The Thumb Claw of Baryonyx

The Huge Thumb Claw on Baryonyx

The first part of the Theropod dinosaur known as Baryonyx (B. walkeri) to be discovered back in 1983, was the huge first digit (thumb) claw.  The fossil measured around 35 centimetres (14 inches) in length.  Baryonyx had powerful and strong arms and it is thought that this carnivorous dinosaur used its hands and claws  to hook out fish from water courses.  Evidence of fish scales belonging to a genus of  ray-finned fish called Lepidotes were found in the body cavity of this dinosaur, along with the remains of a baby Iguanodon.  It seems that Baryonyx was also a generalist predator, hunting and attacking smaller dinosaurs if it got the chance.  Or perhaps it might have come across the carcase of the young Iguanodon and took advantage of a free meal by scavenging the body.

The Theropod Dinosaur Called Baryonyx (B. walkeri)

Baryonyx "Heavy Claw"

Baryonyx “Heavy Claw”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The name Baryonyx is pronounced Bar-ee-on-iks and the name means “heavy claw” which is very appropriate.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s stock of dinosaur models including Baryonyx: Dinosaur Models including Baryonyx

Fossil Plesiosaur Remains Discovered In Iran

New Fossil Plesiosaur discovered in Iran

Reports from Iranian news services are coming in about the discovery of Plesiosaur fossils found in a relatively remote area of north-eastern Iran.  It has been reported that a team of scientists from Mashad Open University have uncovered the partial remains of an ancient marine reptile believed to be more than 100 million years old.

The discovery was found in the heights of Mashad’s Kallat region, so far several rib fragments and vertebrae (backbone) fossils have been unearthed.  The sediments have been dated to around 100 million years ago; from the Early Cretaceous (Albian faunal stage).  These finds are important as the fossil record of these long-necked, marine reptiles is quite poor particularly in  Lower Cretaceous strata.  These fossils, plus any additional material that has yet to be removed may provide important clues as to the development an diversity of this successful group of ocean going reptiles.

To read more about another Early Cretaceous Plesiosaur:  Plesiosaur named in honour of Dr Elizabeth “Betsy” Nicholls

The fossils have been carefully crated up and sent to Germany for further study and a more detailed examination and comparison with existing Plesiosaur remains recovered from earlier strata, European Jurassic sediments.  The German scientists hope to be able to classify these new fossils more accurately, perhaps ascribing a family or a genus to this particular specimen.

Some of the New Plesiosaur Fossils

Picture Credit: Iranian News Sources

The picture shows a couple of the larger pieces so far recovered, based on the photograph it is hard to determine which part of the skeleton might be represented, indeed the early diagnosis of a Plesiosaur may in fact be proved wrong when a more complete study is carried out.  The fossils found so far represent only about 10% of the animal’s skeleton, further excavation work is planned by the Iranian team in the area, in the hope of finding more remains.

Just for a bit of fun, at the beginning of the year, Everything Dinosaur team members made their top ten predictions regarding likely palaeontological news stories that would break over the following twelve months or so.  Everything Dinosaur team members predicted more Plesiosaur fossils would be found in 2008.  This is due to the extensive research being undertaken in more remote parts of the world with known Mesozoic marine sediments and also partially due to the fact that animals in a marine environment have a greater chance of fossilisation than their terrestrial peers.

To read more about the predictions for 2008, including the prediction for plenty more Plesiosaurs: New Year Predictions for 2008

The Plesiosaurs were a highly successful group of marine reptiles that evolved from land dwelling ancestors some time in the middle of the Triassic.  The group had its heyday in the Jurassic but survived right up until the end of the Mesozoic, but their fossils become rarer towards the end of the Cretaceous and this part of the fossil record is dominated by Elasmosaurids.  The Elasmosaurids were Plesiosaurs that had gone to the “extreme” in terms of their neck length, in some genera the neck made up 50% of the entire animal’s body length.  It is believed that all long-necked Plesiosaurs were fish-eaters, using their long necks and small heads to dart into shoals of fish to catch a meal.

A view a model of a typical Elasmosaurid (Elasmosaurus): Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

When reptiles took up life in the oceans, they evolved different forms of locomotion, scientists are still puzzled as to how Plesiosaurs swam.  For stability, the two pairs of flippers would have beaten in opposite directions, but the exact movement of these “underwater wings” has yet to be determined.  The flippers may have operated independently of each other, giving a sort of 4-wheel drive effect, making these animals extremely manoeuvrable , very helpful if you are trying to catch fish underwater.  The constitution of the vertebrae also indicate that their spines were very flexible, perhaps they undulated their bodies to help with propulsion through the water.  This is a very unique form of locomotion, underwater flying almost, sadly the last of these magnificent creatures disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous… or did they?

