Most Popular Web Log Articles of 2007 – Part 1

Most Popular Everything Dinosaur Blog Articles of 2007

As 2007 draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the first year of the Everything Dinosaur web log.  This is article number 231 in a blog started at the end of May, so our record of publishing something new everyday has just about been kept up.  In the fast moving world of palaeontology there is always something happening, this coupled with the growth of Everything Dinosaur has meant that there is always plenty of things to write about.

This is the time of year when lots of lists are drawn up, favourite films of the year, most popular books and so forth, just for a bit of fun we have compiled a list of the top ten Everything Dinosaur blog articles in terms of most views.

The top ten list covers an eclectic range of subjects, from new scientific discoveries, Everything Dinosaur products, theories and new fossil finds.  It reflects the diverse nature of our web log.  We are sure there is going to be lots and lots to write about in 2008.

Like all good compilations we will start the countdown at ten and this article covers the articles and items that fill the places from tenth down to sixth, with the top five published tomorrow.

The Everything Dinosaur Top Ten Blog Articles (Part 1)

10).  Dinosaur Dino-opoly – (Saturday 18th August)

The addition of Dinosaur Dino-opoly to the Everything Dinosaur game range is at number 10, attracting readers throughout the autumn and especially at Christmas.  The game, based on the traditional board game monopoly is aimed at players from eight years and up, you have to collect bones and trade them in for museum exhibits as each player strives to build the best dinosaur museum.  A fun game to play with the added bonus that young dinosaur fans can learn about prehistoric animals whilst playing.

Dinosaur Dino-opoly Game

A dinosaur inspired board game.

Click here to see game: Dino Board Games and Puzzles

9).  Blame the Deccan Traps! – (Saturday 3rd November)

A number of theories have been put forward regarding the causes of the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous.  A team of American scientists challenged the asteroid/meteorite theory and proposed that massive volcanic eruptions in India led to the demise of the Dinosaurs and about 65% of all life on Earth.  New studies of the enormous basaltic lava flows of western and central India – known as the Deccan Traps, indicated that the most violent and devastating eruptions are dated very closely to the mass extinction event.

Volcanic activity on this scale would have thrown out into the atmosphere huge volumes of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide, dramatically changing the world’s climate and leading to the collapse of entire ecosystems.

To read the full article: Dinosaur Extinction Asteroid Impact Theory Challenged

8).  Claws! – Giant Sea Scorpion of the Devonian Discovered – (Saturday 24th November)

Markus Poschmann of the Mainz museum, in Germany found a 390 million year old fossil claw from what could be the biggest Arthropod known to date.  The fossil was found in a quarry near the town of Prum in western Germany.  Study revealed the fossil to be part of a claw of a sea scorpion species named Jaekelopterus rhenaniae, this species had been described and named from other German finds last Century but this new find reveals that this particular sea scorpion was a giant of the Devonian seas, reaching lengths in excess of 2.5 metres.  This animal would have been one of the top predators around at the time, hunting fish, trilobites and anything else it could catch.  Taking a dip in the Devonian would have been a very risky business!

To read the article in full: Claws! Giant Sea Scorpion of the Devonian

7).  Dinosaur Raincoats and Dinosaur Pyjamas – (Tuesday 25th September)

The introduction of Dinosaur Raincoats and Pyjamas with a Dinosaur pattern into our clothing range proved a popular article amongst readers in the Autumn of 2007.

The pyjamas are made from 100% cotton and have proved to be a big hit with the parents of children aged 3 – 7 years.  They are pyjama sets, consisting of a trouser with a colourful dinosaur pattern and a top which has a dinosaur applique motif on the chest.  The caption on the top says “PJ Rex” we did not get too fussy over the scientific accuracy of the Theropod featured on the motif, or in the way that the manufacturers have misappropriated a species name by giving it a capital letter, but they are warm, practical and covered in lots and lots of dinosaurs – brilliant!.

Pyjamas from Everything Dinosaur

To see pyjamas: Dinosaur Clothing

The Dinosaur raincoats were a real find, almost as exciting as finding a fossil on a field trip.  These hard-wearing, durable raincoats are made from 100% waterproof polyurethane with a terry cotton lining (78% cotton, 22% polyester).  They have a hood to keep the rain off and the coat has a colourful dinosaur pattern on it with lots and lots of dinosaurs (and the odd flying reptile).  There are even two front pockets for young palaeontologists to keep their fossils in.  We had a lot of fun deciding which prehistoric animals were represented in the artwork, there is a real mixture with Stegosaurs, Spinosaurs, lots of other meat-eaters but our favourite is the blue coloured Ornithomimid with orange spots – wonderful!  After such a wet summer, these raincoats were bound to prove popular!

Dinosaur Raincoats – Introduced in the Autumn

Dinosaurs for a Rainy Day

To view Dinosaur Raincoats: Dinosaur Clothing

6).  Nigersaurus – The Dinosaur the Grazed like a Cow – (Tuesday 24th November)

Stories and articles about unusual dinosaurs are always popular, certainly Nigersaurus was a very unusual dinosaur indeed and just misses out on a top five placing.

