How Strong was a Stegosaurus Bite?

Don’t Get Bitten by “Sophie” the Stegosaurus

Last year, Everything Dinosaur predicted that with the acquisition by the Natural History Museum (London), of the superb Stegosaurus stenops specimen nicknamed “Sophie”, there would be a plethora of new research published regarding this Late Jurassic herbivore.  Sure enough there was and we have already produced a number of articles on this blog summarising the work done.  This week, a new paper has been published, it assesses the bite force of Stegosaurus stenops, comparing it to other dinosaurs, which although not closely related, were herbivorous too and had similar shaped skulls.

The study carried out by scientists from Bristol University, Manchester and Birmingham Universities as well as Dr. Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum reveals that this Stegosaurus species had a strong bite and that it would have been capable of feeding on a very wide range of different plants.

Stegosaurus Famous for Having a Small Head but the Skull and Jaws Made it a Very Efficient Herbivore

A word mat for the Jurassic herbivore Stegosaurus.

A word mat for the Jurassic herbivore Stegosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows one of the word mats Everything Dinosaur created for teachers to help them with dinosaurs as a term topic in schools.  Stegosaurus is featured and the skull is disproportionately small compared to the body.  However, in this study, lead author, Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, proposes that the range of bite force that a Stegosaur could generate is at least comparable to today’s efficient mammalian grazers such as bovines (cows).

Stegosaurus stenops compared to Plateosaurus engelhardti and Erlikosaurus andrewsi

The Three Types of Dinosaur Skull Used in the Computer Modelling Study

Dinosaur Skull Types

The three types of dinosaur skull used in the computer modelling study of dinosaur bite force.

Picture Credit: Bristol University

The picture above shows digital images of the three types of plant-eating dinosaur skull used in the study, left E. andrewsi, centre S. stenops and right P. engelhardti.  Although these dinosaurs are all plant-eaters they are not closely related, skull shapes vary, most notably Stegosaurus stenops lacks a antorbital fenestra (a large hole in the skull in front of the eye socket), but the morphology of the skulls is generally the same, i.e. the snouts are long, the skull tending to be quite narrow and in proportion to the body the head of these dinosaurs is quite small.

“Sophie” The Stegosaurus Specimen Used in this Study

Sophie the Stegosaurus

Milan used this picture to illustrate his dinosaur documentary.

Picture Credit:  The Natural History Museum (picture chosen by Milan)

“Sophie” the Stegosaurus

The Stegosaurus currently on display at the Natural History Museum represents one of the most complete fossil specimens of a Stegosaur every found.  Everything Dinosaur received a lovely report on this new dinosaur exhibit from Milan and Alisha and we published an article on the children’s research.

To read Alisha’s and Milan’s excellent article on “Sophie” the Stegosaurus: Information about “Sophie” the Stegosaurus at the London Natural History Museum

All of the dinosaur skulls studied had a scissor-like jaw action that moved up and down.  Processing of any plant material in the mouth was relatively limited, the large digestive systems and the enormous stomach accounted for most of the digestive process.  The team of UK-based scientists explored the bite force and potential skull stresses induced by the process of eating in these three dinosaurs using computer modelling.  The intention was to gain an insight into the potential diets and feeding behaviour of the herbivores.  The study has also provided information on how Stegosaurus stenops may have fitted into its ecological niche.  For example, the Late Jurassic of the western United States was home to a large variety of enormous Sauropods, the scientists were curious to see if a bite force study could provide information on the niche occupied by large Stegosaurs in an environment dominated by a variety long-necked dinosaurs.

Phylogenetic and Stratigraphic Relationships Between the Dinosaur Studied

The bite force of Stegosaurus analysed

Digital images of the skull of Plateosaurus engelhardti, Erlikosaurus andrewsi and Stegosaurus stenops showing their in phylogenetic and stratigraphic context.

Picture Credit: Nature Scientific Reports

The picture above shows the phylogenetic relationship (how closely related) the dinosaurs were as well as a stratigraphic comparison (how old the fossils are in relation to each other).

In Summary

  • Plateosaurus – member of the Prosauropoda, part of the dinosaur lineage related to the Sauropoda.  It was lizard-hipped and lived during the Late Triassic.
  • Erlikosaurus – a member of the Theropoda, specifically a member of the Therizinosauridae family (scythe lizards).  It was lizard-hipped and lived during the Late Cretaceous.
  • Stegosaurus – a member of the Thyreophora, a sub-group of the bird-hipped dinosaurs.  Stegosaurus stenops lived during the Late Jurassic.

The three-dimensional scans of the fossil skulls and the computer models created permitted the team to examine the forces the jaws could create and the subsequent stresses on the skulls that feeding would have induced.  Data from a study of crocodilian teeth was used to help factor in the role of the teeth in the feeding operation.

Dr. Lautenschlager explained:

“Using computer modelling techniques, we were able to reconstruct muscle and bite forces very accurately for the different dinosaurs in our study.  As a result, these methods give us new and detailed insights into dinosaur biology, something that would not have been possible several years ago.”

Professor Paul Barrett, (Natural History Museum) added:

“Far from being feeble, as usually thought, Stegosaurus actually had a bite force within the range of living herbivorous mammals, such as sheep and cows.  Our key finding really surprised us, we expected that many of these dinosaur herbivores would have skulls that worked in broadly similar ways.  Instead we found that even though the skulls were fairly similar to each other in overall shape, the way they worked during biting was substantially different in each case.”

Stegosaur Seed Dispersal

Depicted as a browser on horsetails and ferns, the bite force of Stegosaurus stenops would have made it quite capable of tackling a much wider range of vegetation, including tough cycads.  This reinforces the belief that the tough scales associated with the throat of this dinosaur served as protection as it fed on the robust leaves of the cycads, the relatively small head might have evolved to enable this dinosaur to thrust its head deep into the heart of such plants to get at the most nutritious leaves.  In terms of how Stegosaurus fitted into an ecological niche, these armoured dinosaurs may have played an important role in dispersing the seeds of woody, evergreen cycads.

