Birds can Detect Predators by Sense of Smell

New Study Demonstrates that Birds can “Smell a Rat”

It seems that common everyday creatures can still cause a surprise amongst scientists when research provides an insight into behaviour and conditioning.  One such example is a study of Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), that has been reported in the latest edition of “Functional Ecology”.

The researched focus on whether or not these common garden birds used their sense of smell to detect danger and alter their behaviour accordingly.  Many animal species detect and avoid predators and other dangers by using their sense of smell.  This sense has largely been ignored in the study of birds, since it was thought that this particular sense was not as important to them as other senses such as sight.  This new research was carried out amongst a population of wild Blue Tits in nest boxes in Miraflores de la Sierra in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, Madrid province, Spain.

This study has revealed that birds are not only capable of detecting potential predators through chemical signals, but they also alter their behaviour depending on the perceived level of threat.  This is an effective survival strategy to adopt as reported by Luisa Amo de Paz, the study’s lead author who was working as a biologist at the Spanish National Research Council’s Natural History Museum while the study was carried out.

This research, provides the first ever evidence to show that birds are able to distinguish their predators using chemical signals. According to the research team this new work: “opens up a new and promising area of research in understanding numerous aspects of bird behaviour, which have been ignored until now.”

The sharpness of the sense of smell among certain birds, especially those that raise their young in holes in trees, such as some of the Tit species, is essential for determining whether their major predators, weasels or martens, have got into their nests or are approaching, particularly because of the limited visibility inside their nests.  These birds are active during the day (diurnal) and therefore may have difficulty seeing any potential dangers when peering into the dark holes of their nesting chambers.

The researchers placed the scent of mustelids (ferrets) inside the nest boxes when the chicks were eight days old, and “the parents took longer to enter the boxes to feed their chicks, and they approached the boxes more often without going inside,” commented Ms. Amo de Paz.

Thanks to the images captured by a video camera located several metres from the nest box, the scientists were able to work out the number of times the chicks were fed, and deduced that the birds did not feed their chicks on fewer occasions, although “they spent less time inside the nest while feeding their babies,” according to the biologist. By spending less time in the nest box, the parents lessened the risk of predator attack while still feeding their chicks.

The biologists added the scent of Quail (another, non-threatening bird) in other nest boxes in order to monitor the effect of a new smell on the Blue Tits’ behaviour, and water in others to monitor the effect caused by moisture. This demonstrated that when the birds detected an unknown smell, such as that of the Quails, they did not wait such a long time before entering their nests, and did not reduce the amount of time spent feeding their chicks.

The evidence presented indicates that these small birds are able to detect potential predators and can alter their behaviour accordingly, in essence if they “smell a rat” or indeed any other predatory mammal, they take precautions.

When the chicks were 13 days old, the scientists topped up the corresponding scent for each nest box, and measured the results again. Ms. Amo de Paz said this was to “see whether the ferret scent had an effect on the chicks’ physical condition”, given that their parents had spent less time inside the nest. The conclusions show that the chicks’ growth was not affected during the time they were exposed to the supposed predator. The research team concluded  that birds such as tree nesting Blue Tits are able to detect the chemical signals of predators and use these to weigh up the risk of predator attack.  In this way their behaviour is modified based on the evidence presented to them from their sense of smell.

This article as been adapted from material provided by Plataforma SINC and Science Daily article published on 30th April 2008 “Birds Can Detect Predators Using Smell”.

Blue Tits are common throughout the British Isles and are resident year round, many studies and surveys have been carried out on these types of birds, although they can be observed from virtually every kitchen window in the country and are a common sight in British gardens their complex behaviour should not be underestimated.  Blue Tits for example are capable of producing sophisticated songs, specific sounds being related to the mating season, warding off rivals, proclaiming territory and providing an alarm warning of danger.  Although prolific breeders, Blue Tit numbers were severely hit by the extensive flooding that occured in the UK last Summer.  It has been estimated that ten million chicks perished as a result of this weather, either directly as a result of the floods or indirectly due to the lack of available prey.

