Tyrannosaurus rex “Nosing” Around

Analysis of Tyrannosaur Brain-cases indicates heavy reliance on Sense of Smell

A new study into the composition of Theropod brains has just been published in the scientific journal, the British Journal for the Proceedings of the British Royal Society B. It has reinforced the belief that Tyrannosaurs relied heavily on their sense of smell.  Much work has already been done on the organisation of Tyrannosaur brains, primarily from the specimen known as Stan (specimen number BHI3033) discovered in 1992 and now at the Black Hills Institute, South Dakota.  A Tyrannosaurus skull is comprised of over fifty separate bones, few complete skulls have been found but with this particular specimen most of the skeletal elements of the skull were discovered and as they were in pieces exquisite details of nerve pathways could be traced.  This combined with CAT scans of solid skull fossils have provided palaeontologists with an insight into the functioning of the Theropod brain.

In this new study, meat-eating dinosaur brain cases were compared with primitive birds.  The research carried out by a team from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada were able to examine the indentations made on the inside of the skull bones by various parts of the brain, and from this evidence, work out the size of the individual brain elements.  Different parts of the brain are dedicated to different functions.  For example, the cerebrum is dedicated towards thinking (a very large portion of our brain is dedicated to this), whereas the olfactory bulb is associated with sense of smell.  This new study has helped confirm that 50% of T. rex brain function was dedicated to analysing smells.

Sniffing out his Next Meal – Tyrannosaurus rex Illustration

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

An adult Tyrannosaurus rex had a brain that weighed approximately 1 kilogramme, about half of the size of an adult humans but that does not mean that T. rex was half as smart as we are – the size of the body and the arrangement of the functions in the brain have to be considered.  From analysis of Tyrannosaur brain cases, scientists are aware that predatory dinosaurs had relatively larger brains than their herbivorous contemporaries, in T. rex’s case its brain is bigger than an adult Hadrosaur’s and an adult Triceratop’s.

Darla Zelenitsky of the University of Calgary commented:

“Living birds and mammals that rely heavily on smell to find meat have large olfactory bulbs.  The same animals also tend to prowl for prey at night, and cover vast areas.”

Of all the dinosaurs examined in this study, the T. rex had the largest olfactory bulb relative to its overall size.  This is not surprising as work from the late 1980s and early 1990s undertaken by American scientists had already led to comparison of Tyrannosaurus rex olfactory bulb elements of the brain with that of the Turkey Buzzard (hence the famous line by the Bob Bakker look-alike in the film Jurassic Park 2).

This work may well open up the old debate over whether big predators such as Tyrannosaurus rex were active hunters or scavengers.  An excellent sense of smell could help T. rex detect carrion from a distance and then it would have homed in on the carcase to feed.  It is likely that most meat-eating dinosaurs would not have passed up the chance of an easy meal and scavenged the remains of dead animals, even other deceased T. rexes.

T. rex skulls also show a large naris, indicating large nasal passages just what you need when you rely on sense of smell.  It must also be remembered that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this large carnivore also had excellent vision, binocular vision and that it could probably see in colour, making this reptile a formidable predator.

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

The study also found that primitive birds had high-performance odour detectors, challenging a long-held assumption about the evolution of winged vertebrates.

“It has been previously suggested that smell had become less important than eye sight in the ancestors of birds, but we have shown that this wasn’t so,” said Zelenitsky.

Archaeopteryx, for example, which took to the skies during the Jurassic Period some 150 million years ago, had a sense of smell comparable to meat-eating dinosaurs along with excellent eye sight, the study concluded.  Work on the cranial capacity of Archaeopteryx had been carried out by Dr Angela Milner of the Natural History museum in London.  Her team’s study demonstrated that this pigeon-sized bird had a brain function that would have given it excellent balance and co-ordination, perhaps indicating that this bird was a better flyer than previously thought.

