All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//February
19 02, 2008

Nemicolopterus Illustration

By | February 19th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings|0 Comments

Illustrating a Pterosaur

Our knowledge of the Pterosauria has grown remarkably over the last decade or so.  There have been some fantastic flying reptile fossil discoveries in Europe, South America (Brazil) and China.  One of Everything Dinosaur’s favourite illustrations of a recent Pterosaur discovery is this lovely image of the small, insect eating Nemicolopterus.

Nemicolopterus Illustrated

Small agile flier.

Small agile flier.

Picture Credit: Michael Skrepnick

To read more about what is believed to be one of the smallest members of the Pterosauria discovered to date: Tiny Pterosaur from China

We really like this picture as it shows a Pterosaur with a dragonfly which gives the viewer a sense of scale and there is a Maidenhair branch (Ginkgo) in the illustration too.  This flying reptile had a wing span of around 25 centimetres and it has been named Nemicolopterus crypticus.

18 02, 2008

Recent Gales Reveal Ancient Rock Carvings in Scotland

By | February 18th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

5,000 Year old Rock Carving Uncovered in Scotland

An ancient rock carving showing strange dice-like objects has been uncovered on a mountain bike trail near the small town of Lochgilphead in western Scotland.

The rock carving, is believed to be 5,000 years old, putting it in the late Neolithic Stone Age although some observers have suggested it could be a little younger perhaps dating from the early Bronze Age.  For years, the rock art has remained hidden and protected from the elements by a huge tree in the Forestry Commission Scotland’s Achnabreac Forest, however, winter gales blew the tree down in January and a routine inspection by Forestry Commission staff led to the discovery.

The rock sits high above the mouth of Kilmartin Glen and directly overlooks the rock art previously discovered at nearby Cairnbaan.  Its close location to the other rock art sites, visual relationship with both sites, and the similar complexity of design suggests all three sites are connected, although experts remain puzzled as to what these symbols mean.

Andy Buntin, Planning Operations forester with Forestry Commission Scotland in west Argyll, said: “It seems this time the damage and disruption caused by the gales has uncovered something good”.

The significance of these sites to the Neolithic people of Scotland is a topic of speculation. During this period sedentary farming practices had been established in the area and the development of hardened, polished stone axes had led to clearing of land for settlement and to establish grazing for domesticated livestock.  Perhaps the carvings, represent boundaries between grazing areas, rights of ownership on grazing or point out nearby water sources or good hunting grounds.  Many tribal cultures use signs on local landmarks to communicate with other tribes, demonstrate boundaries and provide helpful messages to visitors to the area.  For example, some tribes of native American Indians used to carve symbols into large trees or stake skins to the bark to indicate what type of animals could be hunted in the area – a sort of helpful guide to passers by as to what might be on the menu.

The rock is very close to the popular Fire Tower mountain bike trail, the Forestry Commission will re-route part of the trail to ensure the carving is protected and will open up access for people to view the rock.

This part of Scotland would have made an ideal area for a Neolithic settlement, the river Add and the many small lochs would have provided a water source and the opportunity to fish, there was plenty of wood for fuel and to provide cover for hunting and the nearby coast would have enabled the locals to beach-comb in search of shellfish.  Although the area is fairly rugged it is sheltered to some extent from the worst of the Atlantic storms by the nearby island of Jura.

The people of the Neolithic were also the builders of the stone circles, the henges and burial Cairns that pepper the landscape of this part of northern Britain. The exact nature or purpose of these monuments is still unknown, but many of them can be explored and it is amazing to re-trace the steps taken by some of the first settlers of Scotland.

17 02, 2008

Principles of Geology – The Law of Superposition

By | February 17th, 2008|Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

A Brief Tribute to Nicolaus Steno – The Law of Superposition

Team members at Everything Dinosaur are already working on a number of events to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin in 2009.  However, there were many thinkers, philosophers and educated people who applied scientific processes to try to explain the world around them, long before Darwin.   One such person was the Dane Nicolaus Steno, born 370 years ago who decided at an early age to live by the principle that one should not believe everything they read, but set out to investigate, observe and come to their own conclusions – even if these conclusions challenge the accepted doctrine of the time.

