University), pointed out that turbinates may well direct air to the olfactory region, but they might have also played another critical role, helping to cool the brain or at least helping to conserve moisture that might have been lost during exhalation.

Porter pointed out:

“The fossil evidence suggests that Stegoceras was basically similar to an Ostrich or an Alligator.  Hot arterial blood from the body was cooled as it passed over the respiratory turbinates and then that cooled venous blood returned to the brain.”

Whether this new research supports the theory that these dinosaurs were warm-blooded (endothermic) is being debated, but it does suggest there was more going on within dinosaur’s noses than scientists had previously thought.  It is hoped that the research team will be able to apply their analytical methods to other types of dinosaur such as the Thyreophora (armoured dinosaurs), known for their notoriously complex nasal passages.  This research may also provide answers to the questions concerning the bizarre shape of many crests found in Lambeosaurine dinosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs).

Still Time to Enter Everything Dinosaur’s Book Competition

Competition Time – Win a Signed Copy of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

Calling all dinosaur fans and those who appreciate prehistoric animals and palaeontology.  There is still time to enter Everything Dinosaur’s fantastic competition to win a signed copy of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”, a super compendium of British dinosaur discoveries written by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura.

A Chance to Win “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

This unique publication catalogues all the major dinosaur fossil discoveries from the British Isles.  With a foreward from Dr. Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum (London), Dean and his fellow author Nobumichi Tamura provide a comprehensive account on the dinosaurs of the entire British Isles.  It really is a most informative read.

How to Enter the Everything Dinosaur Competition

Our competition is this, if you were to discover a new species of dinosaur in the British Isles – what name would you give it?  We want you to come up with a name for a new British dinosaur!

To enter our “name a British dinosaur” competition, for a chance to win this truly amazing account of the dinosaurs of the British Isles, all you have to do is “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then leave a comment with your suggested name for a new British dinosaur on the picture of the front cover of  the book (shown above).

Click the logo to visit our Facebook page and to give our page a "like".

Click the logo to visit our Facebook page and to give our page a “like”.

Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page: “LIKE” Our Facebook Page and Enter Competition

We will draw the lucky winner at random and the British dinosaur name competition closes on 31st October.  Good luck to everyone who enters!

Terms and Conditions of Name a British Dinosaur Competition from Everything Dinosaur

Automated entries are not permitted and will be excluded from the draw.

Only one entry per person.

The prize is non-transferable, no cash alternative will be offered.

The Everything Dinosaur name a British dinosaur competition runs until Friday, October 31st 2014.

Winner will be notified by email or private message on Facebook.

Prize includes packing and postage.

For full terms and conditions simply email us: Contact Us

To read Everything Dinosaur’s Review of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”: “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” Reviewed

Can’t wait to get hold of this book!  ”Dinosaurs of the British Isles” can be ordered direct from Siri Scientific Press: Visit Siri Scientific Press

School Lesson Plan – How do Fossils Form? (Key Stage 1/2)

Celery Experiment Helping to Demonstrate How Fossils are Formed

With rocks and fossils now part of the National Curriculum for science at Key Stage 2 and with many schools running a term topic focused on dinosaurs as part of their scheme of work with Reception and Year 1, our team members have received lots of requests from teachers to help them explain how fossils are formed.  We do cover this subject area in our dinosaur workshops but here is a simple experiment that the children can conduct that demonstrates an important principle in fossilisation.

The vascular system of plants can be used to suggest how open spaces in a living organism can become filled with minerals that crystallise out of water seeping through the sediment that the remains have been covered by.  The filling up of the pores and open spaces is known as permineralisation.  This process helps to explain how some types of fossil can be formed.  By studying the movement of coloured water in a stalk of celery the children can observe how liquid is moved around a plant.  An experiment such as this demonstrates that plants have spaces inside them, which allow permineralisation (and replacement for that matter), it also leads in very nicely to the work in the English national curriculum about the structure of plants.

National Curriculum Links (England)

  1. Plants (Year 1, 2, 3)
  2. Living Things and their Habitats (Year 2, 4, 5, 6)
  3. Rocks (Year 3)
  4. Animals including Humans (Year 1-6)

Preliminary

Ask the class what are fossils?  Explore ideas about how fossils form.  Stress that fossils can be formed over very long periods of time and some fossils are formed when the spaces inside an animal or plant that has died gets filled with minerals and slowly over time the remains of the plant or animal turn to stone (petrification).  It is this process, that explains in part how fossils are made.

This experiment will permit the children to see that living matter has spaces inside, it is these spaces that can be filled with minerals as part of the fossilisation process.

What You Will Need – Teaching Resources

How Fossils Form (Celery Experiment) Resources

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Resources = plant material (celery recommended), magnifying glass, water, glass, food colouring, chopping utensil, chopping board or surface and a ruler

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Resources = celery stalks, glass or clear plastic beaker, a few drops of food colouring (we found red or blue works best), magnifying glasses, a simple chopping tool, a chopping board, ruler and some tap water.