Strange sea serpents and sea monsters are reported each year, on average there are about a half a dozen sightings every 12 months or so.  Somewhere, perhaps in the remote waters of the Pacific; a population of these marine reptiles could have survived, after all up until 1938 everyone thought the Coelacanth was extinct.

Dinosaurs in the Kitchen

Dinosaurs Baking and Making

The team at Everything Dinosaur have been busy in the kitchen again testing out a range of dinosaur shaped cookie cutters so that young dinosaur fans can make dinosaur shaped biscuits and other prehistoric animal themed snacks.

We have been trying out a whole range of different kitchen cutters and recipe ideas and after a careful selection process with our testers (and tasters in this case), we have introduced three types of dinosaur themed cookie cutter.

1). The Dinosaur Puzzle Cookie Cutter

A chance to create a dinosaur puzzle that you can eat!  A sturdy plastic cookie cutter set in the shape of a long-necked dinosaur, a Sauropod.  Choosing a Sauropod design for a biscuit making item was quite easy really, after all these animals had enormous appetites and must have spent a very large portion of their day eating.  It has been calculated for example that a Sauropod such as an adult Diplodocus would need to eat around 300 kgs of food per day (that is the equivalent of over 3,000 lettuces)!

The Dinosaur Puzzle Cookie Cutter

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Made from durable, robust plastic this cookie cutter set consists of several pieces that when fitted together form a long-necked dinosaur.  Young dinosaur fans can make biscuits that form a jigsaw puzzle, the set even comes with a biscuit cutter piece shaped like a baby dinosaur.

To view the Dinosaur Puzzle Cookie Cutter set: Dinosaur Bedding and Dinosaur Bedroom Accessories

Some of our Colourful Dinosaur Shortbread

Dinosaur shortbread biscuits

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We used one of the recipes in the handy recipe leaflet included with this set to make some rather nice shortbread.  Our dinosaur testers then decorated them with coloured icing sugar and hundreds and thousands, we used a black jelly button to make the eye on the adult and edible, silver balls for the eyes of the babies.  They certainly proved very popular with our tasters and for the grown-ups the cookie cutter was easy to ease, the recipes simple to follow and best of all the sturdy plastic cookie cutter was a doddle to wash and clean afterwards.

2). Dinosaur Metal Cookie Cutter Set

If lots of different prehistoric animal shapes are your requirement then our buying team and their testers have this option covered as well with the Dinosaur metal cookie cutter set.  This is a set of five, tin plated steel dinosaur shaped biscuit cutters in a handy storage box.

The Dinosaur Metal Cookie Cutter Set

Cookie Cutters

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Each cutter is about 12 cm long and the set includes biscuit cutters shaped like Tyrannosaurus rex, Diplodocus, Triceratops and Stegosaurus plus a flying reptile for good measure.

To view the metal cookie cutters: Dinosaur Bedding & Dinosaur Bedroom Accessories

Once again these items proved very versatile and our helpers made lots and lots of biscuits, like the other sets that we have added to our website these items also doubled up as cutters when we were working with modelling clay.  The young children found them easy to use and once again there were no problems washing them up and clearing away.

The biscuits we made were fun to decorate and we had a whole range of multi-coloured dinosaurs at the end, we agreed that they would make super party food for a dinosaur themed party.

3. Tyrannosaurus rex shaped Biscuit Cutter

We couldn’t leave T. rex out of the mix, especially as this fierce dinosaur seems more popular than ever, so our team have found a T. rex biscuit cutter and added this to our range too. 

The Tyrannosaurus rex Biscuit Cutter

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This particular cutter makes dinosaur shaped biscuits that are about 11cm tall, it was easy to use and was well suited for the particularly young children to try.  We made gingerbread and shortbread biscuits and they all proved to be very popular.  Once again we got the children to decorate them and they all had lots of fun.

To view the Dinosaur cookie cutters: Dinosaur Bedding & Dinosaur Bedroom Accessories

The Tyrannosaurus rex Biscuits just out of the Oven

T. rex Biscuits

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As you can see we made lots of Tyrannosaurus rex shaped biscuits, the ones in the picture are gingerbread dinosaurs.  One of our dinosaur experts commented that with all these dinosaurs together on the tray like that it reminded him of a bone bed, although only a few Theropod fossils have ever been found in close proximity to each other, indicating a social group or a family perhaps.