The Impact of a Beak

As well as examining skull shape and structure, the impact of having a keratinous beak was also considered.  Although the overall stress applied on the skull remained relatively unchanged, the presence of a beak seemed to reduce the amount of stress in the dentary, rostral and premaxilla, confirming results from earlier studies.  The beaked Stegosaurus possessed a relatively high bite force with only moderate associated skull stress, indicating that it would have been capable of foraging on a wide variety of different plants.  The scientists conclude that despite superficial similarities in skull and jaw shape, S. stenops had access to a much greater range of potential foods than other species incorporated within this study.

Stegosaurus Had a Powerful Bite

A skull of a Stegosaurus.

A Stegosaurus skull.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

It seems that Stegosaurus could more than hold its own when compared to the enormous Sauropods, with which it shared its habitat.  This research does raise an intriguing question though, the stegosaurids seem to decline in the Early Cretaceous.  The reduction in stegosaurid fossils as the Cretaceous progressed is put down to, by a number of academics, as a result of a transition in the fauna.  The increasing dominance of angiosperms (flowering plants) playing a role in the demise of the Stegosaurs.  However, other scientists have plotted the decline of the stegosaurids in relation to a decrease in the amount of cycads (Cycadophyta) present.  This bite force study may help to provide palaeontologists with further data on the impact of changing fauna on the range of herbivorous dinosaurs that could adapt to new types of vegetation.

JurassicCollectables Unboxing a Battat Terra T. rex

JurassicCollectables Battat Terra T. rex Unboxing

Our chums at JurassicCollectables have produced another prehistoric animal model video.  For the first time on their YouTube they feature one of the Battat Terra dinosaur models, the Tyrannosaurus rex no less.  This model is one of the largest of the twelve Battat Terra dinosaur replicas currently available and JurassicCollectables present an unboxing video, opening the package that we sent them, we note the very sensible advice about using a craft knife.

JurassicCollectables Unboxing Video of the Battat Terra Tyrannosaurus rex Dinosaur Model

Video Credit: Jurassic Collectables

JurassicCollectables have their own YouTube channel dedicated to all things dinosaur.  The channel features lots of wonderful dinosaur model reviews and we urge readers to visit JurassicCollectables on Youtube and to subscribe to this very informative channel: Check out the JurassicCollectables YouTube Channel

The Battat Terra Dinosaurs

The Battat Terra dinosaurs were introduced last year, they are repaints of the model line created by Battat and the highly respected, American palaeoartist Dan LoRusso that was originally designed for the Boston Museum of Science.  Sadly, with the death of Dan, plans to introduce other replicas that were once part of the range, remain on hold but in our meetings with the Battat family we have expressed our interest in stocking all the replicas that become available.  We feel that this would be a fitting tribute to the inspirational Dan LoRusso.

The Current Battat Terra Dinosaur Range Consists of Twelve Models

The range of 12 Battat Terra Dinosaur Models.

A set of Battat Terra dinosaur models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The current Battat Terra dinosaur range is certainly very colourful.  As well as the Tyrannosaurus rex replica, there are five other Theropod dinosaurs included in this range.  They are the Acrocanthosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Crylophosaurus, Carnotaurus and the scythe lizard Nanshiungosaurus.  Dinosaur model collectors are advised that the Battat Terra Nanshiungosaurus has been retired, stocks are available but this therizinosaurid figure is not going to be manufactured any more.

To view the Battat Terra dinosaur models available from Everything Dinosaur: Battat Terra Dinosaurs

These wonderful models range in size from a compact eleven centimetres long to an impressive twenty-eight centimetres in length. In truth, a number of models are slightly bigger than the measurement figures we have given them on our website, as we have not taken into account the length of any curved tails.

Battat Terra Dinosaur Models

Battat Terra Dinosaurs

The excellent Battat Terra dinosaur models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Machairoceratops Plugs a Four-Million-Year Gap

Machairoceratops cronusi – “Bent Sword Horned Face”

The discovery of skull bones that have proved to represent a new species of Late Cretaceous horned dinosaur has helped palaeontologists to plug a four-million-year gap in the Ceratopsidae fossil record.  Researchers, writing in the on line, open access journal PLOS One, describe Machairoceratops cronusi, believed to be relatively basal member of the Centrosaurine group of horned dinosaurs.  The fossils, from Utah, help to fill an evolutionary gap in the horned dinosaur fauna known from southern Laramidia, with Machairoceratops fitting in between the earlier Centrosaurine Diabloceratops and the later Centrosaurine Nasutoceratops.

An Illustration of the Bizarre Bent-Horned Centrosaurine Machairoceratops cronusi

An illustration of a small herd of  Machairoceratops dinosaurs by Mark Witton.

An illustration of a small herd of Machairoceratops dinosaurs by Mark Witton.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

A wide variety of North American ceratopsid dinosaurs have been described over the last decade or so.  Last week for example, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a new species of horned dinosaur from the Judith River Formation of Montana – Spiclypeus shipporum.  To read an article about this dinosaur: New Horned Dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Montana.

A field team first unearthed fragments that represented elements of the skull in 2006 at the famous Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in southern Utah.  A further three seasons in the field were required to complete the exploration, sadly no post cranial material could be found.  However, from the configuration of the epiparietals and the horn cores the scientists were soon convinced that they had found a new species.

The Fossils of Machairoceratops cronusi and a Ghost Outline of the Complete Skull

Machairoceratops fossils

A right lateral view of the fossil material associated with Machairoceratops.

Picture Credit: Lund et al (PLOS One)

The picture above shows (A) a right lateral view of the fossil material associated with Machairoceratops cronusi mapped against a ghosted outline of the inferred skull.  To the left of the picture the braincase (BC) is shown.  Diagram B shows the skull in dorsal view, whilst diagram C shows a complete reconstruction of the entire skull, note the curvature of the central parietals (p1 left and p1 right), it is these curved elements that gave this dinosaur its name.

