Swimming Dinosaurs

Swimming Dinosaurs

We get asked a lot of questions by young people when we visit schools, all sorts of questions such as which was the fiercest dinosaur, the biggest, smallest and so on.  The team do their best to answer all the questions that they get asked, either at the time or by e-mail once they have had the chance to check facts.

We received an e-mail a couple of weeks ago from a little boy in Yorkshire (England) asking if dinosaurs could swim.  Coincidentally, new work on a fossil trackway found three years ago in northern Spain provides definitive proof that dinosaurs did occasionally take to the water and, like most animals they were capable swimmers.

A team of palaeontologists led by Dr Lois Costeur of the University of Nantes have had their work on a set of underwater dinosaur footprints published in the journal Geology.  The fossilised foot marks left by a dinosaur on a river bed in northern Spain indicate that the animal was swimming and occasionally pushing itself along as it made contact with the river bottom.

The trackway is approximately 125 mya (Cretaceous period) and it was made by a large three-toed, carnivorous dinosaur, as it swam across a body of water.  The tracks fossilised in sandstone show the scratch marks and prints made by the animal’s claws as it made its way across this stretch of water which scientists estimate was over 10 feet deep.

An Artist’s Impression of the Swimming Dinosaur

swimming

 (picture Guillaume Suan, University of Lyon)

The trackway consists of 12 impressions over a stretch of about 15 metres, with long grooves cut into the riverbed where the animal gained a purchase with its long clawed toes.  Fossilised ripple marks in the sandstone show that there was a strong current and the animal was struggling to keep itself on a straight path as it fought against the current

A Photograph of the Claw marks and Ripples in the Sandstone (Geology)

scratch marks

Picture from Geology JournalStudy of the trackways indicate that this big meat-eater had a “pelvic swimming action” rather like a birds. This would make sense as scientists believe that theropod dinosaurs like this one were the ancestors of modern birds.

There have been swimming tracks found previously, studied by Ichnologists (scientists who study fossilised foot prints and other trace fossils), which have been identified as belonging to long-necked sauropods and duck-billed dinosaurs but finding a meat-eaters is very rare. At first these footprints were thought to belong to a large crocodile as it made its way along the river bed, but crocodiles have at least four fingers and toes, one toe too many to have made these marks.

Fierce meat-eating dinosaurs can be found in water today, fortunately they are inflatable dinosaurs, the sort you might see at the beach.

New Dinosaur Discoveries in Canada

New Dinosaur Discoveries in Canada

A university of Alberta team under the supervision of Phil Currie have been busily excavating a new dinosaur bone bed in south-west Edmonton, Canada.  A bone bed is formed when the remains of a lot of animals end up being preserved together, in this case the bone bed consists of mixed herd of Hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs).

According to initial reports the majority of the fossil bones so far have been identified as belonging to a Hadrosaur called Edmontosaurus, this was one of the largest type of duck-billed dinosaurs and believed to be one of the last kinds of duck-billed dinosaur to evolve.

Sharing the bone bed are the remains of another giant duck-billed dinosaur, a Saurolophus.  Interestingly, palaeontologists used to believe that these animals lived at different times, but finding them together in this bone bed indicates that they were contemporaries.

Although the dinosaur dig has hardly got going, it is hoped that perhaps as many as 20 complete Hadrosaur skeletons will be removed.  Some of the fossils show evidence of feeding, it looks like Phil Currie and his team are not the first to come across the remains of these plant-eaters.  Teeth marks on some of the bones indicate that a big Tyrannosaur (possibly a Daspletosaurus) fed on the carcases.

Edmontosaurus is believed to have been capable of growing to more than 40 feet in length and weighing over 5 Tonnes.

Bone beds are very important as they can provide a great deal of information about a species with so many animals being preserved together.  How these Hadrosaurs met there doom can be speculated upon.  The fossils date from around 70 million years ago (late Cretaceous) and it is believed that perhaps  a sudden change in local climate, perhaps a drought caused a number of types of plant-eater to migrate in such of food.   Perhaps they died trying to cross a river, or perhaps the drought continued and the animals starved to death.  The stratigraphy (the surrounding rocks), will provide vital clues permitting scientists to piece this puzzle together.