Nicolaus Steno (sometimes Latinised to Nicolaus Stenonis or referred to in Danish as Niels Stensen), was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1638, once he has completed his formal education he travelled extensively in Europe working with a number of notable scientists and thinkers of the time including the likes of Galileo.  His enquiring mind and observational skills led him to improve the understanding of human anatomy and some aspects of medicine, but his fascination with the world around him led him to make some extremely important insights into the age and formation of the Earth.  His published accounts of how layers of rock (strata) are formed, challenged much of the established view on the formation of the Earth and life upon it.  Until Steno and his contemporaries, ideas like the Earth was extremely old and that fossils represented once living organisms were not accepted.  The Biblical view of life and the formation of the Earth dominated, a viewpoint that 200 years later led to Darwin’s delay in the publishing of his theory on evolution and still holds sway with many people today.

An Image of Nicolaus Steno

Image Credit: stenomusee.dk

For Nicolaus, despite some his research challenging the accepted views of the church and the state, religion still played an important role in his life.  He converted to Catholicism in 1667 and in 1675 became a priest, rising quickly through the hierarchy of the church to become the bishop of north Germany and Scandinavia.  The year before his conversion Nicolaus was presented with the head of a huge shark that had been caught off the coast of Tuscany.  His reputation had permitted him to obtain the patronage of many wealthy families and it was the Grand Duke of Tuscany who had ordered the shark’s head to be sent to Nicolaus for dissection.

Whilst studying the shark, Steno noted that the teeth resembled stony objects that had been found embedded in rocks.  These items (now known to be the fossils of shark teeth) were called “Tongue stones”, it was thought at the time that these objects had fallen to Earth from the moon and that they possessed magical properties.  When worn as amulets they warded off danger and if dipped in poison they would render the poison ineffective.

Other scientists at the time, thought that these strange objects along with other items we now know as fossils, simply grew in rock formations.  Nicolaus Steno was not the first person to note the similarity between these permineralized teeth and the teeth of living sharks, but he did develop the current theories at the time and began to explore the physical and chemical processes that may have led to the change in state of these objects and their preservation.

Steno’s work on shark teeth led him to the question of how any solid object could come to be found inside another solid object, such as a rock or a layer of rock. The “solid bodies within solids” that attracted Steno’s interest included not only fossils, as we would define them today, but minerals, crystals, encrustations, veins, and even entire rock layers or geological strata.  Nicolaus theorised that layers of rock formed by deposition – sedimentary rocks laid down in a sequence, the older rocks would be at the bottom with younger rocks on top.  This is a fundamental principle of stratigraphy (the study of strata).

Unless strata has been overturned, which may sometimes happen during mountain building or other geological processes, the deeper the rock layers the older they will be.  Strata could therefore be dated relative to one another.

As Steno stated in his work published in 1669, entitled Dissertationis prodromus:

“at the time when any given stratum was being formed, all the matter resting upon it was fluid, and, therefore, at the time when the lower stratum was being formed, none of the upper strata existed”.

This fundamental principle became known as the Law of Superposition – the fact that bottom layers of rock must have been formed first with layers on top being progressively younger in relation to the layers underneath.   Although, other writers had eluded to this in earlier work, it was Nicolaus Stenos who first formulated this law, a cornerstone (no pun intended) of modern geology.  His work was subsequently developed by other writers and thinkers, but his theories were crucial in helping later 18th and 19th Century scientists interpret and understand geology.

So as we plan events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of birth of Darwin we will also be thinking about the other great people who have made and continue to make a contribution to the science of geology and palaeontology, after all 2009 may mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin but it also marks the 340th anniversary of the publishing of Steno’s Law of Superposition.

16 02, 2008

New Species of Tiny Pterosaur Found in China

By | February 16th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|1 Comment

Rare Fossil Find – A Tiny Pterosaur from the Ancient Cretaceous Forests of China

“Flapping about quite at home in its arboreal environment, jumping between bennettitales, cycads and conifers a tiny Pterosaur flies upwards and perches safely on the uppermost branches of a ginkgo whilst a dinosaur rumbles by far below.”

Until now scientists, could only speculate as to what sort of Pterosaurs lived in forest and jungle environments.  These habitats do not lend themselves easily to fossil preservation and palaeontologists have had to content themselves with the occasional find that provides a glimpse into the dark forest environments of the Mesozoic.  In addition, the light and delicate bones of Pterosaurs could easily be damaged and crushed well before burial and fossilisation could take place, so scientists have had to content themselves with a few rare finds from inland ecosystems, concentrating their Pterosaur research on those specimens preserved in marine sediments, where generally the chances of fossilisation are higher.  Also, marine environments being relatively open would permit larger organisms and their relatively larger bones would perhaps have  a greater chance of surviving the fossilisation process.

