Monster Show Rocks America

Monster Show Rocks America

The Walking with Dinosaurs inspired stage show is wowing young dinosaur fans as it starts the American leg of its world tour.   The stage show that features realistic, life-size animatronic dinosaurs has opened in the US to rave reviews.  The monsters, including a 45 foot tall Brachiosaurus and a slightly over sized T. rex and baby are operated by three controllers.  One inside the armature and two others co-ordinating dinosaur movements using a special effects rig attached to their arms.

The show was devised by Australian investors and although employs 150 people and has cost something like £10 million to set up.  It has already recouped all the initial investment during the tour of Australia where 300,000 people flocked to see the spectacular performance as a palaeontologist introduces the likes of Stegosaurus, Ankylosaurus and Allosaurus on stage.

Say Hello to Torosaurus

Picture courtesy of China Daily

The 90 minute show certainly thrills young and old alike, although much of the behaviour shown is based on speculation, as is the colouration and many of the skin patterns.  However, it goes to show how far we have come in our understanding of these amazing creatures as well as how far we have advanced in dinosaur special effects.  Not too many years ago if you wanted to create the impression of a dinosaur you hired a really tall guy in a monster suit.

The real winners in this venture are the BBC who own the rights to the Walking with Dinosaur franchise.  When this six part series, the brainchild of Tim Haines was first aired it caused a sensation and sales of DVDs and other merchandise have almost single handedly changed the fortunes of the British  Broadcasting.

Walking with Dinosaurs Live hits Europe next year – expect an impact about the size of an asteroid… you have been warned!

Dinosaur Bidding Wars

Celebrities Bid up Price of Fossils

They stopped making them 65 million years ago and now Dinosaur fossils have become the latest status symbol for Hollywood “A” listers.  Nicholas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio were in a bidding war for a Tarbosaurus skull (an Asian relative of Tyrannosaurus rex) at a recent Beverley Hills auction.  It seems that a number of celebrities as well as big businessmen and even royalty have taken to collecting rare fossils.  This phenomenon is not new, wealthy patrons have always helped fund fossil collecting and sponsored expeditions as well as permanent exhibits.  Mary Anning, the pioneering English fossil collector, sold many of her Lyme Regis finds to private collectors.

Had Gideon Mantell been able to secure the support and patronage of the newly crowned King William IV when the royal party visited Lewes on October 22nd 1830, the science of palaeontology could well have taken a different route.  However, the luckless Mantell missed out and one of the most distinguished and important early pioneers of Dinosaur study was doomed to be squeezed out by the better connected Sir Richard Owen.

For the world’s wealthy having your very own private collection of fossils and other antiquities is becoming an important status symbol.  DiCaprio may have lost out to Nicholas Cage when it came to bidding for the Tyrannosaur skull, but no doubt other batches of rare and unique specimens will be auctioned in California shortly and he will have another chance.

Fossil sales are big business, many scientific bodies and museums cannot compete and as a result palaeontologists are unable to study rare specimens and important specimens.  The rising prices has led to increased trade in illegal fossils (remains removed without permission) and counterfeit specimens, so well made that they can even fool professional palaeontologists.

The link between T.rex Bacterial Bite and Sense of Smell

Is T. rex sense of Smell proof of a Bacterial Bite?

By measuring the volume of the brain case of dinosaurs we can estimate the size of their brains.  A Tyrannosaurus rex specimen such as BHI3033, “Stan” the nearly complete gracile Tyrannosaurus rex discovered by Stan Sacrison in 1992, had a brain case with a volume of approximately 1,000 cubic centimetres.  In contrast, human being’s brains take up a volume of up to 1,800 cubic centimetres.  But brain size is not the be all and end all. 

Firstly, not all of the brain case volume was made up of brain, there are variations in the percentage of the brain case volume that the actual brain filled.  Also, different parts of the brain are responsible for different functions. With T. rex the cerebrum area (the part of the brain dedicated to thinking and problem solving) was very small.  In us, this part of the brain makes up by far the largest proportion of brain volume.  By looking at the brain case and studying the holes in the skull that carried nerves back and forth we can assess how intelligent a dinosaur was and how much of the brain was dedicated to functions such as sight, thinking, smell, balance and so on.