Research into the sense of smell of birds which are believed to be closely related to Theropod dinosaurs is of interest to palaeonotlogists as a great deal of speculation has taken place as to the capabilities of dinosaur senses.  Thanks to casts of brain cases, and CAT scans, a lot more data on how dinosaur’s brains worked has been gathered over recent years.

By tracing pathways of nerves, scientists can estimate the relative importance of senses like smell and sight to certain dinosaurs.  The olfactory bulbs (the areas of the brain associated with processing smell data); of Tyrannosaurus rex for example, were quite large and well developed.  This indicates that a sense of smell was important to this creature.  Scavengers such as vutures also have a large portion of their brains dedicated to their sense of smell.

Is this evidence indicating that T. rex was not a hunter but a scavenger like a hyena or vulture is today?  Unfortunately, being unable to observe a Tyrannosaurus rex actually hunting prevents scientists from testing this theory.  All they can say with any certainly is that Tyrannosaurs like T. rex probably had a good sense of smell and this sense was important to them.

New Diplodocus Model – Carnegie Museum Collection

New Diplodocus Model – Carnegie Museum Collection

In 1898 Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish born businessman reputed to have amassed one of the largest personal fortunes of all time, read an article about the amazing dinosaur finds being unearthed in the western USA.  He decided to financially support the efforts of these scientists and funded an expedition to Wyoming to find a dinosaur for the city of Pittsburgh.  This enthusiasm from one of the world’s most successful tycoons helped build up the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, permitting it to have one of the largest collections of natural wonders and rare fossil exhibits.

Carnegie funded the building of the dinosaur hall at the museum, it needed to be a substantial project as it was soon to house an almost complete fossil skeleton of a Diplodocus.  This dinosaur was named and described in honour of Carnegie’s philanthropy, this species full name is D. carnegii.  This magnificent 87 foot long specimen is affectionately known as “Dippy”.  Copies have been cast and presented to a number of other Natural History museums around the world, including the Natural History museum, London where the cast of “Dippy” graces the main entrance hall.

Now the Carnegie Dinosaur Collection has been updated with a new model version of Diplodocus.  The new model of this late Jurassic herbivore is a fraction short of 60 cms long, depicting this huge animal in superb detail.  The controversial spines running down the back of the animal are gone, this contrasts this new model with the Natural History museum collection which depicts Diplodocus in battleship grey with a line of spines running from the hips down over the tail.

New Scale Model of Diplodocus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the new model: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

This new interpretation of this famous Sauropod shows Diplodocus with contrasting colouration around the head, perhaps an indicator of social rank within the herd or male dominance.  Facial colouration such as this may well have helped maintain a hierarchy within a group of these animals.  The skin is dotted with scutes small dermal armour but the spines have not been shown in contrast to the Natural History museum collection’s model.

The Natural History Museum Diplodocus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Natural History museum model range: Dinosaur Toys – Dinosaur Models

A Snippet about Utahraptor

Utahraptor – The Scariest of all the Dinosaurs?

With its twenty centimetre long second toe claw, Utahraptor may have been one of the scariest dinosaurs to have evolved.  Highly cursorial and speedy with it, Utahraptor (U. ostrommaysorum or U. spielbergi) was around six metres in length and probably a pack hunter.  Utahraptor is the largest “raptor” described to date and one that dates from the Barremian faunal stage of the Cretaceous.  The name means “Hunter from Utah” as this is where the fossils were found (Utah, western United States).

An Illustration of Utahraptor

Speedy, dinosaur hunters

Speedy, dinosaur hunters

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Palaeontologist Jim Kirkland, one of the scientists responsible for the discovery of this Theropod dinosaur found the first fossils of this ancient creature having had a tip from a customer in a pancake shop as to where to look.

Frog Blog Week 7 – Where have all the Tadpoles Gone?

Frog Blog Week 7 – Disappearing Tadpoles

Typical April weather for England has continued over the last seven days or so, with lots and lots of showers interrupted by occasional sunny intervals.  As the sun is climbing quite high in the sky at the moment heading for the Summer solstice just 7 weeks away, when the sun does shine, it is very warm, with temperatures around the pond area being recorded as high as 20 degrees Celsius.

