The Tale of a Dinosaur Tail

Dinosaur Tail Preserved in Mid-Cretaceous Amber

A team of international scientists including Lida Xing (University of Geosciences, Beijing), Phil Currie (University of Alberta), Michael Benton (University of Bristol), Ryan McKellar (Royal Saskatchewan Museum) and Xing Xu (Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology) have published a paper describing the discovery of a partial dinosaur tail preserved in amber.

The Dinosaur Tail Segment Preserved in Burmite (Amber from Myanmar)

A tiny dinosaur tail preserved in amber.

The exquisitely preserved dinosaur tail in amber.

Picture Credit: R. McKellar/Royal Saskatchewan Museum

 It is the first time that non-avian Theropod remains have been found preserved in amber and this remarkable fossil find may help scientists to uncover more information about dinosaur biology and the evolution of plumage.

Views of the Preserved Dinosaur Tail

Preserved in amber, a dinosaur tail.

Dinosaur tail preserved in amber.

Picture Credit: Elsevier Ltd (Current Biology)

The picture above shows various photomicrographs of the plumage of the fossilised tail (specimen number DIP-V-15103).  The exquisite details of the individual feathers and the barbs and barbules that help to “zip” the feather together can be made out.  This fossil find confirms the theory long held by evolutionary biologists that the branching structures of feathers evolved before a modern-looking rachis (central shaft).

Photomicrographs of DIP-V-15103 Plumage

(A) Pale ventral feather in transmitted light (arrow indicates rachis apex) – scale bar = 1 mm.

(B) Dark-field image of (A), highlighting structure and visible colour – scale bar = 0.5 mm.

(C) Dark dorsal feather in transmitted light, apex toward bottom of image – scale bar = 0.5 mm.

(D) Base of ventral feather (arrow) with weakly developed rachis, scale bar = 0.5 mm.

(E) Pigment distribution and microstructure of barbules in (C), with white lines pointing to pigmented regions of barbules, scale bar 0.5 mm.

(F–H) Barbule structure variation and pigmentation, among barbs, and ‘rachis’ with rachidial barbules (near arrows); images from apical, mid-feather, and basal positions respectively, scale bars 0.25 mm.

An analysis of the preserved pigmentation signatures suggests that this little dinosaur’s tail was a light chestnut colour with a paler, or possibly white underside.

Definitely a Dinosaur

Lida Xing, the lead author of the study, discovered the remarkable fossil at an amber market in Myitkina (Kachin State, northern Myanmar).  The 99-million-year-old amber had already been polished for jewellery and the retailer had thought that the “furry looking” object visible inside the polished piece was plant remains.   However, on closer inspection, it turned out to be the tail of a feathered dinosaur about the size of a sparrow.  It was then a case of detective work, with Lida Xing eventually tracking down the amber miner who had originally found the specimen.  Once the team had an idea of the location of the fossil find, they could begin the process of analysing the remains, knowing that what was inside had lived during the Middle Cretaceous.

Scanning electron microscopy permitted the team to view the skeletal structure of the tail.  The caudal vertebrae (tail bones) are not fused into a stiff rod, nor are the vertebrae compressed into a pygostyle (the last five tail bones much reduced and fused into a plate of bone, the pygostyle, birds more advanced than Archaeopteryx of the Late Jurassic had a pygostyle), as in extant birds and their close relatives.  This tail was long and flexible with keels of feathers running down each side – the tail of a small dinosaur.

Treasures Preserved in Burmite

Earlier this year, Everything Dinosaur reported upon the discovery of bird wings preserved in burmite (the term used to describe amber from Myanmar, which was formerly called Burma), the researchers, many of whom collaborated on the study of the dinosaur tail, identified the tiny wings of a hatchling bird that had become trapped in sticky tree resin.  The wing fossil came from a bird that was a member of the Enantiornithes group of birds.  Enantiornithes are the most widespread, diverse and abundant type of bird known from the Mesozoic.  Like the more primitive Confuciusornithids, these birds had pygostyles, the long sinewy tail preserved in this piece of amber strongly suggests that this is a piece of a dinosaur, albeit a small piece the tail measures just 36.73 mm long.

Views of the Dinosaur Tail Preserved in Amber

Views of the dinosaur tail preserved in amber.

Photomicrographs and SR X-Ray μCT reconstructions of the specimen (DIP-V-15103).


Picture Credit:  Elsevier Ltd (Current Biology)

To read Everything Dinosaur’s earlier article (June 2016), about the bird wings preserved in amber: Bird Wings Preserved in Amber from Myanmar

The picture above shows photomicrographs and synchrotron radiation X-ray images of the tail.

(A) Dorsolateral overview (view from the top) – note the insect remains also found within the amber nodule, burmite has provided palaeontologists with a large number of insect specimens to study.  Scale bar = 5 mm.

(B) Ventrolateral overview (view from underneath) with decay products (bubbles in foreground, staining to lower right).  Scale bar = 5 mm.

(C) Caudal exposure of tail showing darker dorsal plumage (top), milky amber, and exposed carbon film around vertebrae (centre).  Scale bar = 2 mm.

(D–H) Reconstructions focusing on dorsolateral, detailed dorsal, ventrolateral, detailed ventral, and detailed lateral aspects of tail, respectively, showing layout of the vertebrae and the orientation of feathers.  Scale bar in (D) and (F) = 5 mm.  Scale bar in (E), (G) and (H) = 2 mm.