Nigersaurus was a long-necked dinosaur, a Sauropod.  It lived during the early/middle Cretaceous,  fossil evidence suggests that these type of animals were around from 119 to approximately 99 million years ago (Aptian and Albian faunal stages).  It was a member of the Rebbachisaur family, a group of Sauropods from the southern continents and Europe.  Estimates of size vary but it is believed that Nigersaurus grew to lengths of around 10 metres and when compared to more typical Diplodocoids its neck was considerably shorter.  The most remarkable feature of the Rebbachisaurs, and very evident in Nigersaurus was the extensive battery of sophisticated teeth.  Nigersaurus had upwards of 600 teeth in its jaws.  These teeth were arranged in rows along the front edges of the jaws, forming effective 30 cm long shears for cropping vegetation.  Study of the head and neck vertebrae indicate that the head was held close to the ground and Nigersaurus was probably a low level browser, shearing away at ferns, horsetails and other ground level plants like a cow grazing.

Nigersaurus – Further Research Published on this Unusual Dinosaur in 2007

Nigersaurus.

Picture Credit: Wired Science

Full article on Nigersaurus: Nigersaurus – the Dinosaur that may have Grazed like a Cow

American blames Pterodactyl for Car Crash

Pterodactyl Blamed for Car Crash

A 29-year old man has blamed a Pterodactyl, a common term used to describe flying reptiles or Pterosaurs for causing his car to crash into a street lamp.  The incident took place in Wenatchee, a small town in Washington state, USA, on Thursday evening around 11.30pm.

When asked by police officers who attended the incident the driver simply stated that he had been forced off the road by a Pterodactyl.  It was not reported what the police officers thought of this reply, perhaps the most unusual excuse that any of them had heard.  Not surprisingly the driver was tested for alcohol in his bloodstream, the police suspecting a drink-driving offence but a local source claimed only a “minimal” amount of alcohol was found in his system.

According to witness reports, the car drifted onto the wrong side of the highway before crashing into the street lamp.  No one else reported seeing any sort of flying reptile so the young man’s story could not be corroborated.

Fortunately, there were no serious injuries and after a brief spell in hospital the man was released into the hands of the local law enforcement officers who have subsequently charged him with first degree negligent driving.

The town of Wenatchee in Chelan county in the south of Washington state nestles between two rivers, the Columbia and Wenatchee.  At this time of year, temperatures rarely rise above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), and although many scientists think Pterosaurs were covered in fur they would have needed some heavy duty insulation to make them feel at home in such cold weather.

It is unlikely that cryptozoologists will be rushing up to the nearby Cascade Mountain range in the hope of finding an animal new to science, but at least the excuse provided by the driver is an original one.

Pterosaurs were not “flying Dinosaurs”, they were not Dinosaurs but reptiles, who like the Dinosaurs evolved from the Archosaurs.  Pterosaurs evolved around the middle of the Triassic period and they were the first back-boned animals to take up an aerial life style.  The Pterosaurs were around for 160 million years, with the last of their kind becoming extinct at the very end of the Cretaceous – 65 million years ago.

It is thought that the rapid expansion of the birds during the later stages of the Cretaceous hastened their decline, with only the likes of the Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus genera lasting until the very end of the Age of Reptiles.

To view a model of Pteranodon: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Everything Dinosaur’s Annual Stock Take

Getting Busy in the Warehouse – Everything Dinosaur is Taking Stock

During the period between Christmas and New Year, team members at Everything Dinosaur like to get busy in the warehouse carrying out a stock check on all the dinosaurs and prehistoric animal models in our range.  This also gives us the opportunity to make room for all the new dinosaur models and other dinosaur toys we are expecting to arrive after the Chinese New Year.  The work is quite hard, as every item of stock in the warehouse has to be counted and checked against our computer stock inventory and the manual stock sheets, however, we all muck in together and plenty of mince pies helps to keep us all going.

The stock take usually lasts a couple of days and our aim is that by the time it is finished, we will have space available on our warehouse shelves for new products, we will have an accurate stock count for our accounts department and we will have eaten all the mince pies.

New Dinosaur Skeleton found in Victoria (Australia)

Partial Hypsilophodontid Skeleton from Victoria Described.

A team of palaeontologists working on the rugged coastline of Victoria state have uncovered the first partial skeleton of a dinosaur, the first such find in the area for nearly 20 years.  The team led by scientists from the Museum Victoria and Monash University have published their findings on a small plant-eating dinosaur found near Cape Otway

This small dinosaur, known as a Hypsilophodontid, part of the Ornithopod group, probably stood about a metre tall and would have been a fast runner.  The rocks the fossil was found in date from approximately 106 million years ago (Lower Cretaceous – Albian faunal stage).

It is only the third partial skeleton of a dinosaur ever found in Victoria. The first two – of similar dinosaurs – were found about 20 kilometres away at the famous site known as Dinosaur Cove.  Since then, only isolated dinosaur bones and teeth have been found in Victoria.

Research leader and Museum Victoria vertebrate paleontologist Tom Rich, who with his wife Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich of Monash has led and funded the dinosaur operations in Victoria since 1978, have named and described a number of Hypsilophodontids including Leaellynasaura and Qantassaurus

The latest discovery, from a sandstone shore platform, was first uncovered by the research team in November 2005, but details had not been publicly reported.