There has been lots of activity in the pond this week, particularly amongst the invertebrate residents, snail eggs (small blobs of jelly attached to pond weeds), have been found and relatively large numbers of pond snails, including rams-horns (those that survive bird attacks – see Frog Blog week 6) have been seen.  Everything Dinosaur team members observing the pond have counted at least two water boatmen that have hatched out.  Undoubtedly more will be observed over the coming weeks.  A careful study of the shallows reveals that quite large numbers of damsel fly nymphs can be seen.  These armoured invertebrate predators look quite prehistoric, perhaps resembling ancient Eurypterids, the savage water scorpions that dominated the Palaeozoic seas.  Given the opportunity they would certainly feed on the tadpoles, as indeed would the water boatmen.

Perhaps as a result of this increased predator activity the tadpoles have all but disappeared from the pond.  Over the last five days or so the number of tadpoles observed by team members has fallen dramatically.  A week ago, over a ten minute period nearly 100 tadpoles were counted, now no more than 6 or 7 are seen over the same time interval.

We suspect that many of the tadpoles will get eaten, only a very few will survive to escape the pond as miniature frogs, but we did not expect to see so few only after about 14 days after hatching.  Having considered this carefully we have concluded that the majority of the tadpoles are still fine, however, their survival strategy freed from the protective jelly that surrounded the developing embryo is to hide amongst the pond weed and algae, this may be why so very few can be seen by observers.

In the past, when tadpoles have been kept, these animals have always been in tanks, so it has always been easy to watch them.  In the natural pond, with so much more cover it is likely that the number of tadpoles is still quite high, but we just cannot see them anymore.

We will keep up our observations to see if we can spot more of them as they grow bigger.

Two frogs have been seen in the pond over the last few days, the smaller male frog has been joined by a larger one – at least they seem to be enjoying the rain.

Dinosaur DNA Linked to our Feathered Friends. Are you going to call T. rex a Chicken?

Dinosaur DNA linked to Aves.  Are you going to call T. rex a Chicken?

New research using ancient fossilised proteins retrieved from the 68 million year old femur (thigh bone) of a Tyrannosaurus rex has confirmed the long held theory that birds are the closest living relatives of dinosaurs.  This new study, conducted by researchers at Harvard University in association with the Harvard Medical School, also adds extra impetus to the now widely accepted theory that birds are the direct descendants of a particular group of dinosaurs – the Theropods.

These findings are the first molecular evidence indicating that Aves (the birds) are the closest living relatives to Dinosauria, controversial earlier studies from Russian scientists also linked dinosaurs to birds.  In the earlier research, the Russian team studied fossil Triceratops bones at the molecular level and concluded that their work indicated that these ancient horned dinosaurs were closely related to ostriches.  Although much of this previous work was refuted by the scientific community, this new study seems to indicate that the Russians were on the right track.

The American team’s findings are due to be published in this month’s edition of the journal “Science”.

A close examination of the skeletons of Theropod dinosaurs and birds reveal a number of similar anatomical features.  In fact you do not have to be a scientist to find evidence of this close anatomical relationship between these two types of animal, a brief study of a roast chicken cooked for Sunday lunch will provide quite a lot of evidence – if you know what to look for.

The link below provides more information on how to dissect your average roast chicken to find evidence of the link between dinosaurs and birds: Christmas Dinner Links Dinosaurs to Birds

The new research follows a breakthrough study in 2007, scientists reported the recovery and partial molecular sequencing of fossilised Tyrannosaurus rex and Mastodon (a type of elephant) proteins.  Both animal fossil studies (the Tyrannosaurus and the Mastodon) involved collecting and examining samples of collagen, the main protein component of bone.

In fact collagen is the main protein found in connective tissue of animals and the most common protein found in mammals including ourselves- making up around 25% of all the proteins in our bodies.

As well as providing further evidence to support the close evolutionary relationship between Theropod dinosaurs and birds, the study into the Mastodon proteins helps provide information on the evolution of the elephant family.

“This shows that if we can sequence even tiny pieces of fossil protein, we can establish evolutionary relationships,” said co-author John Asara of Harvard Medical School.

The Tyrannosaurus rex proteins were extracted from fossilised soft tissues preserved inside a late Maastrichtian faunal stage fossil femur, estimated to be around 68 million years old.  The discovery of potential protein information inside the femur was reported in 2005.