However, thanks to an amazing discovery by a joint Brazilian and Chinese team, scientists have the chance to study the fossils of a tiny, forest Pterosaur from the Lower to Middle Cretaceous.  Discovered in western Liaoning the remains of the smallest Pterosaur species on record reveal that there were flying reptiles with wingspans no bigger than a garden robin’s sharing the forests with dinosaurs.  Although some of the later Pterosaurs evolved into huge animals – Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus for example, scientists had speculated that there were many thousands of other species of smaller Pterosaurs that filled other ecological niches.

This new species, is thought to be the smallest Pterosaur yet found.  Only one smaller Pterosaur has been found and that was a juvenile that had only just hatched.  The animal has been named Nemicolopterus crypticus, the fossil shows a number of adaptations for a life amongst the tress. For example, the eye sockets are quite large, indicating that this Pterosaur could have coped well with low light levels in the understorey of a dense primeval forest.  The four-toed hind feet had sharp claws, which could possibly have been able to grasp branches, giving this tiny flying reptile a good purchase amongst the tree tops.

Artists Impression of Nemicolopterus crypticus

Picture Credit: Lewis Smith

“Nemicolopterus crypticus presents the best adaptations for an arboreal lifestyle found in any Pterosaur,” the research team from China and Brazil reported.

Interestingly, all the illustrations of this new discovery show this tiny flying reptile predating on insects. There would have been abundant insects within the forest environment for this little creature to hunt.  However, the remains of the jaws show that this little Pterosaur, had no teeth, just like his larger and more illustrious relatives such as Pteranodon.  If it was warm-blooded then insects would have provided a high energy diet to keep the animal active, but it may also be worth considering whether this little chap had another food source, one that would have been virtually exclusive to it – nectar, flowers and fruit

Scientists speculate that at around this time the first flowering plants (Angiosperms) were beginning to evolve.  Small Pterosaurs could have supplemented their insect diets with flowers, nectar and fruit (all high energy food stuffs).  Perhaps little Nemicolopterus specialised in eating these relatively new plants, the toothless beak could have been ideal for exploiting this new food source.  Unfortunately, the very tip of the beak has been lost in fossilisation so scientists are unsure how the end of the beak looked.  This could have yielded vital clues as the eating preference’s of this tiny flier.  To balance the argument it is worth pointing out that many species of birds thrive on insects and arthropods today and they do not have any teeth in their beaks to help them catch these animals (an adaptation long after the days of Archaeopteryx to help Aves lighten themselves to aid powered flight).

Certainly, there must have been many different types of Pterosaur exploiting arboreal niches, the low likelihood of preservation has prevented palaeontologists from studying this particular branch (no pun intended); of the Pterosaur family tree.  The birds were evolving and by the end of the Cretaceous only the very large Azhdarchidae type Pterosaurs remained.  Perhaps birds out competed Pterosaurs for certain ecological niches and this hastened the demise of the Pterosaurs.

To read more about whether birds led to the extinction of flying reptiles: Did the birds wipe out the Pterosaurs?

Within the sediments of Liaoning, there may be other fossils waiting to be discovered that can shed more light on the lives of the forest dwelling Pterosaurs.

15 02, 2008

Ancient Carnivores Uncovered In Niger – Paul Sereno Strikes Again!

By | February 15th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Ancient Carnivores of Gondwanaland – Ancestors of the Biggest Meat-eaters of All

A team of palaeontologists from the University of Chicago led by Paul Sereno have published papers on two new carnivores from Gondwanaland, the ancestors of the biggest dinosaur meat-eaters of all.

These two dinosaurs date from the Albian fauna stage of the Lower Cretaceous (approximately 110 million years ago), one was possibly a specialist scavenger, the other a fierce predator, with teeth designed to tackle live prey.  The University of Chicago team have had their work published in the scientific journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. The paper has been co-authored by Paul Sereno and Stephen Brusatte.  Stephen, who worked with Dr Sereno as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and is now based in Britain, commented on the importance of these two finds.   He stated that the different dentition and shape of the skulls gave the scientists an insight into the type of food these animals ate, comparing the 110 million year old fossils to the type of ecosystem found on the Masai Mara with Hyenas and Lions.