Scientists have estimated that about 50% of T. rex’s brain was dedicated to sense of smell (olfactory bulb), so it is fair to assume that the sense of smell was very important to Tyrannosaurus rex.  Perhaps this helps reinforce the “bacterial bite” theory.

T. rex could ambush an unsuspecting Hadrosaur, inflict a wound with its massive jaws and then use its sense of smell to track down its victim.  The T. rex could follow the duck-billed dinosaur for several days, slowly but surely loss of blood and the inflected wound would weaken the animal and then T. rex could step in to finish it off.

Perhaps the large part of the brain dedicated to sense of smell is evidence of a bacterial bite in Tyrannosaurs.

Everything Dinosaur supplies a T. rex skull kit that permits you to assemble your very own life-like Tyrannosaur skull.

Dinosaur Crafts for Kids: Dinosaur Crafts for Kids

Cast of a Tyrannnosaurus rex Tooth For Sale

Cast of T. rex Tooth for Sale

A picture of the cast of the Tyrannosaurus rex which is a replica of real fossil material, available for sale from Everything Dinosaur.  A cast of a T. rex dinosaur tooth available to buy from Everything Dinosaur.

The Tyrannosaurus rex Tooth Cast

Wonderful Dinosaur Tooth

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A photograph of a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth along with the accompanying Everything Dinosaur T. rex fact sheet as written and researched by our very own dinosaur experts.  A very good quality replica of a Theropod tooth.  The classic profile and the “D-shaped” cross section of a typical Tyrannosaur tooth can clearly be seen in this museum quality replica.

 

How did Tyrannosaurus rex clean its Teeth?

Did Tyrannosaurus rex use a Tooth brush?

Developing the line of thought regarding the possibility of large Theropod dinosaurs having bacterial bites (see previous posting – Tyrannosaurus rex causes Chinese Takeaway), the question of how did the big meat-eaters like T.rex clean their teeth.

Information on Tyrannosaur bacterial bite here

In the case of most Tyrannosaurs, their forelimbs were too small to reach their mouths so the could not have used their claws as tooth picks.  The truth is that T.rex probably did not have to clean its teeth, like most reptiles they have a considerable advantage over the mammals when it comes to dentition.  Dinosaurs constantly shed their teeth, with new ones growing up from the jawbone to replace old, damaged or wore teeth.  This is why when you look at a skull of a T.rex in a museum all the teeth in the jaw are different sizes. The teeth of a T.rex were shaped slightly differently depending on which part of the mouth they come from but the different sizes are due to some teeth being older than others, smaller younger teeth erupting through the jaw.

Larger crocodile species such as the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) can have up to 40 sets of teeth in a lifetime.  There teeth are conical and not serrated like Tyrannosaurs teeth, the lack of serrations (palaeontologists call these serrations denticles) would make them slightly less likely to have pieces of their last meal stuck to them and therefore less likely to harbour bacteria.  As crocodiles gape their teeth are exposed to sunlight and this helps to bleach the teeth and clean them.  It is also believed that small birds such as the Nile Plover (Pluvianus aegyptius) may have a symbiotic relationship with the crocodiles. These small birds may give crocs a grooming service – picking off skin parasites and removing pieces of food stuck in the crocodiles jaws.

T.rex lived at a time when the birds had become very well established.  There were lots of species of birds around at the end of Cretaceous that are familiar today.  Perhaps Tyrannosaurs actively sought out colonies of small birds and gaped with their jaws wide open attracting birds to come over and give them a grooming.  Maybe these birds (the brave ones at least) would enter the beast’s huge mouth and remove the shreds of meat left behind from animal’s last meal.  This is pure speculation of course, behaviour like this is unlikely to be recorded in the fossil record, but if other animals can develop mutually beneficial relationships – why not dinosaurs as well?

As Everything Dinosaur has links with a number of Natural History museums we are able to get access to real T.rex teeth to study them and make casts.