The Mastodon remains were much younger, dating from the Pleistocene epoch and believed to be between 160,000 and 600,000 years old.

Using a variety of techniques the research team compared the T. rex and Mastodon protein chains with those of 21 extant animals including ostriches, chickens and alligators. 

Such comparisons are commonly used by biologists to construct evolutionary “family trees,” since similar protein structure is an indicator of shared genetic makeup.

Until very recently, however, protein sequences have not been available for ancient organisms such as dinosaurs, since most fossils do not yield proteins or DNA.  The problem with genetic analysis is that molecules such as proteins and DNA tend to break down rapidly after death.  The preservation of such delicate material is extremely rare and controversial, despite the claims highlighted by Michael Crichton, the author of the story “Jurassic Park” in which Dinosaurs and Pterosaurs were brought to life by combining amphibian DNA with fossilised DNA extracted from the remains of blood sucking insects preserved in amber.

It was thought (and indeed some scientists still hold this view), that DNA could not survive more than 10,000 years unless the tissue was preserved in some unusual manner such as being rapidly frozen, for example, in the case of the Siberian Mammoths.

Many attempts have been made to extract DNA from insects that had been trapped in amber, recreating the storyline from Mr Crichton’s novel and scenes from the film “Jurassic Park”.  There have been claims for success, but all attempts to replicate the experiments have proved inconclusive; indeed many scientists claim that the experiments may have been contaminated by modern DNA and therefore the results are invalid.

Molecular analysis of extant species (animals living today) have revealed some surprising evolutionary relationships.  For many years, the edentate mammals such as the armadillo had been regarded as the most primitive placentals, but analysis of new molecular data suggests that insectivores such as the hedgehog may be the most primitive.  Fossil evidence for both types of mammal have been uncovered in the Eocene deposits of Messel in Germany.  It is the molecular data from living representatives of these groups that indicates that the insectivores are the more ancient lineage.

Another remarkable mammalian discovery using molecular analysis may be that the lagomorphs (such as rabbits and hares) may be closely related to the primates.  Previously, using just anatomical comparisons this group of mammals had been classified with the rodents (mice, rats, squirrels and such like).

If molecular data become more widely available for dinosaurs, Asara noted, researchers will be able to fill in gaps and overcome possible errors in the existing classification based on physical features.

To illustrate his point, he noted that the shared ancestry of two present-day groups—elephants and shrew-like tenrecs—is known solely from DNA and protein comparisons.

“Nobody could make that connection based on bones,” he noted.

“The amazing part of this study is that we could establish the dinosaur-bird connection using only 89 total amino acids ,the building blocks of proteins,” Asara added.

With only a small amount of sequence data, he continued, “we can take an unidentified or fragmented fossil bone and not only identify the species but also help place it in evolution.”

It remains to be seen whether even small sequences can be extracted from ancient fossils with any regularity, experts say.

Mary Schweitzer of North Carolina State University is a co-author of the new study and made the initial discovery of the Tyrannosaurus rex soft tissue remains.  She has argued that such remains may be relatively common in well-preserved fossils but are often overlooked.   Other scientists have been sceptical, stating that protein preservation over tens of millions of years should not be possible. Some scientists have continued to question whether Asara’s and Schweitzer’s sequences really came from an ancient Tyrannosaur, some other modern biological source could have contaminated the sample that was tested, claim the sceptics.

Defending their work, Asara has countered that the fact that the proteins are most similar to those of birds rather than mammals, the biologists themselves for example, discredits the contamination theory.

The doubters still voice their concerns.  Peggy Ostrom is a biologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing and an expert on fossil proteins., she remains extremely sceptical about the Tyrannosaurus rex protein findings.

Many have remained sceptical about the T. rex protein findings, she said, because of the small size of the sequences.

“They have a very tiny bit of data relative to the size of the collagen molecule,” Ostrom said.

“What’s going to be really convincing is to actually see some more sequences,” she added.

If other fossilised bones are found to contain proteins then further evidence could be gathered.  Ostrom also noted that many recent findings, including the Mastodon remains dated to nearly half a million years ago, have greatly pushed back previously accepted time limits for protein molecule preservation.