The fossils reveal the rear half of the dinosaur’s spinal column, including the tail and a foot.  Unfortunately, the front half of the fossil had already been washed away by the sea.  However, tests carried out in the area reveals that this was probably a prehistoric log jam caused as rivers in flood gathered materials in a certain spot.  This may mean that other fossils and evidence from the Cretaceous will have been preserved at this site, so there might be more dinosaur remains waiting to be discovered.

Around 106 million years ago this part of Australia was located approximately 75 degrees south, these little Hypsilophodontids would have inhabited a polar forest, enduring freezing temperatures in the long southern hemisphere winter and survived in total darkness for 3-4 months of the year as the sun remained below the horizon.

One of the peculiarities about this group of little dinosaurs, is how they got their names.  Leaellynasaura was named after Tom Rich and Professor Patricia Vickers-Riches’ daughter.  Fair enough, but due to the sponsorship of the dig site and the support required from commerical organisations for the researchers to actually extract the fossils, some dinosaurs have ended up with strange names.  For example, Qantassaurus is named after the Australian national airline, an important sponsor, and the small Hypsilophodontid Atlascopcosaurus was named after Atlas Copco, another company that helped fund the dig and supplied important equipment.

An articulated partial skeleton of an Atlascopcosaurus found at the Dinosaur Cove mine provides an insight into the lives of these little dinosaurs.  The left tibia (the shin bone) shows signs of an acute infection of the bone (osteomyelitis).  Such a condition would have made this animal incapable of moving very far and would have effectively crippled it.  However, this Atlascopcosaurus lived for many years with this painful condition.  Scientists have speculated that this animal may have been part of a small family group and it was its clan members that looked after it.   Also, this fossil evidence may indicate that these animals were year-round residents of the polar forests and did not migrate backwards and forwards following the sun, as some scientists have postulated.  This Atlascopcosaurus would not have been capable of making such a long journey.  Finally, the crippled Atlascopcosaurus may indicate that there were few predators around, as such a severe handicap would have made this little dinosaur an easy meal for any passing Theropod.

China Crisis – Can we expect a Peasants Revolt over Fossil Legislation?

Potential Trouble over new Chinese Law making all Fossils State Property

The Liaoning Province of northeastern China has become world-renowned for the amazing prehistoric animal fossils that have been recovered from its sediments.  Indeed, much of the current work on the relationship between birds and Theropod dinosaurs would not be taking place had not little feathered dinos such as Sinosauropteryx and Sinornithosaurus been discovered.  Despite the considerable palaeontological resources of scientific bodies such as the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology based in Beijing, it is not possible to explore this vast hinterland without the help and co-operation of the local peasant farmers.

Many local farmers have supplemented their meagre earnings from agriculture by digging pits into the fine sediments, finding fossils and selling them onto dealers and brokers, or even direct to the research institutes Thousands of individual specimens have been found by the peasants, carefully picking through layer upon layer of rocks and doing much of the “donkey” work for the palaeontologists.

This kind of “free market” approach has benefited science, a young boy found the first Chinese fossil bird Sinornis and a farmer discovered Sinosauropteryx.  Only a few of the discoveries made to date have actually been made by palaeontologists and researchers, it is the farmers and peasants that have made the discoveries.  Naturally, the locals are curious to hear more about the strange,ancient creatures lurking in the ground but the real incentive is the possibility of finding an excellent specimen and cashing in on it.

However, a new law which came into force in 2006 is now beginning to make its presence felt.  The new law makes all dinosaur fossils state property, its aim is to cut down on the amount of small time excavation work and to prevent fossils being sold to dealers who then smuggle these items out for sale on the black market.    In November, matters came to a head when the issue of who actually owes fossil finds led to a court case in the central Henan province, where seven peasants were jailed for trying to prevent local officials from confiscating fossils they had collected.

If farmers are prevented from selling fossils openly, they will either give up digging, which could dramatically cut the supply of specimens to the museums or they could go literally “underground” and sell everything illegally on the black market.  Which ever route is taken it spells bad news for palaeontologists.  They will lose a keen and willing workforce with local knowledge and a lot of fossils will simply leave the country via various illegal means and be lost to science forever as these finds will be destined for the private collections of the wealthy individuals of Europe, Japan and the USA.

Perhaps a balance could be struck with the setting up of  local, unbiased vetting stations.  Finds could be brought in by the farmers for examination by scientific staff, who the state could provide funds to, allowing them to purchase any finds.  Those fossils not deemed worthy of further study could be returned to the discoverer who would then be free to sell his fossil on the open market.  No matter what system is proposed there is always the possibility of misrepresentation and corruption.  However, if the palaeontologists and the state museums are given the funds to allow them to have first choice of the fossil finds, then the peasants will be disinclined to turn to the black market and they will be properly rewarded for their digging.

We suspect there are many more amazing discoveries awaiting us in the vast fossil rich sediments of China, how many actually see the light of day, how many end up in private collections before they have a chance to be studied has yet to be decided.

The dinosaurs from Liaoning and other parts of China have helped to revolutionise the way scientists think, thanks to these amazing discoveries our knowledge of dinosaurs and their kin has been changed forever.  At Everything Dinosaur we are being asked more questions about feathered dinosaurs than 2 years ago, they really seemed to have captured people’s imaginations.  We are working on a number of feathered dinosaur projects, for example new models are being introduced by most of the major model manufacturers that reflect these new ideas and dinosaur interpretations.