The partial, incomplete fossil skeletons were first unearthed in 2000, in the African country of Niger.  Niger has proved to be a lucrative hunting ground for the University of Chicago with Dr Sereno being responsible for a number of prehistoric animal discoveries.

The dinosaurs have been named Kryptops palaios (means old hidden face) and Eocarcharia dinops (means fierce-eyed dawn shark).  Kryptops had a horny ridge covering much of its snout, the blunt muzzle and the relatively small but sharp teeth indicate that this animal may have specialised in scavenging the kills of other predators.  Eocarcharia was about the same size as Kryptops at about 8 metres long and standing 2.2 metres at the hips, it also had a bony brow, typical of the Allosauroidea family.  The re-curved and very sharp teeth of Eocarcharia indicate that this animal was a predator, tackling live prey.  Perhaps Eocarcharia hunted Nigersaurus, the strange long-necked herbivore that may have grazed like a cow.  Nigersaurus has also been researched by Paul Sereno and other scientists from the University of Chicago.

To read more about the peculiar dinosaur Nigersaurus: Nigersaurus – the Dinosaur that grazed like a Cow

The 2000 expedition turned out to be a triumph for the University. Their team found bones from about a dozen new species of prehistoric animals and for good measure the University staff also uncovered one of the richest archaeological sites that has been found in the area.

Dr Sereno is hoping that the Niger Government will build a museum to house some of his discoveries from the area, an important ecosystem during the early Cretaceous, as this part of Gondwanaland was close to the location of the the rift in the southern super-continent that led to the formation of the Atlantic ocean.

An Artist’s Impression of Kryptops

Picture Credit: University of Chicago

The above illustration of Kryptops palaios, depicts this animal as a potential member of the Abelisaurs, this dinosaur is shown as having tiny forelimbs, proportionately even smaller than Tyrannosaurus rex.  The four-fingered hands are so small, scientists are unsure what use they would have been to this animal, perhaps like the Tyrannosaurs of the northern landmasses the Abelisaurs evolved fore-shortened limbs to counterbalance the weight of their large skulls.

Abelisaurs are predominately associated with Gondwanaland.  These large Theropods had deep skulls but relatively light lower jaws and the teeth may have been better suited to gnawing and raking flesh from a carcase than attacking other animals.  Perhaps Abelisaurs had their own peculiar hunting strategies which scientists have not worked out yet.

The best known Abelisaur is probably Carnotaurus (means “meat-eating bull”), which again dates from the Albian faunal stage of the Cretaceous (110 million years ago).  Unlike Kryptops, Carnotaurus heralds from the land that was to become Argentina, its fossils have been found in South America, so it lived on the other side of the geological rift that was opening up to form the Atlantic.

Carnotaurus Model (Natural History Museum)

Abelisaurid Carnotaurus dinosaur model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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

Eocarcharia may well turn out to be a member of the Allosaur family.  Allosaurs died out as the Cretaceous progressed, gradually being replaced by the Abelisaurs and Tyrannosaurs although a number of different Allosaurs survived as “living fossils” on the southern landmasses.  The Allosaur group may have given rise to the largest meat-eating land animals ever, animals such as Carcharodontosaurus (means “shark-toothed lizard”) and Giganotosaurus.  These giant Theropods from Gondwanaland may have grown to lengths of more than 45 feet and weighed 8 Tonnes, making them bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex.  Eocarcharia might be an ancestor of these animals.

An Artist’s Impression of Eocarcharia

New Theropod dinosaur

Picture Credit: University of Chicago

Eocarcharia shows typical Allosaur-like features with grasping three-fingered hands, an “S” shaped neck and powerful hind legs.  The mighty Giganotosaurus may well have evolved from animals similar to Eocarcharia, so this 8 metre Theropod could claim to have a direct link to the largest meat-eating dinosaurs known to date.

Giganotosaurus was a massive animal, capable of picking up a medium sized Iguanodontid in its huge jaws.  Its skull was twice the size of the North America Allosaurus from the famous Morrison Formation of the Upper Jurassic of Utah.

To see a model of Giganotosaurus: Dinosaur Models for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur Toys

Giganotosaurus means “Giant Southern Lizard” and along with other giants such as Mapusaurus it must have terrorised the other animals around at the time.

Chicago Field Museum dinosaur curator Peter Makovicky commented that the discoveries provided scientists with information on how the break up of Gondwanaland may have affected ecosystems and shed more light on continental drift.