“In 2000, there probably wasn’t one biochemist around who would tell you we’d find a protein over 40 thousand years old,” she said.

In truth, the evolutionary relationships amongst certain elements of Dinosauria is still largely unclear.  If biological information could be gathered at the molecular level then this would lead to a more robust Dinosaur family tree, helping to fill in the missing branches and links due to the paucity of the Dinosaur fossil record.

Whatever, the outcomes of further research, scientists are still a long way off recreating the Jurassic Park scenarios as depicted in the Hollywood films.

Updating the Date of the Dinosaurs Demise

The End of the Age of Dinosaurs – More Accurate Dating of Mass Extinction Event

The Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary that marks the end of the Mesozoic and the beginning of the Cenozoic had been dated to around 65.5 million years ago with an statistical error of +/- 300,000 years or so.  Now a team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley aided by the Berkeley Geochronology Centre have refined dating techniques so that more accurate dates for major events in the Earth’s history can be calculated.

A number of radiometric methods of dating rocks are used by Geologists.  These techniques rely on measuring the rate of decay of certain isotopes contained with rock and mineral samples.  As certain isotopes are known to decay at a constant rate, measuring the levels and ratios of isotopes within a rock sample can provide evidence of how old the rock is.

One of the most common methods used is the argon-argon dating method.  It can be used to date rocks that are millions or even billions of years old.  This dating method is particularly suitable for dating volcanic materials (igneous rocks).  However, the technique had systematic errors that produced dates with uncertainties of about 2.5 percentage points.  That may not seem a lot, but consider dating a rock believed to from the end of the Cretaceous.  If the argon-argon method is used it could mean that the actual date of the specimen would have been over or underestimated by a million years or more.

Argon-argon dating, developed at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, is based on the fact that the naturally-occurring isotope potassium-40 decays to argon-40 with a 1.25-billion-year half-life. Single-grain rock samples are irradiated with neutrons to convert potassium-40 to argon-39, which is normally not present in nature. The ratio of argon-39 to argon-39 then provides a measurement of the age of the sample.

In a paper published in April’s edition of the “Science”, Paul Renne, Director of the Berkeley Geochronology Centre (Professor of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley) and his colleagues have refined the argon-argon technique lowering the uncertainty of results to a deviation of just +/- 0.25 percent.

As a result, argon-argon dating today can provide more precise absolute dates for many geologic events, ranging from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes within the scope of the history of humanity to much older events such as the start of the Deccan Traps eruptions and  the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other creatures at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Renne and his team have re-dated the mass extinction event (marked by the famous K/T boundary, a layer of clay rich in the chemical element iridium).  The estimate that the K/T boundary is approximately 65.95 million years old (give or take a mere 40,000 years).

“The importance of the argon-argon technique is that it is the only technique that has the dynamic range to cover nearly all of Earth’s history,” Renne said. “What this refinement means is that you can use different chronometers now and get the same answer, whereas, that wasn’t true before.”

This revision of the argon-argon dating method puts its accuracy in line with other radiometric dating methods, but there is greater flexibility in the application of this method compared to other techniques, this opens up the possibility of more accurate data being obtained for extremely old rocks.

Renne noted that the greater precision matters little for recent events, such as the emergence of human ancestors in Africa 6 million years ago, because the uncertainty is only a few tens of thousands of years.

“Where it really adds up is in dating events in the early solar system,” Renne said. “A 1 percent difference at 4.5 billion years is almost 50 million years.”

One major implication of the revision involves the formation of meteorites, planetessimals and planets in the early solar system, he said. Argon-argon dating was giving a lower date than other methods for the formation of meteorites, suggesting that they cooled slowly during the solar system’s infancy.

“The new result implies that many of these meteorites cooled very, very quickly, which is consistent with what is known or suggested from other studies using other isotopic systems,” he said. “The evolution of the early solar system – the accretion of planetessimals, the differentiation of bodies by gravity while still hot – happened very fast. Argon-argon dating is now no longer at odds with that evidence, but is very consistent with it.”