Customer Feedback Forms

Customer Feedback Forms

We are still very fortunate to get an early morning post at Everything Dinosaur.  It normally arrives around 8am and we have had the same postman for a number of years.  Often one of the team members meets him as he is getting out of his van in the yard.

As we are a very unusual company we get some very unusual items of post, this morning was no exception we received some bills (boo!), a cast of a Sabre Tooth Cat cannine (the big tooth at the front of the upper jaw), a letter from the Post Office themselves, junk mail (do we really want more buildings insurance?) and some more customer feedback forms.

For all our UK dispatches we include a customer feedback form and a FREEPOST envelope.  The form consists of a single sheet of A4 paper with some multiple choice questions and rating scales so customers can tell us what they think of our service.

We get about 80% of our forms back which is a very high percentage.  Receiving a form confirms that the customer has received their parcel, this means that we can update the status of the order to “delivered”.  Customers are notified automatically if we change the status of their order, so if for some reason they have not received the parcel they can notify us and we can investigate.

On the feedback forms there is a section that permits customers to send us in any suggestions, comments and ideas that they might have.  This is very important to us as the feedback helps us improve our customer service and permits us to develop new services and source new products to meet customer needs.

Each morning we have a ritual.  The kettle goes on (we do take turns to make the tea, but I end up doing it more than most), and then we sit down and review that day’s feedback forms.  We scrutinise each one and then we divide them up between us and respond in person to all those that require a reply.  I think this personal touch is appreciated, we certainly welcome customer comments and suggestions and we have had some lovely things said about our service.

In the warehouse, we have a cork notice board and this is where we pin up some of the forms, letters and drawings we receive.

With rising mail costs and the cost of printing the forms and the Reply Paid envelopes this service is not exactly cheap, but the feedback and comments we receive from our customers is greatly appreciated and helps to improve the way we do business.

Sinosauropteryx Fossil Close Up

A Beautiful Sinosauropteryx Fossil

Some of the fossils from China, such as the little feathered dinosaurs from Liaoning Province are exquisitely detailed.  Below is a picture of the head of Sinosauropteryx which shows some amazing detail.

A Close up of a Sinosauropteryx Fossil

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The head shows the distinctive covering of proto-feathers on the nape of the neck.  Close inspection reveals that the covering of tufts of feathers covered virtually the entire body.

Why is Dimetrodon regarded as a Dinosaur?

Why is Dimetrodon regarded as a Dinosaur?

When browsing through any young person’s dinosaur collection I often remark on how many times a model of a Dimetrodon appears.  Dimetrodon seems to have entered our collective consciousness as a dinosaur, it certainly looks like it should belong to Dinosauria (the collective name for dinosaurs), but Dimetrodon and its kind were long gone before the dinosaurs evolved.

Dimetrodon was a fierce carnivore of the Permian period (about 286 mya to 248 mya)and it is famous for having a large “sail”.  It certainly was a top predator but it was no dinosaur.  In fact Dimetrodon belonged to a group of reptiles called Pelycosaurs, which were in fact more closely related to mammals than they are to dinosaurs.

It belonged to a group of vertebrates that had a single opening (fenestra) just behind the eye socket in the skull. Dinosaurs, lizards, crocodiles, birds and marine reptiles were diapsids (two holes on each side of the skull). The purpose of these holes is unknown but it is thought that they originally evolved to allow the passage of jaw muscles to aid biting and chewing as animals began to exploit different food sources as they established themselves on land. Mammals are also synapsids, they have a modified synapsid opening in the skull – so Dimetrodon was a relative.

As far as we know (this is what the fossil record tells us), the Pelycosaurs thrived during the Permian period, but they do seem to have been restricted to what was North America and Europe.  They were certainly very successful, some scientists have estimated that at the height of their success 70% of all land vertebrates on Earth were Pelycosaurs of one sort or another.