Asterisks in (A) and (C) indicate carbonised film (soft tissue) exposure.  Arrows in (B) and (E)–(G) indicate shared landmark, plus bubbles exaggerating rachis dimensions; brackets in (G) and (H) delineate two vertebrae with clear transverse expansion and curvature of tail at articulation.  Abbreviations for feather rachises: d, dorsal; dl, dorsalmost lateral; vl, ventralmost lateral; v, ventral.

Vestiges of Organic Remains

Chemical analysis of the carbonised soft tissues where the tail was exposed at the surface of the amber nodule indicate traces of ferrous iron Fe+2, this suggests that the specimen may contain vestiges of haemoglobin, a relic of the blood of a dinosaur.  It had been rumoured that other remains of vertebrates had been found in burmite, but these pieces quickly found their way into the hands of private collectors and they were lost to science.  This piece remains unique in that preserved dinosaur remains in amber have come to the attention of the scientific community and a study has been undertaken.

How Did it Get There?

Dr Ryan McKellar (Royal Saskatchewan Museum), stated that the dinosaur tail was not dried out or desiccated when it was trapped in the tree resin.  This suggests that a little dinosaur became stuck in the resin when it was still alive.  Co-author, Professor Mike Benton (Bristol University) commented:

 “It’s amazing to see all the details of a dinosaur tail – the bones, flesh, skin, and feathers – and to imagine how this little fellow got his tail caught in the resin, and then presumably died because he could not wrestle free.”

The resin was presumably coming out of a wound in a coniferous tree, either running down the truck or lodging in a branch.  This suggests that this little dinosaur may have been arboreal, a tree dweller.  It has long been thought that there were a large number of small types of Theropod dinosaur, but the fossil record for such small, forest dwelling reptiles is virtually non-existent.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“It is likely that there were many different types of insectivorous Theropod dinosaur, inhabiting woodland habitats, but their delicate bones and the fact that forest corpses have a very limited fossil preservation potential, greatly reduces the chances of palaeontologists being able to study their remains.  These types of dinosaurs are likely to be severely underrepresented in the fossil record.”

What Sort of Dinosaur?

Although feathers have been found preserved in amber before, the lack of skeletal remains associated with them frustrated scientists when it came to identifying what sort of creature the feathers belonged to.  However, in this case, with the tail segment and its preserved caudal vertebrae, the researchers can confidently assign this specimen to the Dinosauria, but what type of dinosaur was it?

An Artist’s Reconstruction of the Little Feathered Dinosaur

Feathered dinosaur illustration.

An illustration of the feathered dinosaur, about to become stuck in amber.

Picture Credit: Cheung Chung-Tat

In the artist’s reconstruction, the dinosaur is depicted as a ground dwelling animal, however, team members at Everything Dinosaur don’t rule out the idea of an arboreal dinosaur becoming stuck in the tree resin. A spokesman for the Cheshire based company explained:

“A number of dinosaurs show adaptations for climbing indicating that they were at least, partially arboreal.  You would have been more likely to have encountered tree resin on a resin producing tree such as a conifer and whilst we can’t completely rule out the idea that a ground dwelling dinosaur was unlucky enough to become trapped in amber, the context of this fossil raises the possibility that indeed, a number of dinosaurs lived in trees, after all, that would be one way of keeping out of the way of terrestrial predators.  It is tantalising given what the amber fossil shows, but it could be speculated that this little dinosaur, if arboreal, could have been a glider or may be even capable of powered flight.”

As for honing the specimen down to a specific genus or even a family, that is quite a challenging task.

The shape of the feathers are different from a number of known feathered dinosaurs.  For example, the dromaeosaurid Sinornithosaurus has a reduced rachis and long, naked, filamentous feather barbs.  The plumage on specimen DIP-V-15103 also contrasts with the therizinosaurid Beipiaosaurus.  The researchers conclude that it was probably bipedal and this dinosaur has been assigned to the Coelurosauria clade, a sub-group of the Theropoda that includes the tyrannosaurids, compsognathids, the ornithomimids and the “raptors”.

The scientific paper: “A Feathered Dinosaur Tail with Primitive Plumage Trapped in Mid-Cretaceous Amber” published in the journal “Current Biology”.

Sizing Up Early Dinosaurs – Variation an Evolutionary Advantage?

For Coelophysis Variety Might Have Been the Spice of Life

Scientists from Virginia Tech University have concluded that early dinosaurs had a wide variety of growth patterns, a trait that may have helped species survive extinction events ultimately assisting the Dinosauria to establish themselves as the dominant, large terrestrial fauna.  The study, published in the academic journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, focuses on one early Theropod, Coelophysis (pronounced: See-low-fy-sis), and the scientists conclude that a single dinosaur species contained a huge amount of diversity in terms of the size that the animals grew to.

This sets dinosaurs apart from birds, which tend to be much more uniform in terms of their growth rates and sizes within a single species. A species that contained a broad range of different sized individuals may have had an advantage during hard times or when a sudden catastrophe occurred.  This ontogenetic variation may have helped dinosaurs like Coelophysis survive the harsh environment at the end of the Triassic some 210 to 201 million years ago, a time when a large number of other terrestrial reptile species became extinct.

Study of the Theropod Coelophysis May Provide a Clue to the Success of Dinosaurs

Coelophysis flock.

A flock of Coelophysis descend on a waterhole (Ghost Ranch).

