A Thank you from Young Dinosaur Fans

Young Dinosaur Fans show their Appreciation

With the school summer holidays, team members at Everything Dinosaur organise a series of activities to help entertain and educate children as part of the County Council leisure services summer events.  A typical visit took place yesterday at Poynton Leisure Centre, near Stockport, Cheshire.  We arrived in the afternoon and carried out a number of activities and games with the children, culminating in the creation of a poster montage which we called “Prehistoric Poynton”.  Despite the advances made in the science of palaeontology, there is very little evidence available to indicate what colour dinosaurs actually were.  Although we are all familiar with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals from films, books and of course television, the actual colouration of these animals is very much open to debate.  During one of our many dinosaur teaching lessons we carry out a little exercise where we get the young dinosaur fans to interpret dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals and advance their own theories.  There are some wonderful ideas put forward and the children help us produce a colourful poster scheme on which they can display all their drawings and information on dinosaurs.  This exercise is certainly a fun and an informative activity and helps young learners to appreciate some of the ideas that we introduce when showing various fossils.

Earlier that day, in preparation for our visit, the children had created thank you cards to give to the Everything Dinosaur team members who were involved in this particular visit.  The children, working closely with the enthusiastic Leisure Centre staff and helpers produced a wonderful collection of thank you cards and pictures.  We added the cards to the poster display that was produced in our activity session, but we did take a card home so that we could pin it up onto our own display board in the warehouse.

A Thank you Card from the Children

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above was presented by a young girl to the Everything Dinosaur team members who took part in the activity session, we thought it a good idea to take a picture of it before we pinned it to our display board.  Always a pleasure to take a break from sorting out Everything Dinosaur toys and dinosaur models and to interact with young dinosaur fans.

Thank you from Year 1 School Children

Thank you Letters Received After Dinosaur Workshop in School

At the end of the Summer Term, Everything Dinosaur visited a primary school in Staffordshire (English midlands) to help with the Year 1 term topic of dinosaurs and the “Jurassic Forest”.  The children, aged between six and seven years of age had lots of questions for our dinosaur expert and they were keen to show off their dinosaur themed artwork.  This morning, the postman arrived with a big envelope with thirty thank  you letters that had been written by the children, one of the last things they did before the end of their school term.

After a school visit to teach about dinosaurs in schools, it is always a pleasure to receive letters from young dinosaur fans.  It is also a good way to get budding young palaeontologists to practice their writing skills.

Young Ryan wrote:

“I had a great time, my favourite part was when you showed me the dinosaur teeth.”

School chum Imogen said that she had lots of fun and that she enjoyed learning all about dinosaurs, her favourite exercise was the casting of the fossil dinosaur teeth.  Destiny really enjoyed the dinosaur workshop and she stated that when she gets older she wants to be go and dig up dinosaurs too.  Destiny also remembered the name of some of the fossilised remains that we had looked at, which was very clever of her.  Rhys on the other hand, explained that his favourite meat-eating dinosaur was Tyrannosaurus rex and that is favourite plant-eating dinosaur was the plated Stegosaurus.

It seems that all the children enjoyed the dinosaur workshop and the standard of letter writing was very good.  All the letters stated with “dear” and there was lots of evidence of correct spelling and appropriate use of connectives and punctuation.  We shall pin the letters up onto one of our big message boards in our warehouse.

To read more about Everything Dinosaur’s school workshops: Teaching About Dinosaurs (Year 1 Pupils)

Something Fishy on the Rockery

Amazing Cretaceous Bony Fish Preserved in Flint

For a local Kent resident the habit of picking up unusual objects to place in his rockery at home has enabled scientists to get to grips with a rare example of a fossilised Cretaceous fish.

The stone shaped fish head was spotted by Peter Parvin and his wife whilst they beach-combed on a caravan holiday to Pevensey in East Sussex in 1993.  Found amongst the pebbles as the tide was going out, Mr Parvin thought nothing of his find, simply placing it amongst the other curiosities he had collected in this rockery.  However, a chance conversation with a volunteer from Maidstone museum in a pub, led to him bringing this rare, ancient relic to the museum for closer examination.