How Fossils Form – The Experiment (Part 1)

  1. Divide the class up into small groups, provide each group with their own set of resources as outlined above.
  2. Have the children carefully chop the top and bottom of their chosen celery stalk(s), if resources allow have them choose stalks with and without leaves.
  3. Using the magnifying glasses, have each group observe what they can see when they study the stalk ends.  The bottom part of the celery stalk should show very clearly evidence of a vascular system.  Record this information.

Examining and Recording What Can Be Observed

Tubes and other structures can be made out (evidence of a vascular system).

Tubes and other structures can be made out (evidence of a vascular system).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

How Fossils Form – The Experiment (Part 2)

  1. The length of each stalk can be measured (remember to include the length of the leaves on any stalks), these measurements can be recorded.
  2. A quantity of water can then be put into the beaker or glass.  A precise measurement is not needed but it is important to make sure that the bases of all the stalks will be covered.
  3. Carefully, each group puts a couple of drops of the food colouring into the glass or beaker.  Only two to three drops will be needed.  A cap full of food colouring will be sufficient.  The water can be given a quick stir.

Adding the Food Colouring to the Beaker/Glass

Add a couple of drops of food colouring to each beaker/glass.

Add a couple of drops of food colouring to each beaker/glass.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Place the celery to be tested in the beaker/glass, record the time when this was done.

Time to Leave Your Fossil Experiment

Record the time when the celery was placed in the solution.

Record the time when the celery was placed in the solution.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It may take several hours, but slowly capillary action will permit the coloured water to move up the plant tissues.  This experiment not only highlights the water transportation system in plants (xylem) but also demonstrates that spaces in living organisms have the potential to be filled by minerals such as calcium carbonate or phosphate that are dissolved in water.   This experiment is demonstrating how living things can become filled with minerals dissolved in water which can lead to petrifaction (means turning to stone), the fossilisation process.

How Fossils Form – The Experiment (Part 3)

  1. Examine the celery leaves and stalks after 4 hours (later on in the school day).  What changes can the children see?   Can they record how far the coloured water has travelled?  What differences can be seen between stalks?

Examine the Celery Stalks after about Four Hours

If a camera or Ipad is handy a visual record of the change can be made.

If a camera or Ipad is handy a visual record of the change can be made.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

What differences can the children observe with their fossil formation experiments after a day, two days, a week?  Can the children measure the amount of red colouration they see after each time interval?

After One Day the Fossil Formation Experiment Will Show A Distinctive Colour Change

The food colouring in the water will have been transported up the plant.

The food colouring in the water will have been transported up the plant.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Hard biological materials such as bones, shells and wood contain tiny pores and other spaces (such as the Haversian canals in bones – see close up picture of dinosaur fossil bone provided below).  When buried in sediment, these pores and spaces can be filled up with minerals that crystallise out of the water seeping thorough the layers of sediment.  These extra minerals are permineralising the organism, the start of the process of turning a once living thing into stone has begun.

A Close up View of Fossilised Dinosaur Bone Showing Internal Structure

The internal structure of the dinosaur bone can be seen.

The internal structure of the dinosaur bone can be seen.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the internal structure of a dinosaur tail bone.  Bones just like teeth, shells and even wood contain pores, it is these open spaces that can become permineralised as part of the process of fossilisation.

Extension Ideas

  1. Why was it easier to see the movement of water when the leaves were examined (links to the role of different parts of the plant)?
  2. If the hard parts of organisms like bones and teeth can permineralise and become fossils, what happens to the soft parts such as gums, skin, muscle?
  3. What examples of fossils formed from the soft parts of animals and plants can the children find?  How were these fossils formed?
  4. What other types of fossils can be found?  Think moulds, casts and trace fossils like burrows and footprints.
  5. Record and photograph this experiment and utilise it again when exploring plants, plant transport systems and photosynthesis with older year groups

Extra Notes – Capillary Action

Capillary action, the movement of liquid through tubes takes place because water molecules stay close together (cohesion forces) and because water molecules are attracted to and stick to other substances (adhesion forces).  The adhesion of water to the walls of a narrow vessel such as xylem in a plant stem will cause an upward force on the liquid at the edges where the water and the surface of the tube interact.  This will result in the meniscus turning upward.  Surface tension acts to hold this water at the surface of the tube (the front of the water column) intact.  Capillary action will occur when the adhesion to the walls of the tube is stronger than the cohesive forces between the water molecules.  It is through this capillary action that water is transported around plants.

If you need to speed up the experiment, some change in colouration can be seen after two hours or so, especially if a wilted piece of celery with leaves is chosen.