Picture Credit: Matt Celeskey

A Race for Supremacy Across Pangaea

The end Permian extinction event devastated terrestrial ecosystems and the early dinosaurs rapidly evolved and radiated to take advantage of vacated ecological niches.  During the Triassic, a wide variety of land animals competed with each other – cynodonts, dicynodonts, rauisuchids, phytosaurs and dinosaurs.  Scientists have put forward several theories as to why the Dinosauria eventually rose to become the dominant megafauna.  This new research, conducted by Christopher Griffin and Sterling Nesbitt (Department of Geosciences, Virginia Tech), looked at the variation in growth patterns in a mass death fossil assemblage of Coelophysis, a flock of fast-running, carnivorous dinosaurs that died together in a flood some 208 million years ago, in present-day New Mexico (Ghost Ranch).  Hundreds of individuals were buried together, ranging from youngsters, to sub-adults to fully grown animals.  In total, the researchers examined the fossilised remains of 174 specimens, housed in museums across America.

An Illustration of the Head of Coelophysis

Coelophysis (Hollow Form).

Coelophysis of the Late Triassic.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Explaining their results, lead author, Christopher Griffin stated:

“We found that the earliest dinosaurs had a far higher level of variation in growth patterns between individuals than crocodiles and birds, their closest living relatives.  Not only were there many different pathways to grow from hatchling to adult, but there was an incredible amount of variation in body size, with some small individuals far more mature than some larger individuals, and some large individuals more immature than we would guess based on size alone.”

Ontogenetic Sequence Analysis

A technique called ontogenetic sequence analysis was used to assess the growth of the Coelophysis fossil assemblage, this data set was compared to two extant birds and one crocodile species, animals alive today that are closely related to extinct dinosaurs.  The birds (Aves) are the fastest growing terrestrial vertebrates, anyone who has observed nesting garden birds can see how, within a few weeks, the hatchlings are almost the same size as their parents.  Birds develop unlike all other living Archosaurs.  As part of this postnatal development, birds possess a low amount of intraspecific variation, put simply, one bird such as a blackbird (Turdus merula) grows at much the same rate as other members of its species and there is little size variation in populations.  The Coelophysis flock shows a very different growth rate with a wide variety of adult sizes.  When did this low variation in body size amongst Archosaurs evolve?  By studying the extensive fossil collection of one species of non-avian, extinct animal (Coelophysis), scientists hope to pinpoint this transition in Mesozoic Theropods.

Coelophysis Study Sheds Light on the Evolution of Growth Rates Amongst the Theropoda

Coelophysis - Late Triassic dinosaur.

A drawing of a Coelophysis dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Geosciences Master’s student Christopher Griffin went onto state:

“As these animals grew, muscle attachment scars formed on the limb bones, and the bones of the ankle, hips, and shoulder fused together, similar to how the skull bones of a human baby fuse together during growth.  Fossils of even a single partial skeleton of an early dinosaur are exceptionally rare, so to have an entire group of a single species that lived and died together provided an unparalleled opportunity to study early dinosaur growth like never before.”

The team concluded that this high variation in early dinosaurs as demonstrated by the Coelophysidae was lost in more derived Theropod dinosaurs such as Allosaurus of the Late Jurassic and Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids.  This intraspecific high variance could have contributed to the rise of the Dinosauria during the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event.

Assistant professor Sterling Nesbitt added:

“Large variation in early dinosaurs may have allowed them to survive harsh environmental challenges like dry climate and high levels of carbon dioxide.  Understanding why dinosaurs were so successful has been a great mystery, and high variation may be one of the characteristics of dinosaurs that led to their success. However, it’s difficult to determine whether this trait evolved in response to the environment or was simply a stroke of luck that allowed these dinosaurs to survive and thrive and become the most dominate vertebrates on Earth for 150 million years.”

Variation in those species of early dinosaurs which have a more substantial fossil record had been put down to sexual dimorphism in the past.  However, this new study, which focused on growth rate analysis as conferred by the degree of bone fusion and muscle scar evidence on the fossilised bones, did not find data to support that the fossil assemblage growth rates were solely down to differences in the adult size of males and females.

Steve Brusatte, a palaeontologist from the University of Edinburgh, who has undertaken research into the growth rates of other types of Theropods, such as Tyrannosaurs, commented:

“Studies like this are a perfect demonstration of how fossils can help us understand the evolution of peculiar features and behaviours of modern animals.  How dinosaurs grew may have been both the key to their early success and the reason that one particular unique subgroup, the birds, survives today.”

The scientific paper: “Anomalously High Variation in Postnatal Development is Ancestral for Dinosaurs but Lost in Birds”.

Rebor 1:1 Scale Lourinhanosaurus Embryonic Skeleton Reviewed

Rebor Club Selection Lourinhanosaurus antunesi Embryonic Skeleton

The latest edition to the Rebor “Club Selection” range is this wonderful Lourinhanosaurus antunesi embryonic skeleton replica.   Those clever people at Rebor have got together with the EoFauna Scientific Research Group and created a 1:1 scale replica of a Lourinhanosaurus antunesi embryonic skeleton.  This model has been affectionately nick-named “Bony Bonnie” and with only 1,000 figures made, it is certainly going to have rarity value.

The Rebor Club Selection Lourinhanosaurus antunesi Embryonic Skeleton Replica

Rebor Club Selection Lourinhanosaurus replica.