The team at UC Berkeley had been working on revising the argon-argon dating method for over eight years, working in collaboration with Jan R. Wijbrans of the Free University in the Netherlands to obtain convincing evidence. Wijbrans and his Dutch colleagues were studying a unique series of sediments from the Messinian Melilla-Nador Basin on the coast of Morocco that contain records of cycles in Earth’s climate that reflect changes in Earth’s orbit that can be precisely calculated.

Wijbrans’ colleague Frits Hilgen at the University of Utrecht, a coauthor of the study, has been one of the world’s leaders in translating the record of orbital cycles into a time scale for geologists, according to Renne. Renne’s group had proposed using the astronomical tuning approach to calibrate the argon-argon method as early as 1994, but lacked ideal sedimentary sequences to realise the full power of this approach. The collaboration brought together all the appropriate expertise to bring this approach to fruition, he said.

“The problem with astronomical dating of much older sediments, even when they contain clear records of astronomical cycles, is that you’re talking about a pattern that is not anchored anywhere,” Renne said. “You see a bunch of repetitions of features in sediments, but you don’t know where to start counting.”

Argon-argon dating of volcanic ash, or tephra, in these sediments provided that anchor, he said, synchronising the methods and making each one more precise. The argon-argon analyses were conducted both in Berkeley and Amsterdam to eliminate interlaboratory bias.

“This should be the last big revision of argon-argon dating,” Renne said. “We’ve finally narrowed it down to where we are talking about fractions-of-a-percent revisions in the future, at most.”

As well as having implications for the study of the universe, improvements in the dating of rocks will help Palaeontologists and Geologists date key events in the history of our own planet.

This research work was funded by the U.S. and Dutch National Science Foundations and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation

This article has been compiled using information from the University of California – Berkeley (2008, April 24), specifically papers published on “Refining The Date Of Dinosaur Extinction And The Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary”.

Review of Prehistoric Times (edition 85 – Spring)

Review of Prehistoric Times (Spring 2008)

Spring is definitely on the way when our Spring edition of Prehistoric Times arrives at the office.  Prehistoric Times is the magazine for dinosaur merchandise and model collectors.  This latest edition marks 15 years of publication for the title.  Starting out as a black and white newsletter, the magazine has grown into a glossy compendium of information packed full of information about the latest discoveries in palaeontology as well as features and articles on the latest prehistoric animal models.

The Spring edition features a front cover depicting a Thylacoleo, the vicious marsupial lion that was the top predator in Australia for much of the Neogene.  The cover painting was created by the famous palaeoartist Mark Hallett, an article on these bizarre marsupial carnivores can be found inside along with features on the Hadrosaur Edmontosaurus and the second part of the article on the history of Tyrannosaurus rex.

The Spring Edition of Prehistoric Times

Prehistoric Times Magazine.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

As usual there are contributions from a number of notable writers such as Joe DeMarco, Tracy Ford and Sean Kotz.

The magazine also reviews the palaeontology year with updates on the latest research and information on recent finds.

To visit the Prehistoric Times website: Prehistoric Times Home Page

Our Favourite “Eagle Lizard”

Desmatosuchus haploceras – Our Favourite “Eagle Lizard”

Like most of the Aetosaurs (Eagle Lizards) described to date, Desmatosuchus had a robust, heavy body covered in armour.  The armour was made up of four-sided plates running along the back and encasing the tail.  The reptile weighed around five hundred kilogrammes and the largest individuals measured in excess of four metres.  Our favourite “Eagle Lizard” fed on primitive ferns, horsetails and seed ferns.  This Late Triassic member of the Aetosauridae lived in western and southern United States (New Mexico, Texas and Arizona).

An Image of the Aetosaur Desmatosuchus haploceras

A model of an Aetosaur (ruler provides scale)

A model of an Aetosaur (ruler provides scale)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Safari Ltd have a model of an Aetosaur (Desmatosuchus haploceras) as part of the company’s “Prehistoric Crocodile Toob”.

To view the range of Carnegie/Safari Ltd models available from Everything Dinosaur: Prehistoric Animal Models from Safari Ltd

21st Birthday for Baryonyx

Baryonyx turns 21 this Year

Baryonyx the unusual Theropod dinosaur turns 21 years old this year.  The first remains of this dinosaur were uncovered in 1983, but it was formerly named and described in 1987.