Still our biscuits did not remain in a group for long, once cooled and decorated our hungry helpers soon polished them off.  It makes a change, after all, T. rex would have considered us bite size had we been around 65 million years ago, now with these biscuits we can turn the tables on Tyrannosaurus rex, making him a bite sized snack for us.

To see the collection of cookie cutters and biscuit shapes from Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Party Cakes

Getting Stalked by a Flock of Quetzalcoatlus

New Research into Late Cretaceous Pterosaurs – Not Flyers but Stalkers

New research published today, led by scientists from the University of Portsmouth has concluded that many of the large Pterosaurs of the Late Cretaceous may have had a completely different lifestyle than previously thought.  They may have been walkers, not long-distance gliders, patrolling the great fern plains snatching up prey with their long toothless beaks.

Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, but reptiles that shared a common ancestry with the dinosaurs (the Archosaurs).  The first fossils of these flying reptiles date back to the middle of the Triassic, around 230 million years ago.  They evolved into a myriad of forms, from long-tailed Pterosaurs with relatively short bodies and stubby wings to the huge, short-tailed Pterosaurs of the late Cretaceous with many species having wingspans in excess of 8 metres.

These flying reptiles were very successful during the Mesozoic period, although their numbers and the diversity of the group declined sharply towards the end of the Cretaceous.  Scientists have speculated about why this group of animals declined, perhaps it was because of competition from the rapidly diversifying birds.  After all, feathered flyers would have a number of advantages over gliding or flying reptiles that were powered by flaps of skin, living tissue membranes, reinforced with tough, elastic fibres which were supported by an elongated fourth finger.

To read more about Pterosaurs competing with birds: Did the Birds wipe out the Pterosaurs?

The last of the flying reptiles were giants, animals like Quetzalcoatlus and Pteranodon.  Interestingly, Pteranodon fossils (the family is called Pteranodontidae) have been mainly found in marine sediments.  This indicates that these animals lived in coastal habitats and they were probably piscivorous (fish-eaters).  In contrast, fossils of the genus Quetzalcoatlus (family is called the Azhdarchidae), are associated with sediments that were laid down inland; far away from a marine environment.  The fossil evidence revealed so far on the Azhdarchidae Pterosaurs does not point to them being typical fish-eaters and there are some subtle differences in their anatomy when compared to other large Pterosaurs that may indicate a totally different ecological niche for these bizarre creatures.

This new study carried out by Mark Witton and Dr Darren Naish has reviewed the current data and published fossil material on the Azhdarchids.  They have come to the conclusion that these animals may have been the prehistoric equivalent of ground-feeding birds such as the ground hornbills and some types of modern stork.

The study of Azhdarchid anatomy, footprints attributed to these Pterosaurs and the distribution of their fossils by the research team shows that the coastal glider, fish-eater stereotype of large Pterosaurs does not necessarily apply to this particular family of flying reptiles.  Their review provides evidence that some types of Azhdarchids were strongly adapted for terrestrial life.  According to the review of the fossil bones of Azhdarchids the scientists have concluded that they were better adapted for walking than other types of flying reptile because they had long limbs in proportion to their bodies.  Their light, skulls ending in a sharp, pointed but toothless beak would have been well suited for picking up small animals and other food from the ground.  They would then have manipulated their food in the huge beak before swallowing it whole (probably head first like many species of ground hunting birds do today).

Azhdarchids such as Quetzalcoatlus, a huge Pterosaur with a wingspan of approximately 12 metres have big eye sockets in their skulls indicating large eyes, with perhaps telescopic vision, although this can only be speculated at the moment.  The placement of the eyes to the side of the head but looking forward would have enabled these large animals to judge distance accurately.  Some palaeontologists believe that these physical attributes would have helped Quetzalcoatlus scan lakes for fish on the surface or perhaps to search the terrain below them for carcases to scavenge as they flew high above, just like vultures do today.  However, this new paper reports on how effective these adaptations would be for spotting and grabbing prey as these huge reptiles wandered around on all fours.

An Artist’s Impression of Quetzalcoatlus Searching for Food

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

The illustration above shows a flock of Quetzalcoatlus moving through an extensive fern plain predating on small animals including baby dinosaurs hiding in the undergrowth.  The wings may not have been particularly effective for flying with rapid wing beats, but could have served as giant shields to prevent potential prey escaping.  Moving in a line they could have co-operated together in order to stop any small animals avoiding being eaten.  Such behaviour is seen in the group hunting of some pelican species today.