This does not explain how Dimetrodon came to feature in lots and lots of dinosaur model sets.  This is not a modern phenomenon, Dimetrodon seems to have featured from the very beginning, when plastic models first started to be produced.

The first plastic dinosaur model sets were manufactured in the mid 1950′s and they were often provided as free gifts with cereals and other foodstuffs (called premiums I think!).  Linde the Austrian confectionery manufacturer and coffee maker offered customers the chance to collect a set of nine olive green plastic prehistoric animals with their coffee purchases – and Dimetrodon was included.  Other companies began to offer plastic models with their food products, for example, the US firm Nabisco offered a set of different coloured plastic prehistoric animal models and in the series was one called “Fin-back Dinosaur” clearly a model of a Pelycosaur but already the identity of Dimetrodon and its kin was becoming blurred.  In the UK, we cannot say we did not do our bit to confuse everyone over the exact identity of Dimetrodon.  One of the first plastic model premiums offered by Shreddies in England was for a 20-piece prehistoric animal collection and there amongst the dinos was Dimetrodon.

Perhaps the sail-back is Dimetrodon’s undoing.  If an artist is looking to sculpt a set of plastic models, Dimetrodon would certainly stand out and I suspect the body shape would be relatively easy to work with.  Dimetrodon certainly features in lots of different model series from many manufacturers.

Sticking a plastic sail onto the back of an iguana or monitor lizard as a “special effect” would give the animal a prehistoric appearance.  Perhaps this is why in films such as the “Lost World” and “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” we see lizards dressed up with fins and sails representing Dimetrodon on the big screen as it were.  This could perpetuate our misconception about Dimetrodon being a dinosaur.

No matter how Dimetrodon came to be viewed as being a Dinosaur, it seems likely to remain linked in the minds of the public for a very long-time to come. Despite the best efforts of palaeontologists to explain that the last of the Pelycosaurs died out millions of years before the Dinosaurs got established, it seems that it is now accepted by many that Dimetrodon was a dinosaur.

I suppose it is easier for people to accept that a 3.5 metre long monster with sharp teeth weighing as much as 200 kgs is more closely related to a T.rex than it is to us.

Exciting new find of an Apatosaurus

New Apatosaurus near Complete Fossil Found

The small ranching community of Ten Sleep located at the base of the Big Horn mountains in Wyoming, USA is currently the epicentre of a very important dinosaur dig site that is attracting attention from palaeontologists from around the world.

It seems that scientists have unearthed another predator trap site with numerous fossils of herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs including a 80% complete Apatosaurus specimen.

The Apatosaurus fossil is a particularly exciting discovery, this animal formerly known as Brontosaurus, may be very well known having appeared in countless books, films and TV but in reality only about a dozen skeletons of this huge long-necked animal have been discovered and most of these have only been about 50% complete at best.  The Ten Sleep specimen even has an intact skull and brain case, this is extremely rare as sauropods when they died and the carcase rotted, the heads fell off and those specimens that have been found don’t have much skull material with them.  With the delicate skull preserved we can now get a much better understanding of exactly what the face and head of Apatosaurus looked like.

Scientists on the site have nicknamed the Apatosaurus “Einstein” in deference to the head material being intact – although Quantum physics would have been well beyond an 30 Tonne animal over 70 feet long but with a brain the size of your fist.

This 140 million year old site also contains the fossils of at least one Allosaurus, leading scientists to speculate that this is a predator trap.  Perhaps this was a small pool of water surrounded by sticky mud, when a herbivore like Apatosaurus went down for a drink it got stuck and its cries would have attracted meat-eaters such as Allosaurus looking for an easy meal.  The meat-eaters would have closed in but found themselves stuck and sinking too.  Over time a lot of animals would have become stuck this way, gradually sinking into the mud and their bodies becoming fossilised.