The 1:1 scale Rebor Club Selection limited edition Lourinhanosaurus antunesi embryonic skeleton model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Based on Actual Fossil Material

The large meat-eating dinosaur known as Lourinhanosaurus has been described from a single, partial skeleton and other fragmentary fossils including a thigh bone, all from the Upper Jurassic strata of the Lourinhã Formation on the western coast of Portugal.  The holotype material (the fossils upon which the genus description is based), consists of vertebrae, a few ribs, bones from the hips and some leg bones including a single pes (toe bone).  The first fossils of Lourinhanosaurus were found by a local farmer in 1982, it was not until 1998 that this dinosaur was formally scientifically named and described.  The Rebor Club Selection Lourinhanosaurus antunesi 1:1 scale replica is based on actual fossil material (specimen number ML 565).  Back in 1993, a scientist found the remains of over one hundred dinosaur eggs, some of which contained complete fossilised embryos.  These egg fossils were assigned to L. antunesi.  The scientist who discovered the egg fossils was Isabel Mateus, the mother of the Portuguese palaeontologist Octávio Mateus who was responsible for the scientific description of this Theropod.

A Close-up View of the Beautiful Skull of the Rebor Lourinhanosaurus Replica

Rebor Club Selection Lourinhanosaurus replica, close up of the head.

The 1:1 scale Rebor Club Selection limited edition Lourinhanosaurus antunesi embryonic skeleton model. A close-up of the head.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the range of Rebor replicas available at Everything Dinosaur, including the limited edition (only 1,000 made), Rebor 1:1 scale Lourinhanosaurus antunesi embryonic skeleton: Rebor Prehistoric Animal Models and Replicas

Rebor’s “Bony Bonnie”

This is the fourth model to be added to the Rebor Club Selection range and like the previous three, “Bony Bonnie” has been skilfully crafted and shows lots of amazing detail.  There is much to be admired in the skeleton model, which is a fraction under nineteen centimetres in length.  Naturally, once hatched the baby Lourinhanosaurus would have been much longer and if it made adulthood it would have grown into a formidable predator, perhaps exceeding eight metres in length and weighing as much as a Jaguar E-type sports car.

The Rebor Club Selection Lourinhanosaurus antunesi Embryonic Skeleton Model

"Bony Bonnie" from Rebor.

The Rebor Club Selection Lourinhanosaurus replica.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Close-up View of the Egg

Much has been said about the skeleton model, it really is a fantastic piece, but at Everything Dinosaur we would like to conclude by focusing on the broken egg element of the replica that forms the stand for the skeleton.   Lots of detail is shown on the broken egg component of the replica with the typical pits and marks associated with dinosaur egg shell.

The Broken Egg Stand for the Lourinhanosaurus Embryonic Skeleton

Rebor Club Selection Lourinhanosaurus egg.

The broken egg stand for the Rebor Club Selection limited edition Lourinhanosaurus antunesi embryonic skeleton.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Rebor in conjunction with the EoFauna Scientific Research Group must have studied dinosaur eggshell fossils before embarking on this sculpt.  The eggshell is very robust and sturdy and makes an extremely effective stand complimenting the skeleton element of the model.  The name plate on the piece gives the impression of brass and the scientific name has even been inscribed in an italic font, as per scientific convention.

Our congratulations to Rebor and EoFauna Scientific Research Group for this super new addition to the Rebor Club Selection model range.

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs: 2nd Edition Reviewed

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs: 2nd Edition Reviewed

In 2011, team members at Everything Dinosaur had the pleasure of reviewing “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs” by Gregory S. Paul.  A second edition of this book has just been published, it reflects the dramatic increase in our knowledge of the Dinosauria that has taken place over the last five years or so.  This updated and revised edition is essential reading for fans of dinosaurs, as well as academics and professional palaeontologists.

The Front Cover of “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs”

"The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs" - 2nd edition.

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs (second edition).

Picture Credit: Princeton University Press

A Comprehensive Overview of the Dinosauria

This large format book, is more than ten percent bigger than its predecessor, a testament to the increase in the number of new dinosaur genera and species that have been discovered.  The second edition includes details of some one hundred new dinosaur species plus updated illustrations and information on very well-known prehistoric animals such as Triceratops and Brontosaurus.

Using the tried and tested formula of the first book, Gregory S. Paul guides the reader through the history of dinosaur research, before defining dinosaurs and introducing some of the latest ideas about their biology, senses, vocalisation and pathologies.  The author considers aspects of dinosaur behaviour including an assessment of dinosaurs as social, herding animals.  Particular attention is given to the evolution and loss of avian flight, in fact, throughout this volume, the close relationship between the Aves (birds) and Dinosauria is emphasised and exquisitely illustrated with a plethora of feathered dinosaur drawings.

Group and Species Accounts

Each of the main groups of dinosaurs, the Theropods, Sauropodomorphs and the Ornithischians is taken in turn and skilfully segmented to reveal their anatomical relationships.  Many of the individual dinosaur descriptions have been extensively revised and expanded, none more so than the likes of Deinocheirus mirificus that adorns the front cover, just one of over two hundred new and updated illustrations.

Gregory S. Paul has done a great deal to help change people’s perceptions towards the Dinosauria, his latest book, “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs”, has clearly been a labour of love for this leading dinosaur illustrator and researcher.  It is crammed full of fascinating information, beautiful drawings and the author’s trademark skeletal reconstructions.  This new for 2016 edition, remains a must-have for avid dinosaur fans as well as appealing to the general reader with an interest in how some of the most spectacular lifeforms to have ever existed on our planet evolved and flourished.

Filled with Beautiful Illustrations “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs”

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs

Wonderful dinosaur drawings Stenonychosaurus inequalis (nomen dubium).