One of our popular sales products this Christmas has been the Feathered Dinosaur Tube, a set of models showing feathered and non-avian dinosaurs.  These models have been designed by the palaeontologists at the American Museum of Natural History (New York) and the tubes contain a variety of dinosaur models including the likes of Microraptor, a feathered Velociraptor, Caudipteryx, the small Theropod Dilong as well as some non-feathered dinosaurs such as Chasmosaurus and Protoceratops to keep them company.

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

An Illustration of the Typical Contents of a Feathered Dinosaur Tube

A set of feathered dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

What to buy the person who has Everything?

Forget the Boxing Day Sales – how about Bidding for a Tyrannosaur at an Auction?

Today is the day when lots of people brave the high street crowds in a bid to snap up a bargain at the traditional Christmas holiday sales.  Lots of shoppers may be looking for the latest HD ready television or the next game for their X-box 360 but if you want to purchase something a little different this year then an auction house based in the famous ski resort of Aspen (Colorado), is offering a Tyrannosaurs head for sale.

However, be prepared to face up to some high rollers as dinosaur fossils and other prehistoric relics are being purchased by celebrities and other well-to-do folk.  With a price tag of £225,000, this Tyrannosaur skull is going to take a big bite out of your Christmas budget.

True enough, dinosaur fossils have become extremely cache over the last few years with many movie stars and celebrities purchasing rare items for their own private collections.  Last summer Nicholas Cage and Leonardo Di Caprio went head-to-head bidding for another Tyrannosaur skull at a Beverley Hills auction house.

To read this article: Dinosaur Bidding Wars

The Tyrannosaur skull has been classified as belonging to a Tarbosaurus bataar (means alarming reptile), a Late Cretaceous, Asian relative of Tyrannosaurus rex.

The 45 kilogramme skull which consists of about 75% fossil material, the remainder being restoration materials used to complete the skull, is being auctioned by the Nature Gallery by Rick Rolater, the gallery owner.

Gallery Owner Rick Rolater with the Restored Tarbosaurus Skull

Picture Credit: Aspen Times

Rick has specialised in the sale of unusual and rare collectibles for more than 30 years, explaining people’s interest in the fossil he stated; “I think all of us are fascinated with dinosaurs”.

Tarbosaurus was an Asian Tyrannosaur that lived in the Late Cretaceous.  Its remains were first found in the late 1940s when a joint Mongolian/Soviet expedition explored the Gobi desert.  It may have reached lengths of 14 metres or so, making it the largest predator in the area at the time and top of the food chain.  Despite the relatively abundant skull material that has been recovered (skull material is very important as it helps palaeontologists trace relationships between different genera); it is still debated whether Tarbosaurus is a separate genus.  There is a lot of conjecture as to whether this animal is sufficiently different from Tyrannosaurs to be granted its own distinct genus.  What is for certain is that whether or not Tarbosaurs and Tyrannosaurs are different enough to merit their own individual genera, they are very closely related.

The Tyrannosaur family tree remains shrouded in controversy. The lack of fossil evidence makes it very difficult to piece together the relationships between all the different types of Tyrannosauroidae.  The earliest Tyrannosaur remains have been ascribed to a small bipedal dinosaur found in Portugal but this has been challenged recently with possible Jurassic Tyrannosaur finds in China (Guanlong – estimated to be 160 million years old).

At Everything Dinosaur we have been able to source a beautifully illustrated poster that shows the evolution of Tyrannosaurs.  It explains how these predators came to dominate food chains and charts their rise to prominence (and infamy) in the dinosaur pecking order.

The Evolution of the Tyrannosaurs Poster

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To purchase poster: Dinosaur Books for Kids

A founder of the chain of Discovery channel stores in the USA, Rick commented that his reputation as a seller of rare items and his network of contacts in the fossil hunting community enabled him to land the most prized items for sale at his Aspen gallery.  Mr Rolater has run a similar venture at the exclusive ski resort of Beaver Creek before opening the gallery in nearby Aspen in 2005.

The well preserved skull is one of six that were exported out of Mongolia about 10 years ago.  The skulls of large Theropods are extremely scarce and this sale represents a rare opportunity to purchase a piece of palaeontology all for yourself.  After all, they stopped making Tyrannosaur skulls about 65 million years ago!

Christmas Dinner links Dinosaurs to Birds

Your Christmas Dinner Provides Evidence of Dinosaurs Close Relation to Birds

The idea that certain dinosaurs such as Velociraptor, Caudipteryx and even Tyrannosaurus rex were quite closely related to modern birds is now accepted by most scientists.  Many lay people believe that this theory is quite modern, the idea of dinosaurs being related to birds coming about due to the amazing discoveries of feathered dinosaurs in places such as the Liaoning province in China.  However, this idea has been around for at least 140 years.  Thomas Huxley, the English scientist and supporter of Charles Darwin first proposed a special classification for dinosaurs and birds, grouping them together in their own Order called “Sauropsida” demonstrating their close relationship.  He studied the anatomical links between birds and reptiles and listed a number of characteristics that are shared between certain dinosaurs and birds, thus demonstrating that they must be closely related.  He published his work in 1867, making the theory about a link between dinosaurs and birds much older than most people think.

A Photograph of Thomas Huxley

Picture Credit: Southampton University

The picture above shows a young Thomas Huxley soon to become one of the most eminent biologists of the Victorian era.