“A lot of people think it’s T. rex, it’s Stegosaurus, it’s Triceratops,’’ he said, but it’s much more than that. “Dinosaurs roamed the earth for 100 million years. We are continuously finding more and more and learning more and more from them.’’

Certainly for Paul Sereno and his team, Niger has proved to be a great place to look for new dinosaurs.

14 02, 2008

Viva Mexico – New Duck Billed Dinosaur Discovered “South of the Border”

By | February 14th, 2008|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

New Cretaceous Duck-Billed Dinosaur – Was it a Trumpeter?

A multi-national team of scientists from the University of Utah, the Museo del Desierto in Saltillo in Mexico and the Royal Tyrrell Museum from Alberta, Canada have published a description of a new dinosaur species, the first, truly “Mexican Dinosaur” to be described,  in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

This new dinosaur has been named Velafrons coahuilensis, a Hadrosaur and a probable member of the Lambeosaurine group of crested duck-bills.  The very long, extended nasal passages have led scientists to speculate that this animal could have made loud, trumpeting calls.  Much work has already been carried out on the complex nasal passages of Lambeosaurine Hadrosaurs, the ones with the flamboyant crests.  These large herbivorous dinosaurs may have lived in vast herds and the crests could have been used to distinguish males from females, identify social status in the herd and for display by males (scientists believe the males of many Lambeosaurines like Parasaurolophus and Corythosaurus had bigger crests than females).

The new dinosaur dates from around 72 million years ago (Maastrichtian faunal stage) and although much is known about the dinosaur based ecosystems of parts of the Americas from this time, little is known about the flora and fauna of Mexico.  Sea levels were high during the late Cretaceous and the sea flooded much of north America from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic circle.  Much of the continent of north America we know today was covered by a warm, shallow sea.  The sea separated two areas of land, a narrow strip to the west called Laramidia  and the larger area of land to the east known as Appalachia.

This new specimen has been removed from sediments that were formed where an estuary washed material out into a shallow bay.  It is hoped that many more dinosaur fossils will be found in the locality.  Had flood events occurred there may be a number of dinosaur bone beds waiting to be discovered, providing more information on Velafrons plus the other animals that shared its habitat at the end of the Cretaceous.  Velafrons means “sailed forehead”, this dinosaur has been named after the unique crest on the beautifully reconstructed skull, that took volunteer Jerry Golden of the University of Utah, two years to piece together from the remains extracted from the extremely hard matrix.

The Skull of Velafrons at the University of Utah

Picture Credit: Paul Fraughton/Salt Lake Tribune

Scientists were struck by this dinosaur’s amazing crest, believing it exemplifies a radical evolutionary departure in the geometry of dinosaur heads. The nose bone moved to the top of the head, extending the nasal passage up the face an emerging above the eyes.  It is the arrangement of the naris and nasal passages that has caused scientists to speculate that this dinosaur could trumpet!

The specimen is a 8 metre long juvenile, so perhaps the skull crest was even more spectacular in fully grown adults, which palaeontologists have estimated could reach lengths of 11 metres or more.

More research is required on the specimen but the quantity of the bones recovered makes scientists confident that they can learn a lot from this dinosaur, that resembled a Corythosaurus “helmet lizard”.

To see a model of Corythosaurus: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Palaeontologist Martha Carolina Aguillon made the initial discovery in 1995 in the quarries 27 miles west of Saltillo in north-central Mexico. Like many famous dinosaur finds, she stumbled upon the fossil by accident, noticing tail vertebrae sticking out of the ground as she picked up litter after the visit of a school party.  The hard rock proved difficult to shift, much of the fossil was buried under 3-4 metres of sedimentary rocks, but slowly and surely the fossil was extracted and taken to the University of Utah for further study and restoration.

The team’s efforts were well worthwhile as they have managed to recover 75% of the skeleton.  It is hoped future joint expeditions will be sent to this area in order to explore these sediments and hopefully shed more light on Mexico’s Dinosaurs.  One thing is for certain, if there are as beautiful as Velafrons the scientists will not be disappointed.

13 02, 2008

The classification of Fossils – What’s in a Name (please no more T. Rex)

By | February 13th, 2008|Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

The Classification and Naming of Fossils – Tyrannosaurus rex

Animals, fungi and plants are arranged by scientists into various groupings to assist with the classification of the vast amount of life on this planet.  Extinct organisms are treated in the same way as extant organisms (those which are around today).  All life on Earth belongs to one of three Kingdoms  Animalia, Plantae and another Kingdom for the Fungi, this is the largest grouping of organisms.  Scientists then further sub-divide organisms into other categories, organising creatures, plants and fungi in such a way that common features lead to organisms being associated together until an individual species is defined.  This is the accepted method of classifying life (although cladistics has added a new dimension or two), the principles of this form of classification were laid down by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th Century.