Genuine museum quality replica T.rex tooth:

Dinosaur Crafts for Kids: Dinosaur Crafts for Kids

We can even sell casts of real fossils (resin replicas) so you too can get hold of things like a Velociraptor killing claw and your very own T.rex tooth.  The tooth we sell is a resin replica of a tooth from the right lower jaw of a T.rex specimen discovered by the American palaeontologist Barnum Brown in 1900.  It was from these remains that T.rex was named and described.  The specimen code for this discovery is BM-R7995 and it is stored at the Natural History museum in London.  As only about 13% of the skeleton was recovered at the time, this T.rex has been removed from display.  The lack of bones meant that there were few options open to the curators as to how they could exhibit this specimen.  It was secured to a huge board representing a backdrop diorama of the Cretaceous and the missing elements were filled in with casts and copies.  Unfortunately, this specimen was mounted in the “kangaroo style” with the tail resting on the ground, so it was not anatomically correct.  The remains of the first proper T.rex skeleton to be discovered are now locked away in the vast vaults of the Natural History museum, however at least you can obtain your own piece of prehistoric history with a replica tooth.  You too can own replica Tyrannosaurus rex teeth!

Tyrannosaurus rex causes Chinese Takeaway

Tyrannosaurus rex is still Scary say Chinese Youngsters

Young residents of Shanghai have been given a scare by a Tyrannosaurus rex that has taken up residence in the city.  It may be rather surprising to find a T. rex in Shanghai, after all as far as palaeontologists know Tyrannosaurus rex lived in North America and it never got as far as eastern China.  Asia was the domain of an equally fierce Tyrannosaur called Tarbosaurus “alarming reptile” a close cousin of the more famous T. rex.

However, a local company wanting to commemorate the opening of new premises commissioned a 5 metre long statue of T. rex and placed it on their rooftop.  Local residents have objected claiming that the statue of T. rex in a typical pose (mouth open, showing huge teeth), frightens children.

Reluctantly, the company has agreed to remove the statue, but it has been given a stay of execution by the civic authorities, permitting T. rex to continue to look down on the locals – at least until the new premises are officially opened on August 8th.

After this date, either the statue will find a new home, or once again Tyrannosaurus rex will face extinction.

In reality, Tyrannosaurs could hardly be described as obvious candidates to have their features immortalised in a sculpture.  These animals (like most super-predators today) lived short, violent lives.  Tyrannosaurs would have been extremely unpleasant creatures to come across.  As well as the prospect of being treated like a mid-morning snack, the smell from a recent kill would probably still hang around them and if you got close enough to smell the breath of a T. rex (something we would not recommend), the stench would be most unpleasant.  T. rex most probably had a bacterial bite, meat would remain in the jaws and attract bacteria and other unpleasant pathogens.  When T. rex bit into an animal, the bite may not prove fatal but the injection of all the nasty little bugs and diseases into the unfortunate animal could well have weakened it to the point where it would eventually collapse.  Leaving the Tyrannosaur to simply follow its victim until it finally went down.  Komodo dragons have a similar hunting strategy, although recent research has shown that these giant monitor lizards are actually venomous.

Evidence from the fossils indicate that Tyrannosaurus would carry a number of injuries and would most certainly have been scarred, so they would not have been pleasant to look at.

“Stan” the gracile T. rex discovered in 1992 shows evidence of a number of serious injuries, which would not have given this particular dinosaur much chance of winning a beauty pageant.  For example, part of the postorbital and squamosal region of the skull (the back of the head) had been bitten off.  Remarkably, as there are signs of healing revealed in close analysis of the fossil bones, “Stan” survived this traumatic injury.

Slightly concerning is that Stan was about 40 feet long and weighed in around 5 Tonnes.  What kind of animal could have inflicted this sort of damage on a 40 foot Tyrannosaur?

Scientists know of only one animal capable of biting out chunks like this – another probably larger T. rex!

Evidence from their fossils, show that these animals lived short and violent lives.  Fighting prey and fighting rival Tyrannosaurs possibly over food, territory and mates.  For sure the big theropods may not have been much in the good looks stakes but they certainly still hold our fascination.  Long after the likes of Marilyn Monroe have faded from our collective memory people will still queue to catch a glimpse into the lives of these ancient reptiles.