Christmas is an ideal time for young, budding palaeontologists to explore the links between dinosaurs and birds and you don’t need a Victorian anatomy collection to do this – just your Christmas dinner.

You can spot several features in your Christmas roast Turkey, Goose or Chicken that helps link these birds to the Theropod dinosaurs (the lizard-hipped group of dinosaurs that scientists believe are the direct ancestors of birds).

Here is the Everything Dinosaur guide to dissecting your Christmas roast so that you can demonstrate the close anatomical relationship between dinosaurs and our modern feathered friends.  All you need is a sharp knife (parents to assist here), and you can see for yourself some of the triats that link your Christmas dinner with the likes of a ferocious Velociraptor.

The Everything Dinosaur Christmas Dinner Autopsy

 

There are a number of features in a roast turkey/goose/chicken dinner that you can identify that links these birds with their Dinosauria ancestors, but today we shall focus on just two, the breast bone (flight muscles) and the wishbone (the furcula).  Once the bird has been cooked and has been taken out of the oven to rest, with a bit of careful carving you can see these characteristics for yourself.

Anatomical Feature 1 – Breast bone and Flight Muscles

Carefully peel back the skin of the bird away from the breast, a word of caution here, even if the bird has been resting out of the oven for a few minutes the meat under the skin will still be hot so take care.  Once the skin has been removed you can see the white breast meat.  This meat is attached to the breast bone or sternal plate.  Birds and dinosaurs share a similar sternal plate.  The large area of white meat on the breasts is actually a muscle called the major pectoralis.  This is the muscle which powers the down stroke of a bird’s wing.

A Picture of the Major Pectoralis Muscle (on our Christmas dinner)

The arrow shows the muscle

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To visit Everything Dinosaur website:  Everything Dinosaur Homepage

The red arrow is pointing to the major pectoralis muscle on the right-hand side of the bird.

Underneath this muscle is another major flight muscle called the supracoracoideus.  This one is very easy to find in your Christmas roast, simply carefully remove the larger major pectoralis in strips and this will expose a long, lozenge shaped supracoracoideus muscle.  This is the muscle that powers the upward movement of a bird’s wing in flight.

A Picture of the Supracoracoideus (on our Christmas dinner)

The arrow shows the muscle

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The red arrow is pointing to the supracoracoideus muscle, it is quite easy to recognise being a sort of tongue or lozenge shaped muscle directly under the white breast meat of the bird.

We therefore have identified the following muscles in our Christmas dinner:

            The major pectoralis – that powers the downward stroke of a wing beat

            The supracoracoideus – which raises the wing

We can trace the evolution of this muscle across Theropod dinosaurs.  These muscles sit on the breast bone (sternal plate) which is present in a variety of non-avian dinosaurs.  Palaeontologists can study the fossilised muscle scars on the bones of dinosaurs, this is why we know that animals such as Velociraptor had these muscles present.

Anatomical Feature 2 – The Wishbone (the Furcula)

You can now remove these  flight muscles to reveal the wishbone, take the wishbone out.  The wishbone is formed by the fusion of two collarbones (the scientific name is clavicles); and is a feature present in both birds and dinosaurs.  In birds it strengthens the skeleton to withstand the rigours of flight.  The scientific name for the wishbone is the furcula.

The Wishbone from our Christmas Dinner

Furcula (wishbone)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Wishbones have been associated with a number of excavated Theropod fossils.

Oviraptor (first one found in the 1980s) – quite advanced more closely resembling the wishbones we find in birds.  Other dinosaur wishbones discovered:

Velociraptor (another advanced wishbone design).

Bambiraptor, Albertosaurus, Gorgosaurus, Allosaurus and T.rex the biggest wishbone found to date (measures approximately 35cm long and is shaped like a boomerang with a thick end and a slightly thinner end).

If the furcula is added to the skeleton of a Theropod then the whole arrangement of the shoulderblades and the arm bones is called into question.  Debate is ongoing whether the presence of a wishbone in certain dinosaurs would have altered palaeontologist’s interpretation as to the location of the shoulders and arms of these dinosaurs.

A Picture of an Albertosaurus without the Furcula

The wishbone is absent

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The above picture was taken by a member of the Everything Dinosaur team on one of their many visits to the Royal Tyrrell museum in Alberta, Canada.  In an exhibit of Albertosaurus, an exhibit that had been mounted quite a few years ago, the forelimbs are shown to be spaced far about and no furcula has been added to this reconstruction.

A Picture of a Tyrannosaurus rex “Stan” with a Furcula

The arrow shows the wishbone in the mounted skeleton

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above is a snap of the mounted cast of the “Stan” Tyrannosaurus rex.

The red arrow indicates where the wishbone or furcula has been reconstructed on top of the scapulae (the shoulder blades).  This “U” or “V’” shaped bone has been found in a number of Theropods, it may have been in contact with the anterior edges of the scapulae, coracoids and sterna (breastbone).  Note how as a result of the addition of a furcula the position of the arms has been changed.  The scapulae are positioned much closer together, which in turn positions the arms in closer proximity to each other.

There are other features of your Christmas dinner that we could use to illustrate the close anatomical relationship between birds and the Theropod dinosaurs, the articulation of the hip-bone, the position of the legs under the body, the feet and such like, but we will save these for another time.