If the Azhdarchids did have this sort of environmental niche, it is possible to imagine them following behind the herds of Hadrosaurs and Ceratopsians snatching at the small creatures such as lizards, mammals and small dinosaurs disturbed by these huge herbivores as they wandered the plains.

It would be beneficial for both types of animals, the Ceratopsians for example could rely on the Pterosaurs with their keen eyesight to keep a look out for potential predators such as Tyrannosaurs, whilst the Azhdarchids could rely on the horned dinosaurs to flush out potential prey and with their horny beaks they could crop small trees and bushes helping to maintain the plains as an ideal hunting habitat for these large flying reptiles.

Loose relationships such as these can be observed on the Savannah of Africa with herds of Zebra tolerating Ostriches, as the bird’s sharp eyes can help to keep watch for predators, permitting the Zebras to remain with their heads down for longer grazing.

Escaping from any potential threats could pose a problem for such large Pterosaurs, it had been thought that these animals needed to live by cliffs so that their take-off could be assisted by gusts of wind rising from natural obstacles.  It has also been suggested that these animals used thermals, hot air rising from the land to help them gain altitude in a manner similar to vultures and birds such as condors.  Being able to take to the air was perhaps their only effective means of defence against predators.  Although the largest species of Azhdarchidae so far described Q. northropi had a wingspan of 11-12 metres it weighed little more than 80-90 kgs, so it would have been no match even for a small or sub-adult member of the Tyrannosauroidae.  The relatively long hind-limbs could have been quite powerful and capable of providing the impetus and initial lift to help these animals take to the air, but again the fragmentary fossil evidence of the Azhdarchidae prevents much further work on the muscle mass associated with the femur or the bones of the lower leg.

The More Typical Pose of an Azhdarchid Pterosaur

Quetzalcoatlus takes to the air

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a model of a Quetzalcoatlus a typical large, long-necked Azhdarchid Pterosaur of the late Cretaceous.  The model is from the “Dinosaurs” series produced by Schleich of Germany.

To view a range of prehistoric animal models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Despite the lack of fossils it is now known that the Azhdarchids had a substantial geographic distribution.  Fossils have been found in China, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, Russia, Senegal, Spain, North America and Uzbekistan.  Indeed, this type of Pterosaur was named from the Uzbek word for dragon.

Dr Naish said: “Azhdarchids first became reasonably well known in the 1970s but how they lived has been the subject of much debate. Originally described as vulture-like scavengers, they were later suggested to be mud-probers (sticking their long bills into the ground in search of prey), and later still suggested to make a living by flying over the water’s surface, grabbing fish.

Other lifestyles have been suggested too. These lifestyles all seem radically divergent so Mark and I sat down and carefully examined the evidence and we argue that Azhdarchids were specialised terrestrial stalkers. All the details of their anatomy, and the environment their fossils are found in, show that they made their living by walking around, reaching down to grab and pick up animals and other prey.”

The two researchers studied fossils in London, Portsmouth and Germany and compared the anatomy of Azhdarchids with those of modern animals, that fill the sort of ecological niches previously thought to have been occupied by the Azhdarchids in the Campanian and Maastrichtian faunal stages of the Late Cretaceous.  This showed that Azhdarchids were strikingly different from mud-probers and animals that grab prey from the water’s surface while in flight.

Dr Naish said: “We also worked out the range of motion possible in the Azhdarchid neck: this bizarrely stiff neck has previously been a problem for other ideas about Azhdarchid lifestyle, but it fits with our model depicting this group as terrestrial stalkers”.

This particular group of Pterosaurs have characteristically long-necks which are relatively stiff and immobile.  Such an anatomical arrangement would fit the hypothesis put forward by Mark Witton and Dr Naish as with a terrestrial, stalking habit all these animals would need to do to feed would be to raise and lower the beak in a vertical line to the ground.  Studies of the bones in neck vertebrae indicate that they could certainly do this.  The necks were also quite strong, able to support the head and a beak up to 1 metre long in the larger species, certainly some of these neck vertebrae were an impressive size, a single neck vertebrae, discovered in Jordan in 1943 and believed to have belonged to an Azhdarchid was over 60 cm long.