The categories of classification from Kingdom down to the species level is referred to as a taxonomic hierarchy.  Organisms should be classified to reflect evolutionary relationships, with each taxon representing organisms that share a common ancestor, very similar to the “Tree of Life” analogy.

A Table Showing the Taxonomy of Tyrannosaurus rex

Taxonomic Hierarchy of Tyrannosaurus rex
Category Taxon Contents of Taxon
Kingdom Animalia All animals
Phylum Chordata All vertebrates (plus some minor groups)
Class Reptilia All reptiles
Order Saurischia All lizard-hipped dinosaurs
Sub-Order Theropoda The “beast footed” dinosaurs mainly carnivores
Family Tyrannosauroidea All Tyrannosaurs and close relatives of Tyrannosaurs
Genus Tyrannosaurus The closest relatives of all to Tyrannosaurus rex
Species Tyrannosaurus rex The individual species known as T. rex

Source: Everything Dinosaur

To be absolutely correct the name of all taxa (the plural for taxon) should begin with a capital letter, except for the individual species name which should always begin with a lower-case letter.  The scientific name for a particular organism consists of two Latin or Latinised words that are always the genus followed by the species classification.  This is termed the binomial.  It ensures that scientists from all over the world can communicate effectively between them when it comes to describing the characteristics of an individual organism.  The genus, such as Tyrannosaurus can be used on its own but the species name i.e. rex without the genus associated with it has no meaning, as some species names apply to more than one genus.  Formerly they should be typed in italics such as Tyrannosaurus rex and indeed this is the method chosen by members of Everything Dinosaur if they were to publish formal papers.  If it is not possible to put the genus and the species in italics (such as in a handwritten report), it is the convention to underline, for example Tyrannosaurus rex.

In this way, all scientists, including palaeontologists have a classification framework to use.  However, there are one or two more conventions to consider when classifying and naming animals such as dinosaurs, (or indeed all organisms for that matter).  If a dispute arises as to the naming of an organism then it is convention for the earliest name, the first description, to take precedence.  In this way, the name Brontosaurus was replaced by Apatosaurus.  There have been some notable exceptions to this and T. rex is one of them.

In the late 19th Century a good few years before T. rex was named and described by Osborn (1905), the notable American palaeontologist, Edward Drinker Cope described two badly eroded vertebrae as Manospondylus gigas.  This strange honey-combed back bone was different to any other dinosaur fossils found and it was given this name.  One of these bones has since been lost, however, the name stood and if scientific nomenclature was followed, as this bone is believed to represent a Tyrannosaurus rex then T. rex, the “Tyrant Lizard King” should be renamed Manospondylus gigas “Giant Thin Vertebrae” – not quite such an exciting name, I think you will agree.

The debate as to the true name of Tyrannosaurus rex was brought to wider public attention when in 2000 a team from the renowned Black Hills Institute of Geological Research (Pete Larson et al), claimed they had found the original site where Cope had unearthed the weathered fossil bones described as Manospondylus.  Fossils found on this site, presumably from the same specimen that Cope studied almost a Century before turned out to be T. rex so Tyrannosaurus rex should have been renamed based on this evidence.  The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) states that if further remains are found and these are identical to the those of the earlier discovery then the earlier name and description should be used.

This led to much consternation amongst scientists (and amongst Hollywood directors, as Manospondylus sounded nowhere near as cool as Tyrannosaurus rex).  However, in 2000 the ICZN ruled (fourth edition); that T. rex should stay, as the name had been cited in numerous works by many authors and the case of mistaken identity was more than fifty years old.

So it looks like T. rex is going to be able to stay as T. rex.  Now all we have to do is to convince the many authors, designers, artists and manufacturers we work with to use the appropriate scientific guide for stating this animal’s name, stating the species in lower case.  I know we can occasionally have a lapse but really there is no excuse when designing hang tags or packaging of models and other toys.  However, despite our best efforts we will still see Tyrannosaurus Rex printed and written down, when the it is only the genus part of the binomial that should be given a capital letter.