Head Spikes More Than a Metre Long

Each curved head spike (represented by p1 left and p1 right in diagram A above), would have measured around 1.2 metres in length, that’s slightly longer than a driver in a set of golf clubs used by a professional, male golfer.  However, despite this impressive headgear, the researchers estimate that Machairoceratops was not huge by horned dinosaur standards.  Based on skull comparisons with more complete specimens, palaeontologists have suggested that this dinosaur would have been around six metres in length and would have weighed around two tonnes.  Lead author of the scientific paper, graduate student Eric Lund (Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine), suggests that the head crest ornamentation may have had a role in visual signalling, such as selecting mates and establishing a social position within the herd.

Stratigraphic Assessment of the Position of Machairoceratops in Relation to Other Horned Dinosaur Fossils

A stratigraphic profile of the Wahweap and the Kaiparowits Formation.

A stratigraphic profile of the Wahweap and the Kaiparowits Formation.

Picture Credit: Lund et al (PLOS One) with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur

Filling a Four-Million-Year Old Gap in the Centrosaurinae

The discovery of M. cronusi in strata that was laid down some 77 million years ago has helped to plug a four-million-year gap in the Centrosaurine fossil record from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Fossils of an earlier Centrosaurine called Diabloceratops eatoni have been found in rocks that date to around 80 million years ago.  The fossil material related to Machairoceratops fills the gap between Diabloceratops and the later, almost equally bizarrely horned Centrosaurine Nasutoceratops titusi, whose fossils are associated with the overlying Kaiparowits Formation and date to around 75-76 million years ago.

Commenting on the naming of this new type of Late Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaur, Eric Lund stated:

“The  finding fills in an important gap in the fossil record of southern Laramidia, an area that included Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico during the Late Cretaceous period.  The discovery of Machairoceratops not only increases the known diversity of Ceratopsians from southern Laramidia, it also narrows an evolutionary information gap that spans nearly 4 million years between Diabloceratops eatoni from the lower middle Wahweap Formation and Nasutoceratops titusi.”

Once again, palaeontologists have gained fresh insight to the amazing diversity and variety of horned dinosaurs from North America.  The genus name is from “ceratops”, meaning horned face and the Greek “machairis” for bent sword, in deference to those curved central parietals.  The species name is from the mythical Greek titan (Cronus, also known as Kronos), whose symbol is a scythe or curved sword.

“Spiked Shield” Horned Dinosaur from Montana

Spiclypeus shipporum – Adding to the Judith River Formation Biota

When Dr. Bill Shipp, a retired nuclear physicist, invested in a property in Montana, he little thought that he would be making a significant contribution to palaeontology.  However, thanks to the chance discovery of some disarticulated fossil material found on his land, a new species of horned dinosaur has been named and described.  The fossilised bones of a new type of Chasmosaurine ceratopsid were found in 2005 and purchased by the Canadian Museum of Nature last year.  The material which includes about fifty percent of the skull, rib fragments, dorsal vertebrae and limb bones was studied by an international team of scientists including our chum Pete Larson (Black Hills Institute of Geological Research), David Evans (Royal Ontario Museum) and lead author of the academic paper published in the open access on line journal PLOS One, Jordan Mallon of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Horned Dinosaur Spiclypeus shipporum

An illustration of the new species of horned dinosaur from Montana - Spiclypeus.

An illustration of the new species of horned dinosaur from Montana – Spiclypeus shipporum.

Picture Credit: Mike Skrepnick

One Very Tough Dinosaur Indeed!

The beautiful illustration of S. shipporum above depicts the dinosaur with its left forelimb raised off the ground.  The left humerus showed extensive pathology – acute arthritis and osteomyelitis (bone infection).  This dinosaur would have been in a great deal of pain and it was likely that the left forelimb could not support the animal’s weight.  Dr. Edward Iuliano, a radiologist at the Kadlec Regional Medical Centre (Richland, Washington), one of the authors of the scientific paper conducted an in-depth analysis of the pathology.  It is likely that the animal lived for a number of years but was effectively crippled.

Dr. Mallon explained:

“If you look near the elbow, you can see great openings that developed to drain an infection.  We don’t know how the bone became infected, but we can be sure that it caused the animal great pain for years and probably made its left forelimb useless for walking.”

Some of the Fossil Bones (Limb bones and partial Ilium) from Spiclypeus shipporum

Limb bones and ilium of Spiclypeus shipporum.  The infected end of the humerus can be seen (d).

Limb bones and ilium of Spiclypeus shipporum. The infected end of the humerus can be seen (c and d).

Picture Credit PLOS One

In addition to the severely damaged left forelimb, this dinosaur nicknamed “Judith” after the Judith River Formation, had suffered a head injury.  The left squamosal bone shows two distinct holes.  Although holes in the head shield of Chasmosaurine dinosaurs are quite common, they do not normally occur so close to the margins.  The skull of this dinosaur is unique in having multiple squamosal fenestrae and the ones close to the left side of the head shield are probably more evidence of pathology.  Signs of bone infection (osteomyelitis) support this hypothesis.  Although the scientists cannot be certain how the injury occurred, it has been speculated that the wound could have been the result of intra-specific combat, that is, a fight with another Spiclypeus.

Dr Jordan Mallon with a Cast of the Dinosaur Skull (CMN 57081)

The circled area shows the injury to the skull on the dinosaur Spiclypeus shipporum.

The circled area shows the injury to the skull on the dinosaur Spiclypeus shipporum.

Picture Credit: The Canadian Museum of Nature with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows Dr. Jordan Mallon next to the cast of the skull, we have ringed the damaged element of the squamosal.  In the excellent illustration by Mike Skrepnick, the wound to the skull is depicted but many media outlets have failed to pick up this detail in the drawing.

A Close up of the Mike Skrepnick Illustration Showing the Wound to the Side of the Head

The ringed area in the picture shows the wound on the head of Spiclypeus.