The strong, inflexible neck also provides evidence to support another theory about the diet of these animals, that they were scavengers operating like vultures.  The huge wings allowing them to glide effortless across the land, coupled with their excellent eye-sight would have made them superb spotters of carrion.  Once found, the carcase could be ripped open by a few strong blows of that strong, dagger-like beak.  These Pterosaurs if they were scavengers living on the remains of dinosaurs would have had to break through many centimetres of tough hide to reach the flesh underneath.  The sharp beaks, powered by strong neck muscles could be capable of doing this. A long neck would enable these creatures to reach deep inside a carcase to feed.

In the scientific paper published today other aspects of Azhdarchid anatomy are discussed.  Consideration is given to their relatively small padded feet which the British researchers claim would not have been suited to walking around the muddy shores of lakes, probing for burrowing shellfish and crabs.  This work casts further doubt on the mud-probers hypothesis.

In their study the researchers calculated that over 50% of all the known Azhdarchid fossils are from sediments laid down inland, away from marine environments.  Significantly, the few articulated Azhdarchid fossils have all been discovered in areas believed to have been a long way from salt-water when the animal perished.  The relative completeness of these finds indicate that the carcase may not have been transported very far before finally coming to rest and starting the preservation process.  This might show that the Azhdarchids were very much creatures of the land and not marine environments.

From our own observations of birds such as the Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) on the Masai Mara, it is possible to imagine animals such as the Azhdarchids filling this niche in the food chain.  Although it is worth pointing out that in the case of the Marabou stork, it scavenges carcases as well as actively hunting in the grass and reed beds of Africa.  Perhaps the Azhdarchids such as Quetzalcoatlus and its close relative Montanazhdarcho were also opportunists grabbing a meal in a variety of ways.  If they were warm-blooded and this is quite likely given the Pterosaur ability to fly, then they would have had to consume perhaps as much as ten times the food of a similar sized cold-blooded animal like one of the large crocodiles that also lived at the end of the Mesozoic.

No doubt the debate will continue for sometime to come.  The paucity of the fossil record for large Pterosaurs does not help, there have been several attempts to review the Azhdarchidae in order to establish relationships between genera.  What is compounding the problem is that scientists are not really sure of the size of many genera so far described, many from only fragmentary remains.  For example, a single bone from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation in Alberta, Canada could be a femur indicating an animal with a wingspan of no more than 3 metres across.  However, if the same bone is described as a wing metacarpal, or an arm bone (ulna or radius) then with a bone diameter in excess of 60 mm this would indicate an immense animal with a wingspan approaching the size of the largest Pterosaurs known (wingspan in excess of 12 metres).

Such are the difficulties that surround research into these amazing animals.  Work on the Campanian faunal stage deposits in Alberta indicates the presence of a least three genera of Azhdarchid, with wingspans from 2.5 to up to 11 metres across all living in the same area at the same time.  However, the incomplete and scarce remains recovered so far mean that palaeontologists are unable to rule out the possibility that the Pterosaur fossils found in this area actually represent just one genus and that the bones represent animals of different ages or perhaps even males and females.  Bennett (1992) has made a convincing case for sexual dimorphism in Pteranodon, with males believed to be up to twice the size of adult females.

The truth is, until many more fossils of Azhdarchids are found then the speculation on their diet and lifestyle and even some aspects of their basic anatomy are going to continue.  Ten years ago for instance, Clark et all published a paper on a study of the posture of Pterosaurs, this team concluded that the metatarsal-phalangeal joints of the Azhdarchids (those bones that connect the ankle to the toes) did not seem well suited to a cursorial lifestyle.

This article has been produced using material from the Public Library of Science (2008, May 28) – Giant Flying Reptiles Preferred To Walk.

The work of Bennett referred to in the text is from a paper published in 1992 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology – Sexual dimorphism of Pteranodon and other Pterosaurs with Comments on Cranial Crests.

Israeli Cave Promises an Abundance of Prehistoric Artifacts

New Cave Discovered in Israel provides insight into Prehistoric Life

Construction workers digging drainage and sewage pipes in the Jewish National Fund forest have discovered a large cave system containing many prehistoric artifacts.  The workers broke into the cave as they were constructing an underground pathway for a sewage pipe in the western Galilee forest.

Some of the larger chambers contain spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, formed as minerals such as calcite dissolved out of dripping water.  The word stalactite is actually derived from the Greek word “stalaktos” which means dripping.  Stalactites are tapering deposits of calcite that hang down from the roof of caves like icicles.  Stalagmites are formed from dripping water and form rising, tapering mounds that in many cases unit with stalactites to form spectacular columns.