The predator trap theory is partially confirmed by the position of the Apatosaurus fossils.  They are not scattered around the site, but have been preserved in a vertical position, as if the animal died standing up, this is evidence of the Apatosaurus sinking into mud.

We have many Apatosaurus based products in our shop at: Everything Dinosaur

To view the dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur Models

Predator traps are rare in the fossil record, but are vitally important to palaeontologists.  They provide information on entire food webs and ecosystems, giving us far more information than individual specimens.  The most famous predator trap from the age of reptiles is the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur quarry in Utah.  Since this sites discovery in 1927 over 12,000 dinosaur bones have been unearthed – animals such as the sauropods Barosaurus and Camarasaurus, Stegosaurus, the Ornithopod Camptosaurus plus many meat-eaters such as Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus and Stokeosaurus.

Palaeontologists believe that a volcano in the young Rocky mountains erupted covering a local watering hole with fine ash, leaving a pool of clear water in the middle.  As animals came to drink they got stuck in the mixture of ash and mud and were drowned.  Dead and dying plant-eaters attracted meat-eaters and this is how the huge number of animals died in the same place.  Ironically, the Cleveland-Lloyd site dates back to approximately the same time in the Jurassic as the Ten Sleep site, hence the reason for finding similar animal remains at both locations.

Dinosaurs and the Wimbledon Tennis Championships

Dinosaurs and Wimbledon Tennis Championships!

It may seem odd to put the words “Dinosaur” and “Tennis” in the same sentence, especially when dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years – but a very famous dinosaur called Stegosaurus and the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships do have something in common.   This year, 2007,  marks the 130th anniversary of the describing of the most famous and best researched of all the Stegosaurs – StegosaurusThis Stegosaurus species was first described in 1877 by the American palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh.  Stegosaurus means “roofed lizard”, as the bony plates found with the fossil reminded Professor Marsh of roof tiles.  Coincidentally, 1877 was the year of the first Lawn Tennis Championship at Wimbledon.  Both Stegosaurus and Wimbledon are 130 years old!

Although most people can recognise Stegosaurus (it regularly features in the top 5 of our popular dinosaur surveys), this animal has only been known to science for 130 years.   Dinosaurs are so prevalent in our everyday lives, what with films, books, comics and TV we forget how young the science of palaeontology is.  Stegosaurus may be one of the best known extinct creatures but we are still finding new types of Stegosaur and we still have a lot to learn about this particular group of dinosaurs.

There were many different types of Stegosaur, perhaps the best known is Stegosaurus stenops from the Upper Jurassic Morrison formation of North America.  This was an impressive animal with its large over-lapping plates and reaching a length of 9 metres, about as long as a bus.  Ironically, the over-lapping plates on this animal, so often depicted in the movies is not a common characteristic of this group.  Most other Stegosaurs have both plates and tail spikes arranged along their mid-line in pairs.

A typical Stegosaurus!

“Roof Lizard”

Most Stegosaurus models are of S. stenops although the largest Stegosaurus known to date is Stegosaurus armatus.  This animal may have weighed more than 3 Tonnes, like S. stenops it too lived in the Late Jurassic and was described by Othniel C. Marsh.

Like many dinosaurs, Stegosaurus has suffered from a poor press.  Often it is depicted as slow moving and clumsy with a brain no bigger than a walnut.  It certainly wasn’t the brightest of dinosaurs, but it was well equipped to survive the Jurassic and into the Cretaceous and Stegosaur fossils have been found all over the world.

Models of Stegosaurus have changed as scientists perception have changed.  For example, some models of Stegosaurs show them as deep bodied animals and looking rather clumsy.

Model makers have made a number of Stegosaur replicas over the years, to view our dinosaur model range: Dinosaur Toys for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur Models

Stegosaurus fossils still have a lot to reveal to us, for example we don’t know why the group lost toes on its rear feet (ending up with just three) but retained a “full hand” with five toes on the front feet.  Scientists still are not sure just how the plates were used and there is still a debate going on as to whether or not Stegosaurus could rear up onto its hind legs to feed – using its tail as prop.