Picture Credit: Gregory S. Paul (Princeton University Press)

Book Details:

Title: “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs” by Gregory S. Paul

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 9780691167664

More details and book orders can be made here: “Princeton University Press”

Recently, Everything Dinosaur reviewed the excellent “The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals”, an up-to-date guide to the diverse and eclectic prehistoric mammals that evolved after the extinction of the Dinosauria.  This volume includes many reconstructions of prehistoric mammals never before depicted.

To read our review of this well-researched and superbly illustrated book: The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals

Two Books Definitely Worth Adding to Your Christmas Shopping List

Great prehistoric animal books.

Two superb prehistoric animal books.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Packing Orders for Christmas in Full Swing

Saturday – Preparing and Packing Orders

Armed with some hot tea and warm mince pies, team members at Everything Dinosaur have spent most of today (Saturday), sorting out orders ready for a prompt despatch on Monday.  At this time, it is “all hands on deck” as the company enters into its busiest time of the year.  The dinosaur and fossil themed workshops may be concluding this week, but with just twenty-two days to Christmas, staff are busy ensuring that orders placed on the website and via the telephone, are packed in readiness for a prompt despatch at the start of the the working week.

Royal Mail service updates that we receive state that normal weekend deliveries and collections of mail should be made in all parts of the UK and we are not anticipating any problems with collections from our warehouse next week.  For our international customers, it is worth noting the last recommended posting dates for parcels to be sent overseas, we have detailed this information in the table below.

Last Recommended Posting Dates for Christmas 2016

Royal Mail last posting dates (2016).

Last recommended posting dates for Christmas 2016.

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The table above has been compiled using Royal Mail data.

Tips and Additional Helpful Suggestions from Everything Dinosaur

  • Post items as early as possible, this gives parcels the best chance of reaching their destination in time for the big day.
  • Remember to check the delivery address (house number, business name, postcode/zip code) as you progress through checkout.
  • Before pressing the “submit order” button, to send an order to Everything Dinosaur, check the delivery address one more time – remember the phrase “check the address to save you stress”.
  • You can always nominate a neighbour’s address where the parcel can be delivered to if you are likely to be out when the parcel is delivered.
  • A different delivery address, other than your home address can be specified during our check out process.  Perhaps the parcel could be sent to your work, a relative, a friend and so forth.


Everything Dinosaur – Helping to Take The Stress Out of Christmas Shopping

A stress free time shopping for dinosaur themed gifts.

Everything Dinosaur helping to take the stress out of Christmas shopping.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

If you have a query about Christmas deliveries, or indeed any aspect of Everything Dinosaur’s delivery service please feel free to contact us: Email Everything Dinosaur

To view the Everything Dinosaur website: Dinosaur Toys and Games

Happy Christmas shopping to all our existing and potential customers and remember, Everything Dinosaur’s team members will be on hand to help and assist you.

Fossilised Bacteria Shed Light on Life Before Oxygen

Ancient African Rocks Provide Evidence of Life Before Oxygen

The fossils of ancient bacteria that existed in deep water environments during the Neoarchean Era some 2.52 billion years ago, have been identified by an international team of researchers.  They don’t represent the oldest known life on our planet, recently, Everything Dinosaur published an article on some new research that postulates that microbial colonies existed on Earth some 3.7 billion years ago*, but these South African fossils may represent the oldest evidence of a bacteria capable of oxidising sulphur (within the Class Gamma Proteobacteria), found to date.

A Highly Magnified Image of a Fossilised Bacteria

Fossilised bacteria.

A view of one of the spherical structures identified as fossil bacteria.

Picture Credit: Andrew Czaja

This discovery is significant as it sheds light on a time in Earth’s history, when, essentially, all the microbial forms that exist today had probably evolved, but the fossil record for their existence is particularly sparse. Writing in the journal of the Geological Society of America, the researchers which include scientists from the University of Cincinnati and the University of Johannesburg, report on large, organic, smooth-walled, spherical microfossils representing organisms that lived in deep water, when our planet’s atmosphere had less than one-thousandth of one percent of the oxygen we have today.

Microscopic Life in the Archean

The research team discovered the microscopic fossils preserved in black chert that had been laid down at the bottom of a deep ocean, in the Griqualand West Basin of the Kaapvaal craton of South Africa (Northern Cape Province).  Geologist Andrew Czaja (University of Cincinnati), explained that this part of South Africa was one of the few places in the world where rocks of this great age were exposed.  The fossils are very significant as they represent bacteria surviving in a very low oxygen environment, the bacteria existed prior to “Great Oxygenation Event”, sometimes referred to as the GOE, a period in Earth’s history from about 2.4 billion to 2.2 billion years ago, when water-borne cyanobacteria (blue-green bacteria), evolved photosynthesis and as a result, oxygen was released into the atmosphere.  More oxygen in our atmosphere helped drive the evolution of complex organisms, eventually leading to the development of multi-cellular life.

Commenting on this research Assistant Professor Andrew Czaja stated:

“These are the oldest reported fossil sulphur bacteria to date and this discovery is helping us reveal a diversity of life and ecosystems that existed just prior to the Great Oxidation Event, a time of major atmospheric evolution.”

Radiometric dating and geochemical isotope analysis suggest that these fossils formed on an ancient seabed more than one hundred metres down.  The bacteria fed on sulphates that probably originated on the early super-continent Vaalbara (a landmass that consisted of parts of Australia and South Africa).  With the fossils having been dated to 2.52 billion years ago, the bacteria were thriving just before the GOE, when shallow water bacteria began creating more oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis.