The ringed area in the picture shows the wound on the head of Spiclypeus.

Picture Credit: Mike Skrepnick with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur

Not Much Better for Spiclypeus Post-mortem

Dr. Shipp arranged for the fossil material to be professionally collected, the material was scattered across a bedding plane and two tyrannosaurid teeth found nearby and associated bite marks on the bone indicate that the carcase was scavenged before burial.  The crushed and broken nature of the bones suggest that the bones were trampled upon, most probably by other herbivorous dinosaurs.  The dinosaur may have been nicknamed “Judith” after the Judith River Formation from which the fossils come, but it is not possible to determine whether the specimen represents a male or a female.  A special exhibition is being held at the Canadian Museum of Nature that features the fossilised bones of this new species of horned dinosaur.  The exhibition starts on May 24th.

Landowner Dr. Shipp Next to a Cast of the Fossil Skull

Dr. Bill Shipp with a cast of the skull of Spiclypeus.

Dr. Bill Shipp with a cast of the skull of Spiclypeus.

Picture Credit: Canadian Museum of Nature

The massive skull measures 254 centimetres in length, stands 116 centimetres high and is 122 centimetres wide at its widest point.  Spiclypeus shipporum is estimated to have been around 4.5 to 5 metres long and to have weighed around 2,000 kilogrammes.  A cross-sectional analysis of the bone structure of the femur indicates that this individual was fully grown when it died and was between seven and ten years of age.

Dr. Mallon and his colleagues named the dinosaur Spiclypeus shipporum.  The genus name is a combination of two Latin words meaning “spiked shield”, the trivial name honours Dr. Shipp.  The dinosaur’s name is pronounced (spick-lip-ee-us ship-or-rum).

What distinguishes Spiclypeus shipporum from other members of the Chasmosaurinae such as the later Torosaurus and Triceratops is the orientation of the horns over the eyes.  The brow horns stick out sideways from the skull.  In addition, there is also a unique arrangement to the bony epiparietals (the horns and spikes that surround the head crest), some of the medially located epiparietals curl forward while others project outward.

76 Million-Year-Old Horned Dinosaur

Commenting on the significance of this fossil discovery, Dr Mallon Stated:

“This is a spectacular new addition to the family of horned dinosaurs that roamed western North America between 85 and 66 million years ago.  It provides new evidence of dinosaur diversity during the Late Cretaceous period from an area that is likely to yield even more discoveries.”

As the fossil material were excavated from the Coal Ridge Member of the Upper Cretaceous Judith River Formation, the fossil material is around 76 million years old (Campanian faunal stage).  Phylogenetic assessment suggests that Spiclypeus was closely related to Kosmoceratops and Vagaceratops and its discovery will help scientists to assess the evolution of the head crest and head crest ornamentation within Chasmosaurine dinosaurs.  Spiclypeus is one of only six valid Ceratopsidae genera described from the Judith River Formation, whereas, the contemporaneous Belly River Group (southern Alberta, Canada) has provided evidence of at least fourteen types of horned dinosaurs.  In comparison, the Ceratopsidae fauna from the Judith River Formation is relatively poorly understood, but the discovery of Spiclypeus does support the hypothesis that there was rapid evolution in this part of North America towards the end of the Cretaceous and that many regions supported their own unique dinosaur fauna.  The unique fauna may have come about as species evolved different dietary specialisations, in biology this is known as a form of niche partitioning.

The other five valid Ceratopsidae species currently recognised from the Judith River Formation are:

  1. Avaceratops (Centrosaurine) – named in 1986.
  2. Albertaceratops (Centrosaurine) – named in 2007.
  3. Judiceratops (Chasmosaurine) – named in 2013.
  4. Medusaceratops (Chasmosaurine) – named in 2010, to read an article about the naming of Medusaceratops: New Horned Dinosaur from Montana
  5. Mercuriceratops (Chasmosaurine) – named in 2014, to read an article on the discovery of Mercuriceratops: Mercuriceratops gemini

Dinosaur Drawings from St David’s Day

Children from St Thomas More School Send in Dinosaur Drawings

Tuesday, 1st of March saw a team member of Everything Dinosaur visiting the Key Stage 1 classes at St Thomas More Catholic First School (Redditch), to deliver some dinosaur and fossil themed workshops to support the spring term topic.  Amongst the many extension activities we suggested, our prehistoric animal expert challenged the children to have a go at designing their very own dinosaur.  Under the expert tutelage of the experienced teaching team, the children in Year 1, a mixed Year 1 and Year 2 class and in Year 2 certainly set about this task with relish.  A few days ago, we received an envelope from the school and inside was a selection of the very colourful drawings the children had made.

Colourful Dinosaur Drawings from the Key Stage 1 Classes

Lots of lovely dinosaur designs sent into Everything Dinosaur by Key Stage 1.

Lots of lovely dinosaur designs sent into Everything Dinosaur by Key Stage 1.

Picture Credit: St Thomas More Catholic First School

Learning About Food Webs and Scientific Working

The children had been learning which dinosaurs were herbivores, which were carnivores and what types of dinosaur were probably omnivorous.  In addition, the simple experiments that the teaching team had incorporated into their diverse scheme of work helped the children to get to grips with the fundamentals of working scientifically.  The dinosaur themed workshops we delivered on St David’s day (March 1st) certainly proved popular with the children and the teachers and we were delighted to receive a number of dinosaur illustrations that the pupils had devised.

A Splendid Dinosaur Drawing by Alex

Alex sent Everything Dinosaur a picture of "Alexosaurus".

Alex sent Everything Dinosaur a picture of “Alexosaurus”.

Picture Credit: St Thomas More Catholic First School

Alexosaurus by Alex

Alex sent in a wonderful dinosaur drawing.  We love the thick neck and the spikes running down the body.  We challenged the children to have a go at labelling the body parts of their very own dinosaur.  This dinosaur was named “Alexosaurus”.  Ironically, there is a dinosaur genus called Alxasaurus (pronounced Alks-ah-sore-us).  Although descended from meat-eating dinosaurs (carnivores), Alxasaurus was very probably an omnivore.