Somewhere along the way birds began to lose their sense of smell, but the decline probably happened far later than previously thought, this new study concludes.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s Epidexipteryx

Little Feathered Monster from the Jurassic – Epidexipteryx

The fossilised remains of a bizarre pigeon-sized feathered dinosaur have just been described in the scientific journal “Nature”.  A number of feathered dinosaurs have been unearthed in recent years, most notably from the Cretaceous sediments of Liaoning Province, China.  A number of small, Theropod dinosaurs have been excavated from this area, many show feathers or fibrous coats over parts of their bodies.  Some of these little feathered predators had long, branching feathers on their arms and tails, an example of this would be Caudipteryx known from several nearly complete skeletons all excavated from the Liaoning area.  These long feathers, would not have been designed for flight but more probably used for display – perhaps to attract a mate or frighten off a rival.

Now this new discovery, puts the origin of such bird-like dinosaurs another 30 million years into the past.  The Liaoning discoveries are dated from the Barremian faunal stage of the early Cretaceous (130 -125 million years ago).  The fossil of this new feathered dinosaur, named Epidexipteryx dates from much earlier, approximately 168 – 152 million years ago, making this little creature one of the earliest dinosaurs with feathers known.  Epidexipteryx probably dates from before the time of Archaeopteryx, the famous “first-bird” known from a handful of fossils from the famous Solnhofen deposits in Germany.

An Artist’s Impression of Epidexipteryx

Illustration Credit: Zhao Chuang, Xing Lida/Nature

Study of the fossil specimen has shown that this little dinosaur had affinities with the Oviraptorids – a group of extremely bird-like dinosaurs.  Indeed, some scientists have stated that this particular group of dinosaurs should be reclassified as avian dinosaurs.  Epidexipteryx possessed four long tail feathers that grew out of a pygostyle (compressed caudal vertebrae, the remnants of a reptilian tail still seen in birds today).  These feathers would have probably been used for display purposes, reinforcing evidence that these dinosaurs had excellent colour vision.  The presence of the tail feathers may indicate complex, social interactions and sophisticated behaviours, reminiscent of many bird courtship displays seen today.

Researchers, who named the “bizarre” dinosaur Epidexipteryx hui, dated it to between 152 million and 168 million years ago, in the Jurassic period, though they said that it could be considerably older.

The Chinese scientists who discovered the fossil found that it shared characteristics both with primitive birds and dinosaurs, indicating that it represented a stage in evolution between the ancient reptiles and modern avians. Analysis of the fossil, found in Daohugou, Inner Mongolia, suggested that the dinosaur was flightless and would have scampered along on its hind legs.  Weighing less than a bag of flour, this little dinosaur would have scampered through the undergrowth, preying on insects, mammals, small reptiles and salamanders.  The strong, three-fingered hands would have grasped the prey and the sharp teeth located at the front of the mouth would have soon dismembered any animal that dared venture into the path of this voracious hunter.  The presence of feathers indicates a warm-blooded metabolism (endothermic) and this little dinosaur would have had to feed regularly to maintain its high metabolic rate.

Among the surprises for the research team were long ribbon-like tail feathers, suggesting that the creature was male, such ornamentation in modern birds are often sexually dimorphic, for example in peacocks, the male has a spectacular tail feather display whilst the female (peahen) is very plain in comparison. Similar feathers in modern birds are used for display. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing commented:

“Ornamental plumage is used to send signals essential to a wide range of avian behaviour patterns, particularly relating to courtship.  Experiments have shown that, in some species, males with long tail plumage attract more mates than short-tailed counterparts.  It is highlyy probable that the [elongated tail feathers] of Epidexipteryx similarly had display as their primary function.”

Dr Fucheng Zhang of the Academy went on to state: “This is very exciting indeed, since it gives us a window into a stage of avian history just preceding the evolution of the classic “first bird” [Archaeopteryx]“.

Feathered types of dinosaur are very much in vogue, although the number of fossil specimens with feathers is still limited (by far the greatest amount of evidence is from the sites in and around Liaoning province in China), a number of types of dinosaur are associated with proto-feathers as well as asymmetrical and symmetrical feather types including Oviraptorids, Ornithomimids, Therizinosaurs and the Alvarezsaurids, as well as the Dromaeosaurs.