To help remember the difference between these two calcite structures – “stalactites hold on tight to the ceiling, whereas stalagmites might one day join up with them.

Commenting on the potential of the cave system to provide evidence of life in prehistoric times, a spokesperson from the Israel Antiquities Authority stated that already a large amount of prehistoric material had been discovered.

“It seems that during the past 40-50 years no cave has been found with such a wealth of prehistoric finds and certainly not inside such a lovely stalactite cave”, claimed Dr. Ofer Marder, the head of the Prehistory Branch of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who examined the cave.

The cave system opens out into a number of large chambers, the largest measuring 60 x 80 metres, this is approximately four times the width and three times the length of a basketball court.  Soil and other debris has fallen or been washed into the cave from the surface and a large number of flint tools used by early settlers have been found along with the bones of a variety of animals that are no longer indigenous to the area.  Bones of red deer, fallow deer, buffalo and the remains of bears have been found.

The remains of the bears are particularly interesting, as the cave deposits have been dated from between 40,000 years to 10,000 years ago.  The bones could have come from Brown bears (Ursus arctus) or possibly the larger Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus).  These large animals, some of which may have weighed up to 1 Tonne and had a height of over 2 metres at the shoulder, evolved around 300,000 years ago and survived to about 40,000 years ago, making any evidence found in the Israeli cave some of the last traces left by these huge omnivores.  Further work is required to confirm the presence of Cave bear remains, these bears were about 35% bigger than Brown bears, had fewer teeth in the jaws, skulls with a distinctive slope and their limbs were proportioned differently.

A Model of Ursus spelaeus (Cave Bear)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above is a model of a Cave bear from the Schleich Prehistoric Mammal model collection a series of 1:20 scale models of mammals from the Pleistocene epoch.

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

In a statement released by the Israel Antiquities Authority they claim that preliminary studies indicate that the remains in the cave date from the Upper Palaeolithic period, otherwise known as the Late Stone Age.  This period dates from 40,000 years ago to approximately 10,000 years ago, the beginning of the Holocene a period in Earth’s history of dramatic climate change, increasing human populations and the start of sedentary agriculture.

The cave has been sealed and its exact location kept secret but further research is planned permitting a more accurate date to be placed on some of the finds and the cave system to be properly explored.

Inflatable Dinosaurs

Dinosaur Inflatables – An Inflatable Tyrannosaurus rex Dinosaur

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have been getting themselves into the holiday and party mood with this inflatable dinosaur, an inflatable T. rex.  Just add air to create your own pneumatic prehistoric animal, the “King of the Tyrant Lizards”, a dinosaur famous for its strong bite, fearsome appearance and tiny arms.

Inflatable Tyrannosaurus rex

Just add air for some prehistoric fun

Just add air for some prehistoric fun

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

However, with this T. rex if he starts to roar you can always deflate him and put him away for another day.  We think our Tyrannosaurid is quite cute looking, when fully inflated he stands 76cm tall and he makes a super addition to a dinosaur party or for fun by the pool.

To view the rest of Everything Dinosaur’s huge range of dinosaur party themed items: Dinosaur Party Supplies

An inflatable dinosaur, especially a T. rex is bound to help a dinosaur party event to be a “T-errific success”!

Britain’s Most Complete Dinosaur Fossil Discovered to Date.

Britain’s most Complete Dinosaur Found to Date ready to go on Display

The most complete dinosaur fossil ever to be found in the United Kingdom is about to go on display at the Bristol museum.  The fossil is of a Scelidosaurus, an early armoured dinosaur that dates from the Jurassic.

This magnificent specimen of this plant-eater, is nearly complete, a rare find indeed when it is considered that in comparison to other Ornithopods these animal’s remains are very scarce in the fossil record.  The lack of fossil evidence relating to these creatures could be for a number of reasons, perhaps these herbivores were associated with environments in which the likelihood of fossil preservation would be low, dry, upland areas for example.  The small number of fossils could also be due simply to the fact that compared with other mega fauna around at the time, these types of dinosaurs only made up a small proportion of the animal community.  Such relatively rare animals would be statistically less likely to be fossilised.  Certainly, there is speculation as to the habitat of these armoured dinosaurs, with Scelidosaurs being associated with marine deposits, the exceptional quality of the specimen going on display has provided scientists with lots of new data to assist in our understanding of these dinosaurs.