Unlike other bird-hipped dinosaurs (ornithischians), Stegosaurs did not seem to possess ossified tendons that reinforce the spine.  These features, found in all other bird-hipped dinosaurs helped keep the tail straight and support the back.  The lack of these ossified tendons would certainly have given Stegosaurus a very flexible tail.  Just the thing needed as the spikes on the tail could be swung to make a very effective weapon.

If threatened, a Stegosaurus could thrash its tail both backwards and forwards and with spikes up to 1 metre long in some species this would have made an effective deterrent.  Indeed, it is thought that Stegosaurs could swing their tails with much the same easy motion as top athletes could swing a tennis racket with fore-hands and back-hands.

Looks like we are back to the Tennis again.

Everything Dinosaur Edmontosaurus Drawing

Sketching a Duck-Billed Dinosaur

One of the more common members of the Late Cretaceous mega fauna of North America was Edmontosaurus.  Edmontosaurus (E. regalis), is known from several hundred fossil skeletons, including some that have internal organs and skin impressions associated with them.

A Scale Drawing of Edmontosaurus

Edmontosaurus Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A large herbivore, the biggest fossil specimens indicate that this dinosaur could reach lengths in excess of ten metres and it perhaps weighed more than five tonnes.

Getting your Picture into the Papers

Getting your Picture in the Papers

The things we get asked to do.  As Everything Dinosaur grows and continues to thrive we often get the opportunity to feature in magazines and newspapers.  Dinosaurs tend to be very photogenic (although people like me are less so), and journalists always seem to be interested in what we are doing which is great as articles are a valuable form of communication for a small business such as ourselves.

We have been fortunate to have been featured in a number of national daily newspapers as well as regionals, local radio and of course the specialist scientific publications.  Everything Dinosaur is a very unusual company with its own unique culture and personality.

Editors are always looking out for stories, the more out of the ordinary the better and there are few companies that can claim to sell dinosaurs for a living as we do.  With our mission to help young people learn more about Earth sciences, we tend to get some very good publicity, especially when we get involved with schools or other parts of the local community.

Fortunately, like I said earlier dinosaurs are very photogenic but the likes of me are less so, and when it comes to posing for a photograph I usually end up being put into all sorts of funny situations.  Take as an example the photo taken of me for an article in the Stoke-on-Trent Sentinel which appeared last Monday (June 18th).  The photographer asked me to roar at a Tyrannosaurus rex – I did, and guess what was used as the picture for the article…

It does not really matter to me, the article was good publicity and I am sure that the more unusual the photograph the more likely the story is to be published.  There are not many people who get asked to roar at a plastic blow-up dinosaur, but it was a funny feeling never-the-less.  I am sure the photographer gets many bizarre assignments and has done more peculiar photo shoots in her time, but my picture has already been stuck up on the warehouse wall for Tony and Mark to have a good laugh at.

Never mind, such is the price of fame.

Our thanks to the Sentinel news team, the Picture Editor and the Sentinel for their permission to publish the photograph.

Tomorrow our works outing – we are off to Chester Zoo.  We sponsor the Broad-nosed crocodiles so we are off to visit them, hope the weather is better.

Dinosaur Toys from Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaur Toys from Everything Dinosaur

UK based dinosaur toy and dinosaur model supplier Everything Dinosaur has pledged to help make life easier for dinosaur fans when it comes to collecting models of prehistoric animals.  As the company works closely with a number of mainstream model manufacturers, this web log will be used to keep collectors and dinosaur enthusiasts of all ages up to speed with new models being made, as well as replicas due for retirement.

Lots of Excellent Dinosaur Models Available from Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaurs are fun to blog about

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Took a picture of a Schleich Saurus Stegosaurus a wandering by..  Just part of the extensive range of prehistoric animal models available from Everything Dinosaur.

The Schleich Saurus range is a museum quality range of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals which are to scale.  Models are hand-painted and this range is regarded as the flagship range of dinosaur models by the German based manufacturer.

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