For information on Everything Dinosaur’s fossil and dinosaur themed workshops in schools: Contact Everything Dinosaur

Giant Kangaroos Made for Walking

Giant Sthenurine Kangaroos Probably Walked Rather Than Hopped

The Pleistocene prehistoric fauna of Australia may not quite be as embedded into the public’s consciousness as the Woolly Mammoths, Cave Bears and Sabre-Toothed Cats that represent examples of European Pleistocene prehistoric animals, but if anything, ancient “Aussies” were even more amazing than the shaggy coated examples typical of the fauna of the western hemisphere.  In a new study, published in the on line academic journal PLOS One (Public Library of Science), a team of researchers propose that ancient, giant Australian Kangaroos were walkers rather than hoppers, making up part of a prehistoric fauna that was truly astonishing.

The Kangaroos in question are the heavy-weight members of the Sthenurinae (the short-faced kangaroos).  A sub-family of the Macropodidae (means “big feet”), the family to which all Kangaroos belong.  Following a rigorous comparative analysis, the research team conclude that these large animals, some of which stood over two metres tall, did not hop but were adapted to a pedestrian lifestyle, these animals were walkers.  Sadly, like most of Australia’s mega fauna these herbivores became extinct and did not make it into the Holocene.  The last of the Sthenurinae died out about 30,000 years ago, shortly before the last of the Neanderthals in western Europe.

A Comparison Between an Extant Sthenurinae Kangaroo (Sthenurus stirlingi) and a Large Extant Species

Both these types of Kangaroo can stand up to two metres tall.

Both these types of Kangaroo can stand up to two metres tall.

Picture Credit: Wells and Tedford, 1995.  Original artist Lorraine Meeker, American Museum of Natural History, with additional annotation from Everything Dinosaur

As for reasons for their extinction, that question remains to be answered, however, it is thought that the presence of man on the continent from around 60,000 years ago had a severe impact on the fauna of Australia.  Giant Short-faced Kangaroos such as Simosthenurus occidentalis (short-faced, strong tail, western Kangaroo), known from fossils found in south-western Australia, probably could not move very quickly and could be caught by human hunters.  The use of fire could also have devastated their forest habitats leaving these browsers with little food.

The research team was led by Professor Christine Janis, (Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA).  Over one hundred comparative measurements were made, comparing the skeletons of living and extinct Kangaroo and Wallaby types.  For Professor Janis, her eureka moment occurred in 2005.  She was examining the bones of a mounted skeleton of a Sthenurine Kangaroo in a Sydney museum when she noticed how inflexible the spine looked when compared to a modern-day counterpart.  The professor began to wander whether these Pleistocene roos moved in the same way as extant Kangaroos.

Working in collaboration with the papers co-authors, Borja Figuerido of the University of Malaga (Spain) and Karalyn Kuchenbecker, a former undergraduate at Brown University, the Professor spent several years examining the fossilised remains of extinct Kangaroos to determine their method of locomotion.  In the published account of their studies, the team hypothesise that in their motion the extinct Sthenurines were very different from large Kangaroos found today.  The scientific paper is intriguing entitled: “Locomotion in Extinct Giant Kangaroos: Were the Sthenurines Hop-Less Monsters?”.

Extant Kangaroos can hop very quickly and utilise this unique form of motion to cover vast distances very efficiently.  They can also move about on all fours as their front limbs are capable of helping to support bodyweight, an anatomical characteristic absent in the larger members of the Sthenurinae.  The tail of many  members of the Macropodidae is also able to bear weight, providing additional support for many Kangaroos and Wallabies.  The use of the tail as a fifth limb has been referred to as a “pentapedal” stance.  Extinct Kangaroos such as Sthenurus stirlingi seem to lack the flexible spine need to make leaps and bounds.  Their anatomy seems best suited to putting one foot in front of the other – a walking Kangaroo!

Sthenurines had proportionally bigger hip and knee joints.  The shape of the pelvic area differs significantly as well (see diagram above).  The Sthenurines had a broad and flared pelvis that would have allowed for proportionally much larger gluteal muscles than other Kangaroos.  Those muscles would have allowed them to balance weight over just one leg at a time, as do the large gluteals of humans during walking.  Unlike modern Kangaroos with their four-toed feet, the extinct Sthenurines had just one, massive toe on the end of each foot.  The research team conclude that when the anatomy of all the Macropodidae is considered, the “weird” ones are the extant species that hop.  They are very lightly built for their size and their preferred method of locomotion may not be typical for the group as a whole.  A bit like using the Cheetah as a template for all Felidae motion.

Commenting on the research Professor Janis stated:

“If it is not possible in terms of biomechanics to hop at very slow speeds, particularly if you are a big animal and you cannot easily do pentapedal locomotion, then what do you have left?  You have to move somehow.”