Czaja’s fossils show the Neoarchean bacteria in plentiful numbers while living within the muddy sediment of the seabed.  The assistant professor and his co-researchers postulate that these early bacteria were busy ingesting volcanic hydrogen sulphide, the molecule known to give off a rotten egg smell, then emitting sulphate, a gas that has no smell.  This is the same process that goes on today as extant microbes recycle decaying organic matter into minerals and gas.  The team surmise that the ancient oceanic bacteria are likely to have consumed the molecules dissolved from sulphur rich minerals that came from the land rocks associated with Vaalbara or from volcanic rocks on the seabed.

Andrew Czaja Points to the Rock Layer where the Fossil Bacteria was Found

Indicating the layer of rock from which the fossil bacteria was collected.

Andrew Czaja (University of Cincinnati), points to the rock layer from which fossil bacteria was collected.

Picture Credit: Aaron Satkoski

Sizeable Bacteria

These fossils occur mainly as compressed and flattened solitary shapes that resemble a flattened, microscopic beach ball.  They range in size from 20 microns (µm), about half the thickness of a human hair, up to a whopping 265 µm, that’s some very large bacteria, about forty times bigger than a human red blood cell, making the fossils exceptionally large for an example of bacteria.  The research team hypothesis that these ancient bacteria were similar in habit to the modern, equally large-sized bacteria Thiomargarita, which lives in oxygen-poor, deep water environments.

Described as being morphologically similar to Proterozoic and Phanerozoic acritarchs and to certain Archaean fossils interpreted as possible blue-green bacteria (cyanobacteria), these fossils are the oldest reported sulphur processing bacteria described to date.  They reveal that microbial life was diverse as early as 2.5 billion years ago and provide further evidence that organisms can thrive in very low oxygen environments.  This may have implications for astronomers as they search for evidence of life on other planets and moons within our solar system.

Images of the Microstructures (Dark, Round Spots within Ancient Rocks)

Microstructures indicate sulphur oxidising bacteria.

Images of microstructures that have physical characteristics with the remains of spherical bacteria.

Picture Credit: Andrew Czaja

*To read Everything Dinosaur’s recently published article (September 2016), about the possible identification of evidence of microbial colonies in strata some 3.7 billion years old: 3.7 Billion-Year-Old Microbes

The scientific paper: “Sulfur-oxidizing Bacteria prior to the Great Oxidation Event from the 2.52 Ga Gamohaan Formation of South Africa”, published in “Geology” the journal of the Geological Society of America.

Year 2/3 Send in Thank You Letters

Year 2/3AP Say Thank You

Back on the 18th November, one of our team members visited Pebble Brook Primary in Cheshire to undertake a series of dinosaur and fossil themed workshops with three classes.  We challenged Miss Pestell’s class to write to our offices and send us thank you letters. We wanted to see lots of careful hand-writing with sentences starting with capital letters and proper use of punctuation.  Sure enough, yesterday afternoon the postman arrived and handed over a big red envelope which when opened, was found to contain lots of lovely letters from the children.

What a Lovely Set of Thank You Letters from 2/3AP

Thank you letters sent to Everything Dinosaur

Year 2/3AP sent in thank you letters to Everything Dinosaur after our fossil workshop.

Picture Credit: Year 2/3AP (Pebble Brook Primary) Everything Dinosaur

Drawings of Dinosaurs

During our dinosaur workshop, we asked the eager, young palaeontologists to imagine designing their very own dinosaur.  The children chose to illustrate their letters to us with some of their dinosaur creations.  Our dinosaur expert wanted to see lots of labelling on the diagrams and the children certainly obliged, well done Year 2/3AP.  Young Alfie even put a drawing of “Dinosaur Mike” next to his dinosaur so that he could show the scale, that’s a really good idea.

Alfie’s Letter Included a Prehistoric Animal Drawing That Used “Dinosaur Mike” for Scale

Alfie says thank you after the dinosaur workshop.

Alfie’s thank you letter.

Picture Credit: Alfie (Pebble Brook Primary)/Everything Dinosaur

A number of the children, including Ashlea, Luke and Adam wanted to know how we find all the fossils?  Well, it takes patience and you have to visit places such as beaches where fossils are being washed out of the cliffs, then you simply explore the beach area picking up and examining any strange shaped objects you might find amongst the stones and gravel.  Sometimes, we have to dig out dinosaur bones using excavators and shovels, but when we get close to the bone we take great care and use much smaller tools such as fine chisels and brushes to carefully free the fossil from the surrounding rock.   If the children of class 2/3AP found a complete fossil of a Tyrannosaurus rex buried in their playground and they all worked eight hours a day, seven days a week it could take more than three years to excavate the fossilised bones, clean them all and prepare them for display in a museum!

Mia asked how much does a T. rex weigh?  Another good question, we estimate that a fully-grown T. rex would weigh around seven tonnes, that’s heavier than more than 250 Year 2 pupils!  Some children asked how big was a T. rex skull?  Recently, palaeontologists discovered a Tyrannosaurus rex skull in America, when it has been dug out and put together it is likely to measure more than 1.2 metres long.

A Super Thank You Letter Sent in by Anita

Young dinosaur fan send in a letter.

A thank you letter to Everything Dinosaur from Anita.

Picture Credit: Anita (Pebble Brook Primary)/Everything Dinosaur

Several of the children impressed with their joined-up hand-writing and we really like the spiky dinosaur that Anita drew for us.  To answer your question Anita, T. rex was a meat-eater, whilst Stegosaurus was a plant-eater, can the children in Year 2/3AP remember the word used by scientists to describe a meat-eater C_R_IV_RE?  Can they remember the word used to describe plant-eaters H_RB_V__E?