An Illustration of Alxasaurus

A scale drawing of the Theropod dinosaur Alxasaurus.

A scale drawing of the Theropod dinosaur Alxasaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Alxasaurus may have been a spectacular looking dinosaur with its toothless beak, long arms, huge claws and feathers but Victoria’s illustration is of an even more amazing animal.

Victoria’s Prehistoric Animal Design

Victoria imagined a brown dinosaur with huge green spikes.

Victoria imagined a brown dinosaur with huge green spikes.

Picture Credit:  St Thomas More Catholic First School

Victoria imagined a huge, brown, herbivorous dinosaur with massive triangular spikes running down its back to the tip of its very long tail.  The dinosaur has been named Vicosaurus, and Victoria even drew a prehistoric tree and a stream so that this dinosaur had something to eat and some water to drink.

They are certainly a most impressive set of dinosaur drawings.  Our thanks to Katy the teacher, for sending them into Everything Dinosaur.

Life “Loomed Large” 1.56 Billion Years Ago

Multicellular Eukaryotes from  1.56 billion-year-old Rocks (Gaoyuzhuang Formation)

A team of Chinese and American scientists have confirmed the presence of large (several centimetres long in some cases), communities of eukaryotic cells preserved as impressions within rocks laid down in a shallow marine environment some 1.56 billion years ago.  This suggests that organisms had begun to form such structures during the Mesoproterozoic, some five hundred million years or so after the very first eukaryote cells evolved.

Macro-Fossils Preserved in the Mudstones of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation (Northern China)

Examples of various eukaryotic communities preserved in the mudstones of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation.

Examples of various eukaryotic communities preserved in the mudstones of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications/Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology

Scale bar information for the picture (above) 5 cm (in a,b,g), 20 mm (in c), 40 mm (in d) and 5 mm (in e,f).

The scientists, which included Professor Andrew Knoll (Harvard University), a co-author of the academic paper published in the journal “Nature Communications”, identified a variety of different shaped fossils, some were linear, others wedge-shaped, whilst some were oblong and yet another group were described as tongue-shaped.  In total, fifty-three fossil communities were identified.  Although it is difficult to assign these structures to a place in standard Linnaean classification, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur suggested that these ancient life forms could be linked to the Kingdom Protoctista, a biological kingdom which includes certain large, multicellular eukaryotes, such as red algae and kelp.

What is a Eukaryotic Cell?

Eukaryotes have their genetic material enclosed within a nucleus, this is a distinct area within the confines of the cell where the genetic instructions and information can be found.  They also have organelles which are specialised structures within the cell that are responsible for specific areas of activity such as mitochondria for energy production or chloroplasts that convert sunlight energy into sugars (photosynthesis).  The first cells to form lacked a nucleus and specialised structures (organelles), these cells are referred to as prokaryotes (from the Greek which means “before the nucleus”), the DNA of prokaryotic cells is held in the cytoplasm of the cell.

Prokaryote Cells Compared to Eukaryote Cells

Simple diagram showing differences in Eukaryote cells and Prokaryote cells.

Simple diagram showing differences in Eukaryote cells and Prokaryote cells.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The diagram above shows the basic differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.  Note the different scales, due to their unstructured form, prokaryotic cells are much smaller than eukaryotic cells.  Fossil evidence for cyanobacteria (prokaryotes) suggest that these cells first formed some 3.5 billion years ago (Archean Eon)*.  The first eukaryotic cells may have formed around 2.1 billion years ago**.

Eukaryote cells most likely evolved from prokaryote cells at some point in the Paleoproterozoic.  How this came about is a subject of much debate.  One theory proposes predatory prokaryotes engulfed other smaller prokaryote cells.  Instead of these cells being consumed, a symbiotic relationship resulted with the smaller cells becoming the specialised elements of the larger cell.  Another theory suggests that more complex cells came about due to mutations during cellular division.  The presence of DNA strands in mitochondria which are not exactly the same as the DNA found within the host cell nucleus suggests that the mitochondria were once single-celled organisms in their own right.

The Significance of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation

Fossils described as macro-fossils are exceedingly rare in rocks older than the Late Neoproterozoic Era, but uranium – lead (U to Pb) radiometric dating suggests that the biota identified from the mudstones from the Gaoyuzhuang Formation (Yanshan area in the Hebei Province of northern China) are around 1.56 billion years old.  Other geological formations dated to over a billion years old which contain macro-fossils have been identified before, but it is the number and variety of the different types of fossil that marks out this strata as being something special.

Researchers Exploring the Exposed Mudstones Looking for Evidence of Ancient Life

Researchers examine the fine-grained mudstones which form part of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation.

Researchers examine the fine-grained mudstones which form part of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

Some of the fossilised structures measure up to thirty centimetres in length and eight centimetres wide.  The researchers conclude that the specimens may not represent the oldest know eukaryotes but they are the oldest eukaryotes that exhibit multicellular structures.  These organisms lived in a shallow marine environment and they were probably benthic (lived on the sea floor).  Analysis of the cells indicates that they may have been capable of photosynthesis and although large by Precambrian standards these organisms cannot be described as complex life.

Explaining the difference between complex life and these large multicellular structures, Professor Knoll stated that the Chinese fossils were:

“Large but I doubt that they were complicated – it’s an important distinction.”

Eukaryotic cells are capable of becoming specialised with different cells being responsible for different systems, functions and processes, a vital step on the path to complex life forms.  These cells, preserved as carbonaceous impressions in the rock show no signs of fundamental differentiation at the cellular level.  These fossils provide the best evidence to date that multicellular eukaryotes of large size (greater than a centimetre in length), with a regular shape existed in marine environments at least a billion years prior to the Cambrian explosion.  They are multicellular but they are not the complex, more specialised and differentiated cells associated with more advanced organisms.