An over reliance on walking, which is not as efficient as hopping, might explain the demise of these Kangaroos about 30,000 years ago.  These animals might have been easier to catch so humans took a toll on the population.  Or as the climate became more arid, these walking Kangaroos were not able to migrate far enough to find new sources of food.

An Artist’s Impression of a Short-Faced Kangaroo

Short-faced Kangaroo a pedestrian.

Short-faced Kangaroo a pedestrian.

Picture Credit: Brian Regal

The research team admit that more evidence is required to back up their anatomical study.  Ideally, if a set of “walking Kangaroo” tracks could be discovered, that would add considerable weight to their hypothesis.

New Schleich Prehistoric Animal Models for 2015

New Additions to the Schleich Model Range

Team members at Everything Dinosaur had been informed about the pending changes to Schleich’s prehistoric animal portfolio and now we can share with readers the first pictures of the exciting new replicas Schleich intend to launch next year.

First item of news, the “dinosaurs” range, a set of small prehistoric animal models made by Schleich, are going to be retired.  We suspect that the retirement will be formally announced at the end of this year.  This range, which at one stage grew to consist of twelve prehistoric animal replicas, has been gradually reduced in number and by the end of the year it will no longer be available.  The replacement model series will consist of eight figures.  There will be seven dinosaurs plus one Pterosaur (Quetzalcoatlus).

New for 2015 – The New Range of Prehistoric Animal Figures from Schleich

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

It is certainly a colourful range and it will include lots of favourite dinosaurs (Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Spinosaurus, T. rex etc).  We are particularly looking forward to pairing up the Pentaceratops in this new range with the larger “World of History” Pentaceratops that came out this year.

Pentaceratops Dinosaur Model from Schleich

Schleich Pentaceratops available from Everything Dinosaur.

Schleich Pentaceratops available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Due to be Retired – The Schleich “Dinosaurs” Range

Going, Going Gone- Schleich Dinosaurs models series

Going, Going Gone- Schleich Dinosaurs models series

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing Schleich replica range including the last of the soon to be retired “dinosaurs”: Schleich Dinosaurs

Our advice is to get these models whilst stocks last.  Sadly, once they are retired, the price of these replicas will soar as collectors strive to acquire them for their collections.

In addition, Everything Dinosaur team members believe that Schleich intends to add a further two models to its “World of History” replica range.  The two new additions for 2015 are Kentrosaurus and that toothsome member of the Pterosauria – Anhanguera.

New for 2015 – Schleich Kentrosaurus

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015

Picture Credit: Schleich

Everything Dinosaur does not recall Schleich making a Kentrosaurus dinosaur model before, we don’t think they have made any Stegosaur replica before, except of course the ubiquitous Stegosaurus.

Last but not least, let’s take a look at the Anhanguera replica.

The Schleich Anhanguera (Pterosaur Replica)

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Picture Credit: Schleich

This is certainly a much bigger and much more colourful model of an Anhanguera than the one featured for a few years in the “dinosaurs” model range from Schleich.  The skull of this flying reptile was almost half the length of its total length.  2015 will mark the 30th anniversary of the naming and describing of this Brazilian Pterosaur.

To view the existing “World of History” replicas available from Everything Dinosaur: World of History Prehistoric Animal Models (Schleich)

Exciting times ahead for Schleich and Everything Dinosaur.

Writing Notes on the Most Famous Dinosaur of All

Notes About Tyrannosaurus rex

Everything Dinosaur team members have been sent some notes from a model manufacturer all about that most famous dinosaur of all T. rex.  Our dinosaur experts have been asked to proof read this information and to suggest any ways in which this data can be improved upon as it is to be used in a product information sheet to be supplied with the dinosaur model.

Here is the information that we have been asked to look at:

Tyrannosaurus rex:

[Tyrannosaurus (meaning "tyrant lizard") is a genus of coelurosaurian theropod dinosaur, the most well-known species Tyrannosaurus rex , also commonly abbreviated to T. rex (rex means “king”in Latin), lived during the the upper Cretaceous Period, 67 to 66 million years ago in what is now western North America. Tyrannosaurus rex is not only one of the largest land carnivores, but also one of the largest known land predators of all time.  The most complete specimen measures up to 12.3 metres in length, 4 metres tall at the hips, the estimated weight is around 7 tons.  It is suggested that the bite force of Tyrannosaurus rex could have been the strongest of any terrestrial animal that has ever lived.]

Our team members will address this matter shortly, but first thing we have done is to put the species name into italics.

Preparing Notes on Tyrannosaurus rex for a Model Manufacturer

The Business End of a Tyrannosaur

The Business End of a Tyrannosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Most of the information that we have been sent is right, more or less, we just have to polish the phrasing a little and perhaps change the order of the sentences.  It should not take us too long, after all, we do supply a lot of dinosaur toys and dinosaur models, all with our own prehistoric animal fact sheets included.

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