The Rare Fish Head Fossil

Picture Credit: Kent News Online

The fish head fossil measures approximately 15 cm across, it is shown in the photograph facing to the right of the screen.  The eye, mouth and shape of the gills can clearly be seen.

“I have never seen one of these before”, commented Dr. Ed Jarzembowski, the Keeper of Natural History at Maidstone Museum.  “Quite simply it’s priceless”.

In contrast with most fossils found from this period (which are associated with chalk), the fish head has been preserved in flint, this makes it particularly rare and valuable.  The hard flint would have helped maintain the quality of preservation, even as this stone was bumped and bashed on the shoreline of Pevensey beach.

The fish has been dated to around 80 million years ago (Late Cretaceous) and is a representative of the modern bony fish group the Teleosts.  This type of fish, with its streamlined fins, highly manoeuvrable body and ability to open its jaws wider than other more primitive fish forms evolved from the Acanthodian fishes.  Bony fish dominate the world’s freshwater and oceans with a greater diversity of animals at the taxonomic level of Family than any other group of vertebrates.

During the Late Cretaceous, most of the UK was covered with a warm, shallow tropical sea.  These seas swarmed with life and there are a number of common fossils associated with flint nodules.  Sponges are often found in association with flint nodules.  Flint occurs as extremely hard nodes in chalk deposits.  It is formed by chemical reactions within the chalk sediments and it is composed of silica in the form of microscopic quartz crystals.  The silica came mainly from the exoskeletons of dead sea sponges (these are made of silica), and they were subject to dissolving into solution under the alkaline environment of the chalk deposits.  The silica tended to re-solidify if it encountered local acidic conditions such as the acidic conditions surrounding decaying organic material such as this fish head.  This may help to explain how this fish head fossil was formed.

There are plans to put the fish head on display at the local museum, although it may be ultimately sold in order to help raise funds for the museum’s development.

Strange Dinosaur Called Conchoraptor

“Conch Thief” – Conchoraptor

Measuring a little under two metres in length, Conchoraptor is a genus of Oviraptorid dinosaur known from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia.  It may even be another species of Oviraptor and not a separate genus at all, but palaeontologists remain unsure.  However, based on the known fossil evidence this dinosaur lacked a skull crest and the hands were more primitive than Oviraptor philoceratops and Oviraptor mongoliensis.

It had a very bird-like skeleton, with a blunt snout and a very strong beak.  Scientists have suggested that since this dinosaur’s fossils have been associated with lacustrine sediments (strata laid down close to a lake), it may have specialised in catching and eating shelled creatures like snails, bivalves and other molluscs.  The name Conchoraptor means “conch thief” and the formal scientific name including the trivial name is Conchoraptor gracilis.  The names means “graceful conch thief” and it is pronounced “Konk-oh-rap-tor grass-sil-is”.

 An Illustration of Conchoraptor (C. gracilis)

"Conch Thief" feeding by the lake shore.

“Conch Thief” feeding by the lake shore.

In the illustration above, this little dinosaur is catching hermit crabs and using its small but strong beak to crush the shells so that the crustacean can be extracted.

Nearly Complete Juvenile Tarbosaurus Fossil Found

Scientists Discover Remains of Juvenile Tarbosaurus

A joint Japanese and Mongolian expedition have successfully recovered a nearly complete skeleton of a young dinosaur, a relative of the monstrous Tyrannosaurus rex.  This rare and important find will enable palaeontologists to better understand how Theropod dinosaurs grew and developed.

The dinosaur, a Tarbosaurus (Tarbosaurus bataar) is a juvenile and the skeleton is nearly complete, all that is missing are some neck vertebrae and a few bones from the tip of the tail.  Tarbosaurus was a member of the Tyrannosauridae and this creature is the largest known predator from Asia.  Associated with the very end of the Cretaceous, just like its North American cousin T. rex (Maastrichtian faunal stage), this fierce carnivore grew up to 12 metres in length.  Although known for at least sixty years, scientists still debate whether Tarbosaurus is sufficiently different from Tyrannosaurus rex to be regarded as a distinctive genus.  The fossils found to date (there are more Tarbosaurus remains to study than its more famous relative T. rex), indicate that these two animals were very similar.  There are minor differences in skull morphology, with Tarbosaurus having a proportionately larger head but a shallower snout and less powerfully built lower jaw.  Some scientists claim that Tarbosaurus was more lightly built than Tyrannosaurus rex, perhaps the result of the slightly different ecosystem in Mongolia and China compared to late Cretaceous western North America.  A more agile, gracile predator Tarbosaurus may have specialised in tackling lighter prey animals.