Treated Sections of the Fossils Showing the Cell Structure

Treated sections of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation fossils showing cellular structures.

Treated sections of the Gaoyuzhuang Formation fossils showing cellular structures.

Picture Credit: Nature Communications

The picture above shows various views of the cell structure.  Pictures b and d show organic fragments with preserved cellular structure, the scale bar representing 100 μm (microns).  Pictures c and e show polygonal cells forming a multi-layered network (scale bar 20 μm).

The existence of these structures provides further evidence of the diversity of life during the Proterozoic, it also suggests that an increase in oxygen levels in conjunction with the establishment of a protective ozone layer in the Earth’s upper atmosphere may have permitted these multicellular organisms to form.

*/**The dates given for the first fossil evidence of prokaryotes and eukaryotic cells are speculative.

Rare Horseshoe Crab Fossil Discovery from Nova Scotia

The Important Role Enthusiastic Amateurs Play in Palaeontology

Last week Everything Dinosaur reported on the concerns being raised over the extensive amount of digging into cliffs on north Norfolk beaches by fossil collectors.  Whilst we frown upon such activities and urge all fossil collectors to follow the fossil collecting code, today, we report on the significant contribution made to palaeontology by a couple of enthusiastic fossil hunters from Nova Scotia.  Their dedication has resulted in a number of important discoveries, the latest being a new species of ancient horseshoe crab, which is known from just two specimens.

To read the article about concerns over coastal Norfolk fossil sites: Experts Fear for Safety of Fossils and Fossil Collectors

Say Hello to Paleolimulus woodae – A 360 million-year-old Horseshoe Crab

Paleolimulus woodae fossil from Blue Beach (Bay of Fundy)

Paleolimulus woodae fossil from Blue Beach (Bay of Fundy)

Picture Credit: CTV News Atlantic

Lower Carboniferous Sandstones and Silts of the Bay of Fundy

The Blue Beach area of the Bay of Fundy (Nova Scotia), is one of the most important Late Palaeozoic fossil locations in the world.  The strata is being constantly eroded by the exceptionally powerful tides (a macro tidal environment) and the eroding cliffs are giving up the fossilised remains of animals and plants that lived in the very Early Carboniferous period (Lower Mississippian Epoch – Tournaisian faunal stage).  The body and trace fossils found here record life in a estuarine environment bordered by dense swamps that existed some 360 million years ago.  Thanks to the efforts of husband and wife team Chris Mansky and Sonja Wood, tens of thousands of fossil specimens have been retrieved from the beach.  The rocks have such significance as they preserve fossils of some of the very first Tetrapods – primitive amphibians that were the first terrestrial vertebrates.  Working in conjunction with scientists from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, an extremely rare horseshoe crab has been identified and described as a new species.  The species name honours Sonja, the ancient Arthropod has been called Paleolimulus woodae (pronounced pay-leo-limb-mew-lus wood-i).

A Natural Goldmine for Fossils

Commenting on the significance of the fossil find, co-author of the scientific paper that has just been published in the academic journal “Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie”, Chris Mansky stated:

“We’re sitting on an unrealised bonanza or mother-load of information.  It’s a very small scarp that shows probably one of the most important pieces of evolutionary information.”

The powerful tides scour the beach and cliffs twice a day exposing fossil material all year round.  The work of Chris and Sonja is vital, as without their help, many important fossil specimens, such as the ten pence sized horseshoe crab fossil would be lost.  The couple have run the Blue Beach Fossil Museum since 2002, and they have amassed a collection of some 90,000 lbs of rocks containing body fossils of early Tetrapods, ancient fish, molluscs, as well as important trace fossils, preserving tracks in the mud made by both back-boned animals and invertebrates.

Sonja Wood of the Blue Beach Fossil Museum Holding One of the Specimens of  Paleolimulus woodae

Sonja Wood Holding a specimen of her namesake - P. woodae

Sonja Wood Holding a specimen of her namesake – P. woodae

Picture Credit: Colin Chisholm – Hants Journal

Romer’s Gap* and All That

Horseshoe crabs are marine Arthropods, (Order Xiphosurida, Family Limulidae), known as living fossils as they seem little changed since their evolutionary origins some 450 million years ago.  A number of genera exist today, but populations are threatened due to habitat destruction and the removal of eggs for human consumption.

An Illustration of a Extant Horseshoe Crab

An illustration of a Horseshoe Crab (a living fossil).

An illustration of a Horseshoe Crab (a living fossil).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Blue Beach location is regarded as one of the most important Lagerstätte (strata with an abundance of fossils), of the Late Palaeozoic.  The Lower Carboniferous rocks are helping to provide scientists with information about vertebrates to fill in “Romer’s Gap”, a discontinuity in the fossil record between the end of the Devonian and the first fifteen million years of the Carboniferous, a time when terrestrial ecosystems were rapidly evolving and the first land animals with back-bones were becoming widespread.  The gap in the geological record is named after the American palaeontologist Alfred Sherwood Romer who first recognised this discontinuity.

Explaining just how rare the horseshoe crab fossils are, Chris Mansky said:

“Out of the tens of thousands of fossils that have been gathered [from the Blue Beach area] only two were horseshoe crab.”

The fossil material including body impressions and tracks made by the horseshoe crabs in the soft mud are helping scientists to piece together more information about this ancient palaeoenvironment.  Today, we pay tribute to Chris and Sonja whose efforts are helping scientists to learn more about a crucial period in the evolution of life on Earth.

Romer’s Gap* An Explanation

The gap in the fossil record that marks the beginning of the Carboniferous geological period.  In sedimentary rocks fractionally older than Romer’s Gap palaeontologists have unearthed evidence of very primitive Devonian Tetrapods , fish with fingers, lots of fingers.  Tetrapod fossils found in slightly younger rocks provide evidence of Carboniferous Tetrapods that all had five fingers and toes and they are much better adapted to terrestrial habitats.