Meanwhile, the Christmas pudding is waiting and we think that we have dissected enough of our dinner, but there you have it – proof on your plate as to how closely related dinosaurs are to birds.

Merry Christmas.

Robotic Reptiles set to star in Real Life “Jurassic Park”

Dubai’s Ruling Family Plans Robotic Prehistoric Animal Theme Park

Moving away from their dependence upon oil revenues, developing the state of Dubai as a world class destination has been the vision of the Al-Maktoums, Dubai’s ruling family for some time.  The waterfront along the city of Dubai has been completely redeveloped over the last few years with a huge boom in tourist attraction construction, from the building of famous landmarks such as the seven star Burj Al Arab, the giant sail-shaped hotel to the creation of artificial islands to enhance the areas leisure facilities.

Now a new attraction called “Restless Planet” will take visitors on an amazing tour of the Earth’s history, with the star attractions being a number of high-tech, super realistic giant animatronic prehistoric creatures.  There are plans to feature more than 100 robotic animals, a total of 40 different species in a visual panorama of the Mesozoic era – a sort of “Jurassic Park” but in real life.  The aim of the attraction is to create a cross between a conventional museum and a theme park with the robotic animals reacting to visitors as they roam freely throughout the exhibit.

Imagine how a party of tourists might feel when, on hearing their approach a 40 foot Tyrannosaurus suddenly wheels round and roars at them!

For Audrey O’Connell, the museum’s project co-coordinator one of the biggest tasks is to re-create Mesozoic landscapes which are scientifically accurate.  To assist her she has called upon the expertise of the Natural History museum in London plus the world renowned American palaeontologist Jack Horner.  Jack, an expert on late Cretaceous dinosaurs (Hadrosaurs are his favourite), advised Steven Spielberg on the Jurassic Park films.  Jack, with his long hair, dark beard and penchant for wearing stetsons  even inspired a character from the second movie – “The Lost World”.  Unfortunately, this character, one of the palaeontologists with the larger Hammond expedition ended up being eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Audrey stated “we wanted to create a hybrid of a theme park and a museum which would allow people to experience a Jurassic era habitat in a scientifically realistic environment”.

This new attraction will be sited just 6 miles from the coast in an area of development called the City of Arabia and it should be open in 2010, although once opened the attraction management team hope to be able to continually update their exhibits to reflect new discoveries and new research into prehistoric animals.

It will be the size of 10 football pitches and consist of two climate-controlled buildings, one of them dome-shaped. It will contain grassland and woodland divided into several different micro-environments, within which the various animals will wander.  As well as the dinosaurs, pterosaurs will swoop overhead and amphibians will swim in a large, artificial lake.

The park’s developers hope to set new standards in the realism of animatronics in the same way that Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Jurassic Park was a landmark in computer graphics with its dramatic portrayal of dinosaurs on screen.

An international team of scientists led by the museum are advising on the accuracy of details such as the stretching of the dinosaurs’ skin, their colour, the flaring of their nostrils and the smell of their breath.

In addition to the dinosaurs, the park will include displays showing the development of Earth from the big bang to the creation of oceans and mountains, before arriving in the age of the dinosaurs. An adjoining exhibition hall will house temporary exhibitions, some of which are likely to be loaned from leading Natural History museums.

The Dubai project is the first of a series of four scientific theme park-style attractions which the museum plans to develop overseas.  It seems apt that having built up the state on a fossil fuel economy, that other fossils should now act as the inspiration for the development of Dubai as a major tourist attraction.

The emphasis will be on realism, with realistic prehistoric animals wandering a realistic prehistoric landscape.

Below is a copy of the press release sourced from the Restless Planets own site:

Imagine going back 100 million years or more… to feel the power of the cosmic forces that helped shape our planet, and come face to face with giant dinosaurs. Restless Planet is a unique electronic media and natural history experience… where visitors enter a prehistoric world.

Restless Planet offers the world’s ultimate theme ride back into the mists of time – through the state-of-the-art electronics of today. Here, in the glittering new City of Arabia, you are transported back millions of years into the prehistoric kingdom of the dinosaurs. The world-renowned Natural History Museum of London has drawn on the elite of science, entertainment and technology expertise to realise the dream of bringing these giant creatures and the mysteries of the nature of our planet to life.

Along with the acclaimed dinosaur authority Jack Horner, Tokyo-based animatronics team Kokoro have recreated the real life creatures of the Jurassic era, the visitor experience is designed by international theme park specialists Jack Rouse Associates and is enclosed by a 75-metre dome, designed by international specialists firm RH Architects.

Gathered from the latest research available, the creators of the Restless Planet transport you into an age where earth-shattering events impacted the world. From earthquakes, eruptions and meteor strikes, the evolving shape of our planet will come alive before your eyes.

Step back in time to when our Earth was young. Feel your heart race as you travel through a Jurassic landscape alongside gigantic dinosaurs. Restless Planet is a unique, world-class natural history phenomenon, designed to draw tourists and investment and put Dubai into the scientific spotlight on the international stage.

A first of its kind in the world, Restless Planet will respond to breaking dinosaur discoveries through an ongoing programme of exhibits, announcements and events. No visit to Dubai will be complete without the thrill of stepping into our primitive world. Real natural history and entertainment – more exciting and authentic than ever before, and an attraction for all ages.”