The Beautifully Preserved Tarbosaurus Skull

Picture Credit: Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences (Japan)

The skull is facing to the left of the page, the typical thick, strong teeth of a Tyrannosauridae can clearly be seen.  The blue and white scale bar placed next to the skull is 10 cm long.

The joint Mongolian/Japanese expedition, made up of scientists from the Mongolian Academy of Scientists and the Hayashibara Museum of Natural Sciences in Japan first found the fossilised remains of this dinosaur in August 2006.  The skeleton was encased in a block of sandstone and it has taken nearly two years of careful, patience preparation to extract this young dinosaur from its rock tomb.

Commenting on the completeness of the fossil, Takuji Yokoyama, a spokesperson for the Hayashibara Museum stated:

“We were so lucky to have found remains that turned out to be a complete set of all the important parts”.

Fossilised skeletons of young dinosaurs are extremely rare and the discovery of such a well-preserved and complete specimen is an exceptional find.  The bones of juveniles, being lighter than adults are often scattered and broken up or destroyed by weathering on the surface.  The corpse of a young dinosaur would have been attractive to any passing scavenger and many remains would have been devoured leaving little chance of fossilisation for the fragments that are left over.  This fossil was probably covered very soon after death and this has led to the preservation of over 95% of the bones.

The latest discovery from the Gobi desert will help provide more information on the ontogeny of dinosaurs (growth rates and development).  The animal was over 2 metres long when it died and it is believed to have been around the age of 5.  It has not been possible to determine the gender, but had this dinosaur lived to reach adulthood it would have been the top predator of the area and may have exceeded 12 metres in length.

New Message Board Up in the Everything Dinosaur Warehouse

New Cork Board Installed at Everything Dinosaur

As team members at Everything Dinosaur get sent lots of letters, drawings, pictures and posters of dinosaurs from fans of prehistoric animals we thought it would be a good idea if we had somewhere in the warehouse where we could display them.  We have just added another big notice board to one of the walls in our warehouse.  We shall dedicate this space to displaying all the dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed material that we receive from school children and other young fans of all things dinosaur.

The notice board is quite large, but we suspect that with all our visits to schools to teach about dinosaurs and with our ever growing mail bag we shall soon need a bigger notice board!

As always, our hard-working and dedicated team members promise to respond to all those that require a reply.

Big Rise in Visitor Numbers to “Jurassic Coast”

Large Increase in Visitor Numbers to Dorset Coast

Despite the risk of another major landslide around the Lyme Regis area, the summer weather is bringing record crowds to the southern coast of England and in particular to go fossil hunting on the beaches that make up the Jurassic Coast.  There has been an increase in the number of walkers taking advantage of the fine weather to explore the cliff top walks and officials at the Dorset council have urged everyone who uses the cliff top walks and trails to take notice of the safety signs that have been erected.  Parts of the cliff remain unstable and walkers are urged not to go too close to the edge and to avoid sections of the path that have been marked.

If fossil hunting on the beach, tourists are advised to stay well clear of the bottom of the cliffs and to take the advice of local coast guards and coast watchers with regards to tides and times.

Frog Blog Update – At Least one Made It

Frog Blog – Tiny Frog Spotted near Pond

Yesterday one of our team members spotted a tiny frog whilst they were outside watering the office tomato plants (another one of our projects).  The frog was one that had just emerged this year and it was discovered within 5 feet of the office pond.  Although we cannot prove it conclusively, we can surmise that this frog hatched in the pond and had been one of the tadpoles we had been attempting to observe.

Once the tadpoles hatched, within days they disappeared and we thought that they had all perished.  From late April until early July not one single tadpole was seen by any of our staff members.  We were quite surprised, as although the pond was relatively small and shallow we just could not find any amongst the weed.