A Thank You Letter from Ruby

A thank you letter from Ruby.

Ruby’s thank you letter.

Picture Credit: Ruby (Pebble Brook Primary)/Everything Dinosaur

Lots and Lots of Questions

Andrea asked what age our dinosaur expert was when he found his first fossils?  He was eight-years-old, when he found his first fossils on a trip to the seaside.  Lucie and Patricia asked how many fossils have we got?  To be honest Patricia and Lucie, we have never stopped to count them all, we must have a few thousand in total.  Our thanks to Andrei, Ryan, Cyprian and Lois and to the whole of class 2/3AP for their super dinosaur designs.  We enjoyed looking at all the prehistoric animal drawings and we loved reading all the wonderful letters.  A big T. rex roar with delight to all the children in Year 2/3AP and a special thank you from us to Miss Pestell for being such an inspiring teacher.

Stylish Styracosaurus

Styracosaurus albertensis

With the introduction of the Deluxe Styracosaurus replica by our chums at CollectA, (due out in early 2017), Everything Dinosaur has taken this opportunity to commission a new Styracosaurus illustration to be used on the company’s Styracosaurus fact sheet.  Our new illustration updates the existing drawing and gives Styracosaurus a row of bristle-like structures, running down from the hip towards the end of the tail, a feature inferred from a number of ceratopsid specimens but not confirmed (as far as we know), from the fossil record of the Styracosaurus genus.

Styracosaurus Illustrated

Styracosaurus illustrated.

A drawing of the horned dinosaur Styracosaurus.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Everything Dinosaur

Illustrating Dinosaurs – The Role of Palaeoartists

Whilst working in a school the other day, one of our dinosaur and fossil experts was approached by a member of staff and asked questions about a career in palaeontology.  Their son is very keen on dinosaurs and would like to be a palaeontologist.  Our fossil expert briefly outlined some of the numerous career paths available, including the role of illustrator.  The boy is quite keen on drawing and loves drawing prehistoric animals, perhaps one day he will be able to combine his interest in dinosaurs and art and have a career as a palaeoartist.  Scientific illustration is a very competitive area, however, as new dinosaur discoveries are made, the scientific community often relies on the skills of artists to bring the fossilised remains to life and create an illustration of the animal as it probably looked.

We hope you like the Styracosaurus (S. albertensis) illustration, it will feature on our soon to be revised Styracosaurus fact sheet that is sent out with purchases of Styracosaurus models and replicas.

Carrfield Primary Academy and Dinosaurs

Key Stage 1 Study Dinosaurs, Volcanoes and Fossils

Children in the three Key Stage 1 classes at Carrfield Primary Academy (south Yorkshire), have spent the second half of the autumn term learning all about dinosaurs, volcanoes and fossils.  Working with the Cornerstones curriculum, the dedicated teaching team have been exploring all things prehistoric under the “Dinosaur Planet” scheme of work.  The well-appointed and tidy classrooms have lots of amazing dinosaur themed examples of the children’s work on display.  In class 1HJ, the budding young palaeontologists have been learning about bones and parts of the body by creating their very own dinosaur skeletons.

Dinosaur Skeletons on Display

Year 1 make dinosaur skeletons from drinking straws.

Carefully crafted dinosaur skeletons on display in a Year 1 classroom.

Picture Credit: Carrfield Primary Academy/Everything Dinosaur

Outside of the Year 1 classroom, the teaching team have posted up “dinosaur fact flaps” featuring a massive Brachiosaurus, the plant-eating horned dinosaur Triceratops and the tiny, feathered meat-eater Microraptor.  Some excellent examples of non-fiction writing accompany the informative dinosaur posters.

Class 1HJ Posted Up Lots of Dinosaur Information

Class 1HJ and their dinosaur posters.

Dinosaur facts and figures posted up by the Year 1 class at Carrfield Primary Academy.

Picture Credit: Carrfield Primary Academy/Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaur Explorers in Class 1/2LD

Under the inspiration tutelage of the teaching team, the children in the mixed Year 1/2 class have been creating dinosaur themed story maps all about their favourite prehistoric animals.  We hope the tongue-twister we provided on the famous fossil hunter Mary Anning inspires the children to write their own prehistoric animal themed poetry.

Lots of Schematic Story Maps on Display in the 1/2LD Classroom

Dinosaur themed schematic story maps on display.

Schematic story maps are a great way to check understanding and learning.

Picture Credit: Carrfield Primary Academy/Everything Dinosaur

Being able to demonstrate evidence of learning as the children progress through a term topic is extremely important.   These schematic story maps are a great way to check understanding and to test the children’s ability to recall information.  Outside in the corridor, the pupils in 1/2LD have been looking at baby dinosaurs and studying dinosaur eggs.  Paper mâché models of the eggs of dinosaurs had been created and if you look inside, you can see the baby dinosaurs waiting to hatch.

Key Stage 1 Children Look at Dinosaur Eggs

Dinosaur egg arts and crafts by KS1.

“Out of the Egg” display by Year 1/2 children.

Picture Credit: Carrfield Primary Academy/Everything Dinosaur

The paper mâché models certainly made an “egg-citing” display.  The children had also constructed volcanoes out of plastic bottles and paper mâché.  Mums, dads, grandparents and guardians had been invited into the school to help the volcanoes erupt!