With the world-wide “Walking with Dinosaurs” tour continuing to pack stadia I am sure this attraction will prove a success.  However, whether or not they are able to satisfy the keen eyed palaeontologists on the exhibits accuracy is a different kettle of animatronic fish.  For example, in the publicity DVD to promote the park, a tracking shot of Brachiosaurs and Stegosaurs majestically walking across a plain is interrupted by the passing overhead of a large Pterosaur.  The problem is that the flying reptile is clearly modelled on an Pteranodon ingens, pterosaurs like this evolved long after the likes of Brachiosaurs and Stegosaurs had disappeared – never mind.

Why did Spinosaurus have a Sail on its Back?

Theories on Spinosaurus – the Sail-back Dinosaur

Spinosaurus was one of the most spectacular looking meat-eating dinosaurs.  Like most of the big carnivores, fossils of this bizarre animal are extremely rare.  As animals move up the food chain, their numbers become smaller and they make up an ever decreasing proportion of the ecosystem, which means it is less likely for any of them to be preserved as fossils.  For example, scientists in Canada and the western United States can conduct studies on duck-billed dinosaurs (herbivores) that involve hundreds of skeletons, yet in contrast there are only about 30 known fossils of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Spinosaurus is even less well-known, this is because a number factors have conspired to leave us with little fossil evidence of this dinosaur.  There are few Spinosaurus remains partly because as a meat-eater and at the top of the food chain there were fewer of them around at any one time and also because the area of Africa that Spinosaurus lived in during the Cretaceous has still to be fully explored.  Unfortunately, the 20th Century has been particularly unkind to this dinosaur, with the best fossils of Spinosaurus being destroyed in a bombing raid over Germany during WWII.

Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach, a German palaeontologist and geologist found the first fossils of Spinosaurus (1912), in an area approximately 300 kilometres south-west of Cairo, Egypt.  A number of German funded and led expeditions were despatched to north Africa between 1911 and 1914, Spinosaurus was named and described by Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach in 1915.  Estimates of its size vary, with most scientists stating that these animals grew to lengths in excess of 12 metres and they may have weighed as much as 4 tonnes.

 

An Illustration of Spinosaurus (S. aegyptiacus)

A drawing of Spinosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Over the last ten years or so more partial remains of Spinosaurs have been found.  There are now believed to have been two species of Spinosaurus around during the mid Cretaceous (approximately 95 million years ago).  The larger species S. aegyptiacus from Egypt and a less well known, smaller species from Morocco (S. marocannus), which was named and described in 1996.  Spinosaurus marocannus has yet to be universally accepted as a different species, it is still classified as “Nomen dubium” – a name given to an animal whose validity is still in doubt.

In 2005, Cristiano Dal Sasso and his colleagues at the Civic Natural History museum in Milan, Italy, carried out a study of the partial remains of a Spinosaurus skull that had been discovered just a few years earlier.  The assumption had always been that the original Spinosaurus unearthed in 1912 was a sub-adult and not fully grown.  Using those parts of the skull that they had – mainly parts that formed the upper jaw, this team of scientists calculated skull length and from this they deduced the overall size of this particular specimen.  They concluded that the skull would have exceeded 1.75 metres in length, making it comparable to the size of the biggest Tyrannosaur or Allosauroid skulls known.

They concluded that this creature would have been between 16 – 18 metres long (approaching 60 feet in length) and would have weighed as much as 9 tonnes.  Spinosaurus could lay claim to the title of the biggest meat-eating dinosaur known.

A Size Comparison between Spinosaurus aegyptiacus and Tyrannosaurus rex

Comparing T. rex to Spinosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The above diagram attempts to compare the projected sizes of T. rex and the largest known species of Spinosaurus.  Scientists are still unsure how much Spinosaurus weighed.  It may not have been as heavy as Tyrannosaurus rex but if the Italian led team from the Civic Natural History museum of Milan are correct, the largest Spinosaurs would have been longer than the biggest known T. rex.  The figure of a man (approximately 1.80 metres tall) is given to provide further scale.

The most striking feature about Spinosaurus was undoubtedly its huge sail.  Again estimates vary as to the size of the sail, but most scientists agree that at its highest point it was between 1.5 to 2 metres tall.  Very few fossils of these spines (called neural spines) have been collected.  For example, in the original 1912 specimen only 8 elements of individual neural spines are known, most of which were not found in association with the back vertebrae.  The German scientists had no real idea how these spines fitted together with the backbone, or indeed which order they should be put in.  The photograph of the team’s attempts to reconstruct the backbone show the spines arranged in a nice convex pattern, but the vertebrae connected to the spines for the reconstruction are clearly in the wrong order.

The spines themselves seem to have a broadened out top end, they are sort of spoon shaped or spatula like.  Similar shaped neural spines can be found in bison, these spines help support a fleshy lump on the backs of these animals where fat is stored to help the animals through leaner times.

One of the original Photographs of the Bones making up part of the “Sail” of Spinosaurus

A picture of those extended neural processes

Picture Credit: Washington University in St. Louis

The picture shows the German team’s attempts to reconstruct the sail of the Spinosaurus remains discovered in 1912.  The case in the bottom right of the picture displays the conical teeth of Spinosaurus found with these fossil bones.  Underneath the teeth is the tip of the lower jaw (Dentary) that was also found.