JurassicCollectables Reviews the Colour Variant Papo T. rex

A Video Review of the Papo Colour Variant T. rex

With the arrival of the splendid Papo colour variant Tyrannosaurus rex model at Everything Dinosaur we thought it would be a good idea to mark the addition of this super dinosaur replica to our range by sharing the video review made by JurassicCollectables.  The video reviewing the Papo T. rex dinosaur model by JurassicCollectables really does this 2016 figure justice and the clear, close up photography shows off the fantastic colour scheme of this meat-eating dinosaur.

JurassicCollectables Reviews the Papo Tyrannosaurus rex Colour Variant

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

Detailed Video

In the twelve minute long video, the narrator starts with the head and points out the details including the fine paintwork on the articulated jaw.  The colour scheme is not quite as purple looking as other re-painted T. rex models made by Papo, but JurassicCollectables describe this model as “exquisite” with “really lovely work by Papo”.  The model is even shown in ventral view (looking at the belly), in this view the wonderful detail of the scales on the body can be made out, this is once again an excellent model from the Papo stable.

To view the Papo dinosaur range available at Everything Dinosaur: Papo Dinosaur Models and Prehistoric Animals

The Running T. rex Colour Variant Dinosaur Model by Papo

Papo Running T. rex new colour version

Papo Running T. rex new colour version

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Splendid Theropod and a Welcome Addition to the Papo Model Range

The video shows the musculature of the sculpt and points out similarities as well as differences with other Tyrannosaurus rex models produced by Papo.  The coloured variant is compared with the Running T. rex model and there is even a brief appearance by the exceptionally rare green standing Tyrannosaurus rex figure that was retired by Papo some years ago.  Off-colour Alan was so impressed by the quality of the video that he was “bowled over” and he could not stand up to provide a scale next to this new for 2016 Papo replica.

Those clever people at JurassicCollectables have produced video reviews of every prehistoric animal replica that Papo have manufactured, to see these videos and to subscribe to their very informative YouTube channel: Subscribe to JurassicCollectables on YouTube

There are still a number of new for 2016 models expected at Everything Dinosaur in the coming weeks, the spring has been a busy time for the UK based company with lots of new prehistoric animal replicas from Rebor, CollectA, Safari Ltd as well as the introduction of the Battat Terra line of dinosaur figures.

Year 2 Classes at Great Wood Primary – Dinosaur Hunters

Year 2 Classes at Great Wood Primary Explore Dinosaurs

Last month, we visited Great Wood Primary in Lancashire to work with the two classes of Year 2 to help them explore dinosaurs and fossils as part of their term topic entitled “Dinosaur Hunters”.  Our thanks to the talented teaching team Mrs Parkin, Mrs Coulthard, Mrs Stroud and Miss Nicholson for their assistance on the day.  A special thank you to Mrs Norman for helping to put the gym mats away once the two dinosaur workshops had concluded.  An extension idea we suggested was to challenge the children to “design their own prehistoric animal” and we received last week a set of beautiful and very creative dinosaur designs.  We loved looking all the different animals and reading the labels that the children had carefully added to their drawings.

A Very Colourful Display of Dinosaur Designs by Year 2 Children

A selection of prehistoric animal designs by a Year 2 class at Great Wood Primary.

A selection of prehistoric animal designs by a Year 2 class at Great Wood Primary.

Picture Credit: Great Wood Primary School

One of the Wonderful Dinosaur Designs (Great Labelling by Great Wood Primary)

Blake_o_saurus by Blake.  An extension activity after a dinosaur workshop.

Blake_o_saurus by Blake. An extension activity after a dinosaur workshop.

Picture Credit: Great Wood Primary School (Blake)

Some very impressive labelling of the dinosaur’s body parts by Blake (Mrs Parkin’s class).

Aidan Designed a Long-Necked Dinosaur with a Sharp Nose Horn

Aidan (Year 2) designed a long-necked dinosaur.

Aidan (Year 2) designed a long-necked dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Great Wood Primary School (Aidan)

Creative Dinosaur Designs

Challenging the class to design their own prehistoric animal is a great way to help reinforce learning.  Labelling of the various body parts helps a child to develop their vocabulary as well as exploring ideas about what the dinosaur might have eaten, its colour and where it might have lived – this leads on to exploring simple food chains and animal adaptations.

Both classes of Year 2 children wrote letters and these were kindly sent into Everything Dinosaur by the teaching team.  An extension activity such as writing a thank you letter gives the children the opportunity to practice their handwriting and there were certainly some splendid letters sent into us.  The letters and drawings have been posted up on one of the walls in our warehouse.

A Lovely Letter Sent in by Hannah

A thank you letter sent in by Hannah to Everything Dinosaur.

A thank you letter sent in by Hannah to Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Great Wood Primary School (Hannah)

Hannah and her class mates certainly seemed to have enjoyed the dinosaur workshop.  She asked how many years did a Stegosaurus live?  That’s a fascinating question and palaeontologists have been able to use the fossilised bones of dinosaurs to work out how old some dinosaurs were when they died and how quickly they grew.  The most famous Stegosaurus fossils come from the United States and these fossils are more than 145 million years old.   It is likely that some Stegosaurs could live for perhaps as long as twenty years.

A Letter from Charlie

Charlie wrote that he now knew that birds are related to dinosaurs.

Charlie wrote that he now knew that birds are related to dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Great Wood Primary School (Charlie)

A very big thank you to both classes of Year 2 at Great Wood Primary, we are sorry that we can’t answer all the questions but we will post up more examples of the children’s work on our social media pages and email the school to say thank you for sending them all into our offices.   As we post up the letters and drawings it will help to remind us about the fun we had delivering the dinosaur workshop for Year 2.

For further information about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Contact Everything Dinosaur

Stone Tools and Fossil Bones From Sinkhole Revises American History

The Oldest Floridians

The discovery of ancient mammal remains plus stone tools in association with them is helping a team of scientists to redraw the map of human settlement in the Americas.  Evidence suggests that the north-western part of Florida (United States), was inhabited by humans some 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.  The research paper detailing the discoveries and the dating information has just been published in the open access journal “Science Advances”.