Typical model of Tyrannosaurus rex in aggressive pose:

A T. rex Dinosaur Model

Fearsome dinosaur 1:40 scale figure.

Fearsome dinosaur 1:40 scale figure.

Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls: Dinosaur Toys for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur Models

Dinosaurs for Girls – Part 2

Dinosaurs for Girls (part 2)

Women palaeontologists continue to make their mark on the science of studying ancient life.  Indeed, many of the most important discoveries of recent years have been made by women.  For example, the most complete fossil Tyrannosaurus rex yet found was discovered by Sue Hendrickson in 1990 as she explored an area northeast of Ruth Mason Quarry in South Dakota.

Not only are women finding new specimens but they are having an impact on the science of palaeontology in more subtle ways.  Polish palaeontologist Teresa Maryanska discovered a new genus of armoured dinosaur whilst on a scientific expedition to Mongolia.  In a departure from standard scientific practice, when it came to naming this new animal, Teresa chose not to use a Greek or Latin term.

Instead she named the animal Saichania, it means “beautiful” in the local Mongolian dialect.  The fossil remains of this Ankylosaur were certainly beautifully preserved and the specimen was almost complete so perhaps the word “beautiful” is appropriate.

This herbivore lived at the end of the Cretaceous period, around 80 million years ago (Campanian).  A fully grown adult is estimated to have been up to 20 feet long and it may have weighed as much as 3 Tonnes.

A model of Saichania (is beauty in the eye of the beholder);

Click here to view Saichania dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Girls – Dinosaurs

Many other palaeontologists have broken with the convention of using Latin or Greek to name their discoveries.  Mary and her team have paved the way for Chinese scientists to name their discoveries using their own language and not the classical languages of the Western world.  We even have some “beautiful” Chinese specimens rivalling Saichania.

An example would be Sinocalliopteryx a fleet footed member of the Compsognathidae group.  It is certainly beautifully preserved and represents another of the feathered wonders being unearthed from China.

Sinocalliopteryx (Beautiful Chinese Feather) Fossil

Image courtesy of: forums future science

Sinocalliopteryx (beautiful Chinese feather)

Everything Dinosaur’s Dinosaur Model Collection

A Set of Dinosaur Models (Prehistoric Animal Models)

Some of the most popular prehistoric animal models including T. rex, Triceratops and Stegosaurus from the Collecta dinosaurs model range have been put together into this six figure dinosaur model set by team members at Everything Dinosaur.

A Set of Six Prehistoric Animal Models (Collecta Dinosaurs)

Six different dinosaur models to collect

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Part of the Everything Dinosaur Collecta range of dinosaur models, a set of six prehistoric animal models to collect. There is a Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Velociraptor, Brachiosaurus and the Pterosaur Pteranodon.  A popular set with dinosaur fans and serious dinosaur model collectors.

How to make Pteranodon Fly

How to make Pteranodon Fly (requires a bit of magic from Photoshop)

Pteranodon is one of the most well known of all the Pterosaurs (flying reptiles).  It was discovered in the 1870s and Pteranodon remains have been found in North America, Europe and Japan.  It was one of the last of the flying reptiles to evolve and with some species such as Pteranodon longiceps having wingspans in excess of 9 metres it is one of the largest Pterosaurs known.  Until the likes of Quetzalcoatlus came along in the 1970s, Pteranodon was thought to be the largest flying reptile of all.

As a result of Pteranodon’s popularity it tends to be well represented in the series of prehistoric animal models that are available.  At Everything Dinosaur we have worked on a number of projects to do with Pterosaurs, including Pteranodon and when it came to advising on the new Dinosaur Collection series which was launched this year, not surprisingly the manufacturers wanted to include a Pteranodon in the first batch of models produced.

No problem, there are plenty of designers and artists who can produce prototypes of this animal.  There are enough fossils for us to have a good idea of their anatomy.  Most of the models of this animal are of P. longiceps (the one with the backward pointing crest).