The Baby Frog

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

However, the finding of a frog that had recently undergone metamorphosis so close to the office pond, with no other water source nearby may indicate that at least one of the tadpoles has made it to the frog stage.  We will keep a close look out in case we spot any more.

Dinosaur Divergence Fits and Starts and Long before the End of the Cretaceous

New Study Indicates Dinosaur Divergence well before Late Cretaceous Demise

There is a popularist view that the dinosaurs were at their most diverse and at the peak of their evolution in terms of the number of new species evolving; at the very end of the Cretaceous.  The Chicxulub impact then wiped out the great dinosaur dynasty leaving the world for the mammals to exploit.  Fossil evidence does not support this idea, studies in the Hell Creek Formation (Maastrichtian faunal stage), of the western United States indicate that the number of species of dinosaur was declining in this part of the world towards the end of the Cretaceous.  Approximately ten different genera are known from the youngest Cretaceous sediments, whilst older strata from this area show evidence of many more different dinosaur types.

Certainly some of the best known dinosaurs date from the very end of the Mesozoic.  Animals wandering the Hell Creek area at the end of the Cretaceous include Triceratops, Ankylosaurus and of course Tyrannosaurus rex.  In the past, these gigantic representatives of their dinosaur families, (Triceratops, Ankylosaurus and T. rex are just about the largest type of dinosaur from these three families), were thought to indicate that dinosaurs just got too big and lumbering to survive and this is why they went extinct.  Scientists now know that the reasons for the end Cretaceous mass extinction event, the extinction not only of the dinosaurs but also the Ammonites, Plesiosaurs, Mosasaurs, Pterosaurs and a whole host of other plants and animals, were complex and probably involved a number of factors.

Given the limitations of the existing dinosaur fossil record it is difficult to piece together a “dinosaur family tree” but a project to map dinosaur evolution and to highlight the main evolutionary shifts in Dinosauria has just been completed.  The results of this study, led by a team of researchers from the University of Bristol has just been published in the British Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

This study indicates that the dinosaurs as a group diversified rapidly in the Late Triassic (225 – 200 million years ago) and then underwent a second evolutionary surge in the Mid Jurassic (170 -160 million years ago).  The scientists studied a large portion of the described dinosaur species and pieced together an evolutionary “family tree of dinosaurs”.  The team estimate that their study covered something like 70 percent of all the known and described dinosaur species.

This new study contradicts earlier research that shows the dinosaurs diversifying during the Cretaceous.  The established view is that although dinosaurs as a group diversified during their entire existence, in certain periods, the evolution of new forms was speeded up.  One such period was the early to mid Cretaceous which saw the emergence of a greater variety of Ornithischian dinosaurs – the rise of the Hadrosaurs, Ceratopsians and the Pachycephalosaurs, for example.  These types of new dinosaur were evolving during a time when many life forms on Earth were diversifying.  Dating from about 125 to 80 million years ago, there seems to have been a huge surge of increased terrestrial biodiversity.  This time period is referred to as the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution, life on Earth over this period changed dramatically.  The Angiosperms (flowering plants), social insects, modern lizards, Mosasaurs and many types of mammals all evolved.  It had been thought that the rapidly diversifying dinosaurs were part of this move towards greater biodiversity, the paper published by the Bristol team demotes dinosaur evolution during this period to a more peripheral role.  This new study indicates that by the time of the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution, all the main dinosaur types that were to survive until the end of the Cretaceous were already established.

This new work certainly contrasts with much of the accepted thinking regarding dinosaur diversity.  Most palaeontologists believe that during the early to middle Jurassic there were only four main groups of dinosaurs, whilst during the Cretaceous this expanded to nine, namely:

Megalosaurs/Allosaurs, Tyrannosaurs, Sauropods, Hysilophodontids, Hadrosaurs, Pachycephalosaurs, Ceratopsians, Ankylosaurs and Stegosaurs.

The fossil record for all the terrestrial vertebrate life of the Mesozoic is very incomplete so it is difficult to trace evolutionary links between different types of animals.  The work of the Bristol University team is certainly helping to open up the debate, but not having reviewed the actual paper we cannot really comment any further.  It would be interesting to find out how the evolution of non-avian dinosaurs, the birds has been assessed in this study.  Very little is known about the evolution of birds, but they do seem to have diversified and developed new species very quickly during the mid to late Cretaceous, a growth in speciation that was largely unchecked by the Cretaceous mass extinction event.