Baryonyx was a bizarre carnivorous dinosaur, its discovery led many scientists to reconsider some of their assumptions regarding the habits of large, meat-eating dinosaurs.  Baryonyx may have been an ancestor of Spinosaurus.  The Baryonchids had large, elongated skulls resembling that of a crocodile, strong forelimbs and a huge, curved thumb claw up to 30 centimetres long.  First described from the Weald clay (Barremian faunal stage) of Smokejacks, Brickworks clay pit located at Wallis Wood, near Ockley, Surrey in southern England, further remains have been discovered on the Isle of Wight and Spain.  There is also evidence that Baryonchids lived in Africa.

Anatomical features indicate that Baryonyx may have been an ancestor of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, however, making direct comparison with the fossils of this Spinosaur are not possible as the most complete material was destroyed in a bombing raid on Germany during World War II.  The claw was the first part of the fossil to be discovered, amateur palaeontologist William Walker made the discovery.   A team was despatched from the Natural History museum in London and an excavation began which led to the recovery of about 70% of the skeleton.

An Illustration of Baryonyx

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For a scale model of Baryonyx: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Baryonyx was named and described by British palaeontologists Angela Milner and Alan Charig.  Further study of the fossils have led to speculation that Baryonyx may have had a humped back appearance, one thing is for certain, Baryonyx spp. had a remarkably high number of teeth in the jaws, more than in a typical Tyrannosaur for example.  The teeth are gently curving and finely serrated (Spinosauridae teeth tend to be conical in shape and lack the fine serrations in contrast), this suggests that these animals were fish eaters.

Numerous teeth in the jaws are characteristic of animals that catch slippery fish and the shape of the snout, superficially resembling fish eating crocodiles adds credence to this theory regarding the diet of Baryonchids.  The presence of partially digested fish scales in the stomach region of the Wallis Wood specimen supports this fish-eating theory.  There would have been plenty of fish about in the area where the first Baryonyx specimen was found, the palaeoenvironmental evidence indicates that it was a wide floodplain dotted with lakes and meandering rivers.

However, remains of a small Iguanodontid was also found so perhaps Baryonyx was a general predator happy to eat what it could catch.

The “fishing” dinosaur theory has certainly grabbed the imaginations of a number of scientists.   Many have speculated that whilst hunting for fish Baryonchids may have waded or swam in the water or perhaps hunted for fish using stealth as modern herons and egrets do.  A number of eminent writers Buffetaut (1989) for example have suggested that members of the Spinosauridae were amphibious whilst other scientists, notably Bakker (1992) has commented that these creatures could have been slowly evolving a more aquatic lifestyle, becoming more adapted to a marine environment analogous to the Palaeogene placental mammal Ambulocetus which is believed to be an early ancestor of modern whales.

Magic Dinosaurs Book Review

Magic Dinosaurs Book Review

Every once in a while our buyer comes across a really fun and different prehistoric animal themed book.  With an interest in children’s education, books have to meet very strict criteria in terms of their contribution to learning.  A recent edition to our reading activities section certainly does this, uniting young children’s interest with dinosaurs with storytelling and learning about colours.

Especially designed for very young dinosaur fans the Mini-Magic Dinosaurs book is a robust, hardback which tells the story of dinosaurs playing hide and seek.  Palaeontologists have no evidence from the fossil record to support this type of behaviour amongst Dinosauria – but you never know.

Anyway, a Tyrannosaurus rex sets off in search of his friends who are playing with this game with him.  Each of the prehistoric animals he meets is a different colour.  The colour of the animal is revealed by pulling a tab on each page of the book.  When the tab is pulled the animal in question magically appears in colour – neat.

The Magic Mini-Dinosaur Hand and Seek Book

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Team members have been fascinated to see how the trick is done, simply pull the tab and the dinosaur is revealed in colour.

To see the book and other dinosaur books: Dinosaur Books for Kids

On test the young children we read the book to were fascinated.  They loved going back in time to see the dinosaurs playing.  This book is very helpful when it comes to learning about different colours and recognising colours and words.  It is suitable for very young children from about 18 months and upwards.

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