The Dinosaur Collections Pteranodon can be seen here: Everything Dinosaur

It is all very well adding a Pterosaur to a model series, but this does pose a problem when it comes to photography.  When placed next to the other models on the table, Pterosaurs just don’t look very good.  It must be rather upsetting for a Pteranodon to have to be balanced on one side next to the land dwelling models in the collection, so for our recent photography work we decided to make our Pteranodon model fly.

You can see the results in the picture : “The Dinosaur Collection Set”.  To achieve the effect of the Pteranodon soaring majestically over the other models, we first tried holding the model by the finger tips in the shot.  The photographer took some shots and then we used “Photoshop” to remove the hand so that the animal looked like it was flying.  All in a days work when it comes to models of Pteranodon.

Giving Pteranodon a “hand” to fly

Picture courtesy of Everything Dinosaur

This did not give us the effect that we really wanted so we resorted to using a piece of thin cotton to suspend the Pteranodon in mid air above the rest of the dinosaur collection model series.

A Suspended Pteranodon

Pteranodon takes to the air

Picture Courtesy of Everything Dinosaur

It took a steady hand and a bit of patience but we were able to get the shot we wanted, but it was a great way to display this set of prehistoric animal models.

Many teams of scientists have spent huge sums of money making scale models of Pterosaurs in a bid to understand how they flew.  Aerodynamics, bone structure, the effect of the crests on stability – all these factors have been studied by some of the keenest minds in science.  The girls were able to achieve their very own flying Pteranodon using a bit of feminine ingenuity and some cotton.  All in the aim of displaying Everything Dinosaur’s dinosaur and Pterosaur models.

To view the Dinosaur Collection model series: Dinosaur Toys for Boys – Dinosaur Models

DNA Breakthrough in the Tooth of an Extinct Elephant

Fossil Tooth makes DNA Breakthrough

Part of the DNA structure of an extinct elephant has been worked out by scientists.  Using a fossilised tooth, from a Mastodon which died in North America 130,000 years ago a team from the Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany have mapped the mitochondria DNA of the animal hoping that this will provide an insight into the ancestry of modern elephants.

Teeth are made of enamel and are the hardest part of the body.  The DNA within the tooth structure is protected from decay and damage as the rest of animal deteriorates.  However, finding such well preserved genetic material in a fossil this old is extremely rare.

Mastodons are cousins of the more famous Mammoths and are generally associated with North America.  The genetic material recovered from this tooth, when compared to preserved Mammoth DNA and the DNA of modern elephants will help biologists to build up a more accurate elephant family tree.  This research confirms work done in the 1990′s that showed that mammoths were more closely related to Asian elephants than to African elephants.

The close relationship between Asian elephants and mammoths has been known for some time and scientists have speculated whether they could resurrect the Mammoth by fusing recovered Mammoth DNA with an egg cell from an Indian elephant that has been stripped of its own genetic material.

This subject was discussed in an earlier blog:

New fossilised baby Mammoth found

There is still a lot of interest in the evolution of the elephants.  There two species alive today (African and Indian, the Forest Elephant of Africa is a sub-species of the African elephant), are believed to be the last representatives of a group of hoofed mammals called Proboscideans.  The earliest fossil elephant material consists of some teeth fragments (see teeth are good at being preserved); recovered from Palaeocene sediments from Morocco.  These remains are believed to be about 60 million years old and the animal has been named Phosphatherium.  It lived in the dense forests that covered much of the world at the time and was no more than 60 cms high at the shoulder.  From these small beginnings the elephant group evolved and spread across most of the Northern Hemisphere.

There were many species of elephants around at the time that modern humans began to spread from their African homelands.  Early man revered the elephants, many cave paintings indicate that they were important animals, certainly many species were hunted.

Some scientists speculate that this hunting led to the extinction of many elephant species such as the Mammoths, but the demise of these magnificent creatures may have been done to a number of factors.  Climate change, plus the introduction of domesticated dogs and the diseases they brought with them may also have contributed to their demise.

Mammoths and their like remain very popular with children.  Everything Dinosaur surveys regularly show Mammoths in the top ten of most popular prehistoric animals.  Mammoths and their Ice Age contemporaries such as the Woolly Rhino remain a source of fascination.

Woolly Mammoths etc: Prehistoric Mammal Models and Toys

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