Certainly, it is not surprising that the dinosaurs diversified during the late Triassic, the world was just recovering from the Permian mass extinction (an event that saw an estimated 57% of all marine families and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrate genera becoming extinct).  Life on Earth slowly began to recover and those types of organisms left began to diversify to fill those environmental niches that were empty and those soon to be left empty by the “dead clades walking” such as the last of the Lystrosaurs.

Biggest Dinosaur Tooth ever found in Japan Revealed

Big Meat-eaters Roamed Cretaceous Japan

Teeth are the hardest parts of vertebrates bodies, the enamel is readily fossilised if conditions are favourable and fossil teeth can provide palaeontologists with a great deal of information about extinct animals.  More information regarding prehistoric life in what is now Japan was unveiled this week with the announcement of the discovery of the largest dinosaur tooth known to date from this country.

An amateur palaeontologist called Satoshi Utsunomiya had found the single tooth whilst on a fossil hunting trip in Hakusan, Ishikawa Prefecture.

The Dinosaur Tooth

Picture Credit: yomiuri.co.jp

The tooth is clearly from a meat-eating dinosaur, a Theropod and was found in sediments approximately 130 million years old, dating the discovery to the early Cretaceous (Hauterivian/Barremian faunal stages).  The tooth is extremely well preserved and measures 8.2 cm long and is 2.8 cm wide at its widest part.

The tooth is a broken tooth, that means that the root is missing.  Two basic types of fossil teeth are found, those with the roots and those without.  The teeth with roots probably fell out of the animal’s skull with the animal already long dead, the flesh around the gums rotting away and eventually the teeth including their roots fall out.  Teeth like these are often found in association with other bone and teeth material.  In contrast, broken teeth like the one found in Japan are associated with tooth loss whilst the animal was very much alive.  A tooth may have been shed whilst this carnivore was feeding or fighting.  Dinosaurs were capable of replacing their teeth throughout their lives, as teeth were worn, broken or shed new teeth erupted on the inside of the old ones.

According to the National Museum of Nature and Science, the largest tooth found previously in Japan is the 7.5 cm long Mifuneryu, which was unearthed in Mifunemachi, Kumamoto Prefecture, in 1979.

One expert says the Hakusan tooth is “the largest specimen found in perfect condition in this country.”   The specimen has been authenticated by the Palaeontological Society of Japan.

The tooth is certainly typical of a large Theropod, being generally re-curved with blade-like denticles (serrations) along the front and back edges.  Teeth variations can help scientists identity the family of the dinosaur that the tooth may have come from.  For instance, Allosauridae and Carcharodontosauridae family members tend to have large, slightly compressed teeth with even-sized serrations.  Tyrannosaur teeth tend to be thicker, “D” shaped in cross section and more coarsely serrated.  The serrated edges helped these meat-eaters to cut into the meat of the victims very efficiently as well as helping to maintain a grip on any struggling prey.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have been lucky enough to examine a number of large Theropod teeth including Tyrannosaur teeth found in Canada.  One particular specimen was so well preserved that the coarse serrations along the edges could clearly be seen without any preparation.

Although, rare in the fossil record casts of fossil teeth can be purchased so that enthusiasts can own for themselves a piece of dinosaur dentition, for example, Everything Dinosaur offers for sale a replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth, one of the very first ever identified as belonging to a T. rex.  It is a copy of a tooth from the right, lower jaw.

The Tyrannosaurus rex Tooth from Everything Dinosaur

Tyrannosaurus rex tooth

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the tooth: Dinosaur Crafts for Kids

There have been a number of recent dinosaur discoveries in Japan, including the unearthing of an enormous thigh bone of a large plant-eating dinosaur: Huge Sauropod Femur found in Japan

In addition, remains of late Cretaceous dinosaurs have also been discovered, including evidence of duck-billed dinosaurs (Hadrosaurs): Duck-Billed dinosaur discovered in Japan

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