The Skull and the Neck Bones of the Scelidosaurus going on Display

Britain’s most complete dinosaur fossil discovered to date.

Picture Credit: Bristol Museum

To read more about Scelidosaurs: Scelidosaurus – a uniquely British dinosaur

In the picture above the snout is facing to the left of the picture, with the animal’s eye socket in a direct line between the tip of the fingers on the researcher’s right hand.  The teeth can clearly be seen in the photograph, they are leaf shaped and the fossilised wear pattern indicate that Scelidosaurus had a peculiar feeding habit.  The plant food, probably low lying ferns was crushed in the mouth before being swallowed.  Perhaps not the most energy efficient way of eating and not nearly as sophisticated a process such as the feeding of the later Ceratopsians, Iguanodonts and the Hadrosaurs.  This relatively primitive chewing process could perhaps explain why there are so few fossil skeletons of this type of dinosaur about.

Although permineralised, specimens of almost complete skeletons such as this are extremely rare and delicate.  It is interesting to note that the researcher is wearing rubber gloves when handling the fossil.  Our fingers tend to be acidic and this can damage the surface of fossils, after all many of them are preserved in limestone and this is dissolved by acidic substances.  It is best not to handle fossils a great deal, or indeed to pick up a specimen by the fossil element itself, pick it up by the surrounding matrix if there is any present.  Fossils like this Scelidosaurus need to be looked after, they stopped making them around 175 million years ago!

Rapid Climate Change – not for the First Time

Quick reflection on the Holocene

Here in the Holocene, the name given to epoch that represents the last 10,000 years or so our planet is experiencing  a period of relatively cold weather in geological terms.  The planet has steadily been getting cooler since the end of the Mesozoic (65 million years ago).  It is true, if a graph of average global temperatures were drawn, the line representing temperature would not always slope downwards to the present, for example, the world got considerably warmer during the the early Eocene with global temperatures estimated to be 2 degrees Celsius higher than in the Cretaceous.  However, there has been a trend over the last 65 million years or so for the average temperature on the planet to fall.  Despite fears regarding global warming and climate change, the average global temperature is 14 degrees Celsius, compared to nearly 19 degrees 15 million years ago.

Climate change has an enormous impact on life, the difference between the changes we are seeing today and some of the changes in the past is the speed of the change.  If scientific predictions are correct, global temperatures could rise by about as much as 5 degrees over 100 years.  A radical change, one that would have devastating consequences for much of the planet.  The geological time period we are living in today is called the Quaternary, this is divided into two epochs, the Pleistocene which began about 1.8 million years ago and the Holocene (recent time, the last 10,000 years).  The Quaternary was divided into two parts, with a boundary at 10,000 years ago because it was then that a major thaw in the world’s ice sheets occurred, taking no more than 15-50 years.  This dramatic warming led to a number of extinctions, particularly amongst large mammals and other mega fauna.  Since this sudden warming up, the Earth’s climate has actually been more stable than during any other 10,000 year interval in at least the last 200,000 years.

This relatively stable period of world weather, has enabled the human species to flourish, soon our population will exceed 7 billion.  Our numbers and the subsequent demand for finite resources plus the affect our species is having on the environment could spell trouble ahead, not just for the so called vulnerable species such as some of the large mammals we share the Earth with, but remember we are a large mammal too.

Dinosaur Trace Fossils Discovered in Yemen

Dinosaur Footprints Discovered on the Arabian Peninsula

It may be surprising to some, but there are still significantly large areas of the world yet to be fully explored by palaeontologists and geologists.  The geology of an area may have been mapped, indeed elements of the stratigraphic column – the sequences of rock layers and their relation to each other in terms of their time of deposition, may be known, but no detailed studies of the local fossils may have been made.

Over the last ten years or so, scientists have begun to explore relatively unknown areas of the world, in terms of their fossil evidence.  Digs have taken place up mountain sides in the Alps, along dessicated valley floors in the middle of the Antarctic and on the hot, dry plains of central Australia.  A scientific paper published this week provides details on a set of dinosaur tracks discovered in Yemen, a small country on the tip of the Arabian peninsula, these are the first dinosaur tracks to be found in this region.

The tracks will help scientists understand more about the relationship between dinosaurs discovered in Africa and those from Europe as well as providing an insight into the herding behaviour of these prehistoric beasts.