Year 2 Combine Learning About Three-Dimensional Shapes with Dinosaur Studies

The teacher in Year 2 with the help of the enthusiastic teaching assistants had been explaining about three-dimensional shapes.  The challenge set was could the class create a Tyrannosaurus rex out of cylinders, cubes and cones?

A 3-D Tyrannosaurus rex on Display Outside of 2CN Classroom

A 3-D model of a dinosaur in school.

A three-dimensional dinosaur helps children to learn about spheres, cylinders, cubes and cones.

Picture Credit: Carrfield Primary Academy/Everything Dinosaur

The children made some three-dimensional dinosaur teeth out of clay, they could compare their clay teeth to the dinosaur teeth we showed the children in the workshop.  What sort of three-dimensional shapes are the teeth of dinosaurs?

We provided lots of extension ideas and suggestions plus some extra resources to help the teachers with their lesson plans as they bring this exciting dinosaur themed topic, a topic that has been thoroughly enjoyed by the teaching team as well as the children, to a conclusion.

On the Hunt for Troodon

Famous Canadian Palaeontologist Plans to Track Down Troodon

Professor Phil Currie (University of Alberta) is making plans for next summer, they include an expedition to hunt for a complete skeleton of the fast-running member of the dinosaur clade Deinonychosauria.  Phil Currie is hoping to hunt down Troodon.

Professor Phil Currie – Next Year Hunting for Troodon

Palaeontologist Phil Currie.

With “the best-preserved baby horned dinosaur ever found”, but will Phil Currie find a Troodon?

Picture Credit: Bruce Edwards (from a video interview)

Troodontids are a group of small Theropod dinosaurs that seem to fall somewhere in the phylogeny of the Dinosauria between the ornithomimids and the fearsome dromaeosaurids.  Troodon, may have been typical of this group, being fast-running, between two to three metres long (mostly tail), having a small skull with a long snout, large eyes and a big brain.  Relative to its body size, the species Troodon inequalis has the largest brain of any mature dinosaur yet described.  However, this genus is only known from a few specimens, and no complete skeleton of this dinosaur has ever been discovered.

An Illustration of a Troodontid (Troodon formosus)

Troodon illustrated.

An illustration of the feathered dinosaur Troodon.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A Typical Member of the Troodon Family of Dinosaurs (Scale Drawing)

Troodontidae scale drawing.

A scale drawing of a typical member of the Troodontidae dinosaur family.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Phil Currie, hopes to change all that and by doing so, help to assign with greater confidence, the various dinosaur genera associated with the Troodontidae family.  The family tree certainly needs some revision, after all the Troodon genus was originally set up on the basis of the description of a single fossil tooth (albeit a very distinctive tooth).  The famous Canadian palaeontologist, will lead a field team to the County of Grande Prairie (north-western Alberta, Canada) setting up a major dig in the Pipestone Creek area.  The rocks in this area were laid down in the Late Cretaceous and a number of bedding planes contain extensive bonebeds.  There have already been several important Theropod dinosaur discoveries made in this area, for example, earlier this year Everything Dinosaur published an article on the newly described, dog-sized, meat-eating dinosaur Boreonykus, which has been assigned to the Velociraptorinae sub-family of the Dromaeosaur family.

To read more about this new dinosaur discovery: Boreonykus certekorum A polar dinosaur related to Velociraptor

The teeth, which are relatively small, are easily identified thanks to their very large, hook-like serrations.  Isolated broken teeth are quite frequently found in the Grande Prairie area, but articulated bones and a fully intact skeleton are what the research team will be hoping to find.

Phil Currie explained:

“We find its teeth [Troodon] all the time up in the Grande Prairie region, yet in the rest of Alberta, it’s a pretty rare dinosaur.”

The Hunt for a Complete Troodon Fossil Specimen

Bones and teeth that have been assigned to the Troodontidae family have been found across North America and also in Asia, but despite the wealth of fossil material (mainly teeth), Professor Currie estimates that 90% of the bones in a Troodon skeleton remain unknown to science.

The Grande Prairie region could be just the spot to find the rest of the skeleton.  Many of the bedding planes where fossils are found represent low energy environments, which can aid the preservation of tiny bones such as those from a small, fast-running troodontid.  If lizards and mammals are preserved in these sediments then a three metre long, light and fragile Troodon might have been preserved too.

The Professor commented:

“It’s a big deal, because the more fragile skeletons tend to break apart, especially if there is a river nearby with a powerful current.  If you are an animal that’s falling apart because you’re rotten your big bones are not going to be washed very far by a river, but your small bones will be washed a long way.  Because small animals are being preserved there, we hope to find small dinosaurs as well.”

In the summer of 2017, a field team will descend on the Pipestone Creek bonebeds with the aim of identifying small fauna.  A team of Chinese palaeontologists, who have studied Asian troodontids are expected to join the researchers.

North-western Alberta in the Late Cretaceous – A Cretaceous Cross Roads

The northern part of Alberta has proved to be a happy hunting ground for vertebrate palaeontologists with a number of significant dinosaur discoveries having been made in the area.  The Upper Cretaceous rocks record important aspects of the region’s Late Cretaceous biota.  It seems that during this time in Earth’s history, North America was connected to Asia and a faunal interchange probably took place.  Several families of Asian dinosaurs have never been found in Canada, but Professor Currie is confident that one day, palaeontologists will uncover further evidence of this faunal interchange between the linked continents of Asia and North America.

Phil Currie, optimistically concluded:

“One of these days, I think we are going to find some, the potential is definitely there.”

Team members at Everything Dinosaur look forward to reporting on the research team’s progress.

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