12 02, 2008

New Soft-Touch Giant Pteranodon

By | February 12th, 2008|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

New Soft-Touch Pteranodon (Flying Reptile)

Flying reptiles, more correctly termed Pterosaurs are very popular with young dinosaur fans and budding palaeontologists.  Although not dinosaurs, these flying reptiles did evolve from Archosaurs so they share a common ancestor with the dinosaurs.  Appearing some time in the Triassic, the Pterosaurs were the first group of back-boned animals to develop powered flight and they dominated the skies for over 100 million years evolving into all shapes and sizes until the emergence of the birds hastened their decline.

Towards the very end of the Age of Reptiles, the last Pterosaurs evolved into giant gliding forms, some with wingspans bigger than a small plane.  Perhaps, the best known of these flying reptiles was Pteranodon, with its toothless beak (the name means toothless flyer) and bizarre bony crest.  Remains of Pteranodon have been found all over the world in North America, England and Asia.  Some species of Pteranodon had wingspans in excess of 9 metres.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have been searching for a reasonably accurate model of Pteranodon, this new model, just added to our range is very nicely painted and very detailed.  For example the crest is a bright colour and patterned.  Palaeontologists believe that Pteranodon may have used its crest not only in flight to stabilise it, but also in displays to put off rivals and attract a mate.

The New, Large Pteranodon Figure from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This figure is moulded in soft-touch plastic, it is easy for a youngster to carry around, soft and squeezy and makes an ideal addition to a young dinosaur fan’s collection.  The wings and body even show texturing, given the impression of fur, as scientists now believe that Pterosaurs were warm-blooded and they may have been covered with fur to help insulate their bodies and keep them warm.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of dinosaur soft toys: Pteranodon and Dinosaur Soft Toys

The close up of the head shows the fine detail and painting, also it illustrates one of the points crucial to our dinosaur experts and enthusiasts.  The model shows Pteranodon with no teeth, like many later flying reptiles, the teeth were lost, perhaps to lose weight just as birds have lost their teeth as well.  As fossils of Pteranodon have been found in marine sediments, palaeontologists believe this animal was a fish-eater, flying low over the surface of the sea and jabbing its head down to pick up fish at the water’s surface.

11 02, 2008

The Potential for Preservation – Potential for Fossil Preservation of Species

By | February 11th, 2008|Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

What are the chances of an Organism becoming a Fossil?

The fossil record only represents a very small proportion of life in the past.  A number of types of animals and plants can leave a substantial amount of material in the fossil record.  Abundant and diverse creatures with hard body parts such as marine molluscs for example, these animals can be readily fossilised and preserved.  The fact that such creatures have been around for a good few hundred million years (hence being found in lots of strata), adds to the chances of Mollusca being well represented in any fossil fan’s collection.

The chances of some other types of organism being preserved as fossils are much more remote, many soft-bodied organisms such as worms rarely fossilise, although the fossil record provides some evidence of their existence, there are fossils of such creatures in very special sediments such as the Burgess shales in Canada of many marine worm burrows are preserved as trace fossils.

Some surprising natural processes can favour fossilisation.  For example, plant material caught up in a forest fire has a greater chance of being fossilised than plants which are not.  A portion of the plant material in any fire is not entirely consumed, much may be charred and survive as charcoal.  The plant’s elemental material is effectively “carbonised” and in this state the plant is very unpalatable to herbivores and decay inducing bacteria and fungi.  Think what happens when you put a slice of bread in a toaster, but leave it too long.  The resulting toast is at first browned (water is extracted from the bread leaving a greater degree of the carbon (bread is a source of carbohydrate – made up of carbon and water), then if it is burned, it turns black.  Burnt toast is effectively carbonised bread, you would not want to eat burnt toast and neither would many natural plant eating organisms when faced with partially carbonised semi-charcoal like remains.

This plant material if buried in the appropriate conditions can survive many millions of years, preserving amazing details of the plant cells and tissues.  Electron microscope images of some of the fossilised remains of ancient plants from the Carboniferous (354 million years ago to 290 million years ago), show individual plant cell walls and tissue structures.