There are two main types of fossil, firstly there are body fossils, these are the fossilised remains of parts of the “body” of animals and plants, such as bones, leaves and shells, or their impression in the surrounding sediment.  It does not matter whether or not the parts of the body have been altered in chemical composition or physical structure.  The second type of fossil are trace fossils.  These preserve evidence of the “activity” of animals, trace fossils can be trackways (as found in Yemen), trails, burrows or borings.  Trace fossils are often the only evidence left for scientists to study of soft-bodied animals such as worms.

The dinosaur footprints from Yemen were made by two different types of dinosaur as they crossed a muddy plain approximately 150 million years ago in the late Jurassic (Kimmeridgian/Tithonian faunal stage).  During this period in Earth’s history,  much of Europe lay under warm, shallow tropical seas, whilst the land that was to become the Arabian peninsula was still firmly attached to eastern Africa in a super continental landmass.

The first set of footprints, were left by a small group of Sauropods, a total of 11 animals, which all seemed to be heading in the same direction.  The footprints are of different sizes and the spaces between the individual prints made by each animal are also different.  This indicates that the animals were of different sizes, perhaps this was a family group or herd.

The footprints left by the herding herbivores varied in size, implying a roving group of adults and children. “Smaller individuals had shorter stride lengths, and took more steps to keep up with the larger individuals,” commented Nancy Stevens, an assistant professor of palaeontology at Ohio University in Athens, and one of the co-authors of the scientific paper published describing the tracks.

Sauropods were large, long-necked animals such as Diplodocids, but it is not possible to identify the particular genus from these trace fossils.

The second set of trace fossils consist of a single trackway made by a lone dinosaur, which was walking in the opposite direction.  This set of prints were made by an Ornithopod, a bird-hipped dinosaur (Ornithischian).  Unlike the Sauropods, this animal was bipedal, walking upright on its hind legs.  Once again, it is impossible to identify a particular genus from this set of prints, but they might have been made by an animal such as a Camptosaurus (member of the Camptosauria).

The muddy plain where the tracks were made was adjacent to a watercourse that was drying up, such areas are used by animals today as natural corridors, it seems that dinosaurs used these areas as highways to, they would have been devoid of trees and open, making them difficult places for predators to stage an ambush.  The Sauropods and Ornithopods were plant-eaters, so these animals could have been moving to and from areas where food could be found.  Certainly, in the case of the group of Sauropods they would quickly reduce a grove of cycads or bennettites to nothing more than a few crushed fronds and damage trunks, as these large animals fed.  Large herbivorous dinosaurs such as the Sauropods would have had a dramatic effect on the local flora, helping to shape the landscape, just as herds of elephants on the African plains do today.

The individual Ornithopod tracks, may indicate that this animal was a male, perhaps choosing to live away from the protection of a herd, the tracks are certainly quite large, indicating an adult animal possibly, although this is all speculation and cannot be proved for certain.

The Three-Toed Tracks of the Ornithopod

Picture Credit: Nancy Stevens (Ohio University, Athens)

The picture shows three footprints made by this bipedal dinosaur, the tracks show the animal moving away from the point from which the picture was taken, the three toes on each foot can clearly be seen.

It is not possible to state whether the two types of dinosaur passed each other, one type of dinosaur may have passed this way a few hours before or after the other animals had wandered through in the opposite direction.  Had these two types of dinosaur met, they would most probably have ignored each other, neither would have been a threat and these types of animal, speculated to be relatively common in the area, would have been used to seeing different dinosaur species in the neighbourhood.

There are many exposed rock outcrops of Jurassic age in the area.  The authors of this new paper are confident that other fossils of Mesozoic creatures will be found, perhaps even the fossils of meat-eating dinosaurs, as it would be likely that with prey animals around the carnivores such as Allosaurs would also have been in the area.

Dinosaurs for the Beach

Dinosaurs for the Beach

With the Summer holidays approaching, here is a seasonal offer from the team at Everything Dinosaur that should help keep young dinosaur fans happy on their holidays.

To mark the start of the Summer season, the Everything Dinosaur team have produced a dinosaur beach set consisting of a big beach towel, handy, dinosaur themed beach bag and a giant inflatable dinosaur.

The Dinosaur Beach Set from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Everything Dinosaur website: Everything Dinosaur

The large beach towel is made from 100% cotton and measures 75 cm by 150 cm, big enough for any little monster!  The handy, clear plastic dinosaur themed beach bag is big enough to carry just about everything that a young palaeontologist might need for a trip to the beach and for splashing about in the pool or in the sea the giant inflatable T. rex, at over 1 metre long is a very appropriate accompaniment.

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