This is the only photographic evidence of Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach’s work on the Spinosaurus fossils, all the other photographs were destroyed by the Allied bombing raid on Munich in 1944.

A number of theories about the sail have been put forward.  It has been suggested that such a big animal could use the structure on its back like a sail on a ship to help it move or at least keep stable as it lumbered along.   A similar theory was put forward many years ago concerning the function of the sail on the back of a mammal-like reptile called Edaphosaurus.

It is believed that Spinosaurus was a fish eater.  There is no proof for this, the arms of Spinosaurus have never been found but as the jaws are similar to Baryonyx (a relative, which scientists believe did eat fish), perhaps the sail was used to cast a shadow over water to attract fish or to let Spinosaurus see fish in the water without the reflection from the water surface to distract it.

Could the sail have acted as a device for helping Spinosaurus warm up quickly in the beginning and end of  the day, as well as helping to keep it cool under the mid-day sun? Palaeontologist believe that the sail area was well supplied with blood vessels, turning to face the sun in the morning would have helped this animal to warm up quickly, perhaps giving it an advantage over the other meat-eaters that roamed north Africa at this time.  Turning directly into the sun at mid-day would have exposed only a small portion of the sail’s surface area to the sun and this would have helped Spinosaurus keep cool.

Another theory has been put forward recently by a young dinosaur fan called Ewan.  He thinks that the sail on the back of Spinosaurus could be a mock spine, that could put off an attacking dinosaur.  We know that Spinosaurus shared its world with some very ferocious carnivores such as Carcharodontosaurus, the spine could make Spinosaurus look bigger than it actually was so it could intimidate predators.  We know from bite marks on Hadrosaurs that the back was a favourite area to target for the big meat-eaters, perhaps the spine helped protect the vulnerable back and neck of Spinosaurus.  Many animals use spines as a form of defence, so why not a Spinosaurus.  It is certainly an interesting theory and without more fossil evidence like the other theories concerning the sail on a Spinosaurus it cannot easily be disproved.

Our own favourite theory concerns a theory put forward recently from palaeontologists who studied the remaining Spinosaurus fossils as well as the drawings made by the German team under the supervision of Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach.  Fortunately, many of these drawing survived the war and they helped to give today’s scientists a unique insight into how flexible the backbone of Spinosaurus was.  From the fragmentary remains and the beautiful pencil and ink drawings from the last century, scientists have calculated that the backbone was quite flexible.  Perhaps Spinosaurus was able to flex its back and spread out the sail like an enormous fan.  If the sail had been brightly coloured it could have been used to attract a mate or to scare off rivals.  Due to recent studies of Theropod brain cases and other evidence amassed from studies of the skulls and in the particular the area where the optic nerve was present, it is now thought that these dinosaurs had excellent eye-sight and colour vision, so a big, colourful signalling device would have been extremely useful.

We are indebted to Ewan and his father for helping to write this article.

Deer-like Fossil Confuses Whale Evolution

Land Dwelling Potential Ancestor of Whales Described

Researchers at the North-eastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy have published a paper on a land dwelling animal that shows links to the ancestry of whales.  The discovery of this animal could possibly provide evidence of a missing link in how terrestrial animals adapted to a marine existence.

Scientists have speculated that the ancestor of whales (cetaceans) was probably a carnivore with the otter-like Ambulocetus from the Eocene being a strong contender.  Ambulocetus means “walking whale” , the remains of this animal, which could reach lengths of 3 metres or more, have been found in Pakistan, now a new fossil from Kashmir, provides further insight into the evolution of modern whales.

This new fossil, which was actually unearthed 30 years previously, but has only recently been studied closely, is of a small deer-like animal, about the size of a large domestic cat, that roamed the dense rain-forests of Kashmir around 48 million years ago.  It had been thought that the ancestors of whales had adapted to a life in water as they hunted fish or became waterside ambush predators similar to crocodiles.  However, this little animal was definitely herbivorous, perhaps taking to an aquatic lifestyle to munch on lush water plants much as rodents like the South American Capybara do today.

This little animal has been named Indohyus,  although the skeleton is not complete the skull has been found and the preserved middle ear structure is identical to that found in the cetacean group.  Isotope analysis of the teeth is a little ambiguous, but has led to speculation that this animal was probably a herbivore and that it may have fed in water, although another interpretation of this data would conclude that Indohyus probably fed on land but spent a lot of time in an aquatic environment.

An Artists Impression of Indohyus

Picture Credit: The superb natural history illustrator Carl Buell

The diagram above shows a little Indohyus happy under the water, the animal had a long tail,  this was almost the length of its body.  The tail may have been flattened and broadened to help it to swim.

Lead researcher Hans Thewissen commented “what we think happened is that the ancestors of both Indohyus and whales were animals that looked like tiny deer”.  Discussing the apparent herbivorous habit of Indohyus he added “apparently the dietary shift to hunting animals, as modern whales do, came later than the habitat shift to the water”.

The research team, whose work has just been published in the journal Nature conclude that Indohyus was probably not a direct ancestor of modern cetaceans as the fossil remains of this little animal date 48 million years ago, whilst remains of marine mammals such as Pakicetus date from at least 50 million years ago.

Staypressed theme by Themocracy