Lead author of the scientific paper, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University Jessi Halligan, had to employ her skills as a diver to reach the site, as the evidence of pre-Clovis existence has come from a sinkhole in the middle of the Aucilla River some ten metres below the water surface.  Radiocarbon dating of the artefacts excavated suggests that humans inhabited this part of Florida some 14,550 years ago.

Assistant Professor Halligan with Some of the Fossil Bones

Scientists state that humans occupied the south-eastern United States 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.

Scientists state that humans occupied the south-eastern United States 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.

Picture Credit: Bruce Palmer/Florida State University

The picture about shows Jessi Halligan and some of the prehistoric mammal bones recovered from the site.  In the foreground (left) is a vertebra from a Mastodon, in the foreground (right) is the lower jaw (dentary) of a prehistoric Llama.

Prior to this research, it had been widely believed that the first people to live in this part of the Americas were the Clovis people which reached this part of the continent some 13,000 years ago.  The Clovis people are believed to have migrated across the Bering land bridge from Asia as the Last Ice Age ended, they moved through Canada and into the northern parts of the United States and over many generations gradually moved further and further south.  The Clovis culture is believed to represent the first widespread human culture in the New World and it is likely that the Clovis people were the ancestors of the native American Indians.  It is from the Clovis culture that the various native American cultures evolved.  Named from the distinctive stone tools such as finely crafted spear points found at Clovis in New Mexico, many Clovis sites have been excavated and DNA evidence suggests that more than three-quarters of all living native Americans in North and South America are directly related to the Clovis people.

Human Migration Through the Americas a Complex Picture

As the last Ice Age ended and the ice sheets retreated, so humans migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge (Beringia) and into the New World.  However, mapping the extent of this colonisation and the journey south has proved extremely difficult, with a range of dates given for different sites.  There has been evidence presented before that suggested humans lived in parts of the Americas earlier than 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, but the evidence had been controversial.  However, at the Aucilla River site, some seventy-one items have been radiocarbon dated and they all support the idea that the stone tools and bones, many of which show cut marks made from tools , indicate human habitation as early as 14,550 years ago.

Commenting on the significance of this research, Assistant Professor Halligan stated:

“This is a big deal!  There were people here.  So how did they live?  This has opened up a whole new line of inquiry for us as scientists as we try to understand the settlement of the Americas.”

The Remarkable Page-Ladson Site

The excavations took place at a site on a bend in the Aucilla River some twenty miles east of the Florida State capital Tallahassee.  Animal bones had been found in this region for many years but it was first explored and mapped extensively by diver Buddy Page who found Mastodon remains and brought the site to the attention of archaeologists and palaeontologists.  The site is owned by the Ladson family and as result the sinkhole and subsequent cores that have been taken from the river bed are collectively referred to as the Page-Ladson prehistory site.  The location represents a water hole that was filled in by deposits and these deposits represent Late Pleistocene material at the bottom, leading up through to younger Early Holocene deposits that are exposed on the river bed.

Working up to Ten Metres Underwater to Find Traces of Human Activity

Underwater excavation reveals evidence of the earliest humans from the south-eastern United States.

Underwater excavation reveals evidence of the earliest humans from the south-eastern United States.

Picture Credit: Florida State University

There are a cluster of sites dotted all over North America that date to around 13,200 years ago, but there are estimated to be only about five in all of the New World that are believed to provide older evidence of human habitation.

Assistant Professor Halligan worked in collaboration with Michael Waters from Texas A&M University and Daniel Fisher (University of Michigan) to excavate the site.  The research team were aware that a number of fossil bones and other finds had already been excavated from the site, but between 2012 and 2014 the Page-Ladson prehistory site was once again opened up and explored.  One of the team’s most significant finds was a biface, a stone tool flaked on both sides to produce a knife-like instrument with two cutting edges.  Daniel Fisher (vertebrate palaeontologist), also took a close look at the Mastodon tusk that had been retrieved in the 1980’s and he was able to identify cut marks indicating that the tusk had been removed by people.  The scientists are not certain whether the Mastodon was killed by humans or its carcase was scavenged.

Michael Waters ( Texas A&M’s Centre for the Study of the First Americans) explained:

“The new discoveries at Page-Ladson show that people were living in the Gulf Coast area much earlier than believed.”

Examples of Stone Tools Recovered from the Page-Ladson Prehistory Site

Examples of stone tools excavated from the Page-Ladson site (Florida).

Examples of stone tools excavated from the Page-Ladson site (Florida).

Picture Credit: Science Advances with notation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above show examples of the stone tools recovered from the Page-Ladson location.  The biface stone tool “top” has two flaked cutting blades and would have performed the role of a small knife, similar to the type of tool that created the butchery marks in the animal bones.  The stone tools (middle and bottom) are typical flakes, the middle flake shows signs of wear (use).

Pleistocene Marine Transgression

Florida in the latter stages of the Pleistocene Epoch was much drier than it is today.  Sea levels were over one hundred metres lower.  The Page-Ladson site represents a spring fed waterhole that existed in a ravine.  It may have been the only reliable water source for miles around and as such, it attracted animals and people to it.  With the rise in global temperatures, the great ice sheets that covered much of the northern hemisphere began to melt.  This led to a rise in global sea levels resulting in low-lying areas becoming flooded (the Late Pleistocene marine transgression).  The Page-Ladson site was buried with an influx of sediment and left submerged.  This location in north-western Florida is helping anthropologists to understand more about the migration of humans into the New World and also provides further information with regards to the megafauna that shared this Late Pleistocene habitat.

An Illustration of the Page-Ladson Prehistory Site

An Illustration of the Page-Ladson Prehistory Site (Florida 14,500 years ago).

An Illustration of the Page-Ladson Prehistory Site (Florida 14,500 years ago).

Picture Credit: Greg Harlin

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