A number of factors can dictate whether an organism is likely to be fossilised or not.  If the organism has hard parts in its skeleton a shell, bones, teeth or an exoskeleton like a Trilobite, then there is a much greater chance of the specimen being preserved as a fossil compared to soft-bodied organisms.  Marine organisms or animals living in lakes and other freshwater bodies have a better chance of preservation compared to animals living in drier habitats as the remains have more chance of being covered in sediments, buried and thus preserved.  The actual number of specimens can have an impact on the chances of fossilisation.  As an example, there would be little chance of a Giant Panda’s remains being fossilised as there are only a few hundred left in the wild.  Compare this to a marine snail where there may be millions of individuals representing a species.    Size of the organism can also play apart.  Even a large Titanosaur carcase can be broken up by predators and weathering elements.  If the remains of an animal like a Saltasaurus (a relatively modest Titanosaur but still weighing more than an African elephant), were to be washed into water by a flood event or such happening then the bones would soon become disarticulated and lost.  It would be unlikely that few parts of the skeleton and other hard elements like the body armour and teeth with this particular creature would be rapidly buried and fossilised.

A model of a Saltasaurus – (Schleich Saltasaurus)

Saltasaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Saltasaurus:  Dinosaur Models for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Toys

Compare this large Titanosaur to the very much more abundant, tiny micro-fossils such as foraminiferans (shelled, minute protozoans).  Tiny microscopic creatures with hard parts such as shells tend to be much more likely to be preserved.  In terms of the number of individuals preserved the vast majority of the fossil record is made up of micro-fossils.

10 02, 2008

Half-Term Ideas and Suggestions

By | February 10th, 2008|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Half-Term Fun – Ideas and Suggestions

With the school half-term holidays getting underway in the next week or so, it can be difficult finding things to do with the children, particularly if the weather is bad and there is not much you can do outside.

Parents of Dinosaur fans are always welcome to contact the team members at Everything Dinosaur, we would be happy to e-mail over dinosaur quizzes, drawing materials and other items to help keep young palaeontologists amused over the holidays.  We have even put together some ideas on how enthusiastic dinosaur fans of all ages can have a go at building their own Mesozoic landscape – we’ve tried it and it was a fun exercise, ideal for a couple of wet afternoons.

To contact Everything Dinosaur visit our website: Everything Dinosaur

We have a “contact us” site and you are always welcome to drop our team members a line.  Next week on Primeval (ITV1, Saturday evening), a Mammoth makes an appearance, taking a stroll up the M25 motorway and causing considerable havoc.  The Mammoth depicted is a Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), a species of Mammoth even larger than the famous Woolly Mammoth.  An adult, male Columbian Mammoth could perhaps have weighed as much as 10 tonnes and stood 4 metres high at the shoulder.  This Mammoth inhabited North America and is believed to have existed until around 9,000 years ago, when like many of the large mega fauna at the time it finally went extinct.  One interesting specimen from Nashville, Tennessee has been dated to around 7,800 years ago, indicating that a few Mammoths may have survived in remote isolated areas for a few generations longer.

The Mammoth had entered North America via Asia over the Bering Strait land bridge (formed when sea levels fell).  Why Mammoths died out is still open to conjecture.  However, by the time of last of these magnificent elephants the last Ice Age was coming to an end and the climate in the northern hemisphere was rapidly becoming warmer and wetter.  The grasslands in the southern range of this animal were quickly replaced by forests, in too short a time to allow these specialist grazers to adapt.  In the north of the Mammoth’s range the ice age melt-water turned their environment into a boggy marsh and tundra, quite unsuitable for large animals to live in.

With their slow breeding rates, the splintering up of the grasslands with the establishment of forested areas and the predation from man, the Mammoths were doomed.  One interesting spin on the theory that the sophisticated hunting methods of “Clovis” Man did for the Mammoths in the Americas is that the dogs these people brought with them carried disease and this also contributed to the decline and eventual extinction of the Columbian Mammoth.

An ideal activity for the half-term holidays is to re-create many of these extinct giant mammals using the Paint and Play Ice Age Mammals Box set.  Each set comes with four famous Ice Age models a giant sloth, Glyptodon, a Sabre-Tooth cat and of course a Mammoth.  Paints and instructions are included and young children can paint their own models to depict these huge mammals from the last Ice Age – a kind of “Pleistocene Paint and Play”.

Prehistoric Animal Craft Ideas: Dinosaur Crafts for Kids

The Ice Age Mammals Box Set

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Palaeontologists have designed the models, the paints and brushes are included and it is up to you to bring these prehistoric mammals back to life.  The models are based on the actual model sets produced for sale in museums, so if it is cold and frosty outside you can create your very own Ice Age characters on your kitchen table.

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