The American Museum of Natural History produced a tube of dinosaur models, many of which were feathered, included in this set are models of Microraptor, Velociraptor, Dilong and Caudipteryx.

Feathered Dinosaur Tube: Dinosaur Models for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Toys

The Feathered Dinosaur Set (American Museum of Natural History)

Feathered Dinosaurs

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Othniel Marsh

Charles Othniel Marsh 1831 – 1899

On the 29th October 1831, Charles Othniel Marsh was born.  He was destined to become one of the most influential and important palaeontologists of the 19th Century.

Born in New York, Charles was educated at Yale and went onto study geology and mineralogy.  Following this he travelled to Germany to study palaeontology.  Returning to America, he was appointed professor of vertebrate palaeontology at Yale University (the first professor of palaeontology ever appointed in the United States), he went onto persuade his uncle, the wealthy entrepreneur and philanthropist, George Peabody, to establish a museum of natural history (Peabody Museum at Yale).

Marsh was one of the great pioneers of American palaeontology, leading a number of successful exhibitions to the west of the United States as the geology of this territory began to be opened up and fully explored.  He described 19 different genera of dinosaur and competed fiercely with his rival Edward Drinker Cope to find the best specimens for the museums back in the east of the USA.  Their rivalry became known as the “Bone Wars”.  Marsh’s expeditions made a number of important discoveries, they unearthed the first American Pterosaur fossils and Marsh went onto name and describe some of the most famous of all the dinosaurs Allosaurus, Apatosaurus and Diplodocus.

Charles Othniel Marsh 1831 – 1899

Picture Credit: Wikipedia

A number of extinct species have been named in honour of this professor, for example the Hypsilophodontid Othnielia (fossils found in Colorado, USA), was named after Charles Othniel Marsh.

Marsh also devoted a great deal of his time to writing papers and attempting to find order amongst vertebrate evolution, describing a number of toothed birds and flying reptiles.   One of his greatest contributions to science was his study of the evolution of horses, published as the Darwinian debate raged.  Marsh’s paper outlining how horses evolved from small, many-toed browsers to fleet footed, large single-toed grazers was seen by many scientists of the day of evidence in support of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

While travelling to the western USA in 1868, Marsh was told of a strange discovery of what was believed to be human bones in Nebraska.  He was curious but doubted that the bones belonged to an ancient race of humans, however, he did ask to view them and quickly identified them (correctly), as ancient horse fossils.  Marsh insisted on having the remains sent to him for further analysis.  He determined that they had come from an animal from Pliocene times that was barely three feet tall  and had long slender legs which ended with three toes on each foot. He dubbed the small horse Equus parvulus (now known as Protohippus). In subsequent expeditions to the the western USA more fossils of horses were found, a mystery in itself as horses were not known in America until they were introduced by the Spanish.

Using the many different types of horse fossil found and relating each discovery to the age of the rocks from which the fossil was extracted, Marsh was able to build up a picture of the evolution of equines.  In a paper published in 1874 in the scientific journal “American Naturalist”, Marsh describes some of the horse fossils he found on an expedition in Wyoming and Utah. One of these skeletons, he named Eohippus, or “the dawn horse.”

By studying the numbers of toes and different degrees of variation, especially the variations in the leg bones Marsh was able to set out a chronological order of horse development from the small browser Eohippus to the modern horse.  Marsh determined the line of descent by examining the metacarpal bones (toe bones) of the different horses.  He compared what he found to the legs of modern horses, and found remnants of digits IV and II along the cannon bones (this is more evident in the forefeet that hind).

The Evolution of the Horse

The Evolution of the Horse

Picture Credit: University of New Foundland

The time scale shows the Palaeogene on the left right up to modern times with the domestic horse.  Over millions of years the primitive horses gradually evolved into the larger, faster running animals we know today.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection operates on very small differences that exist between living things in a population.  Any slight mutation or modification that an animal has may give it an advantage over its contemporaries.  This animal is more likely to survive and pass on this trait to its offspring.  As a result of heredity it is likely that these descendants will have the features of the parent and will therefore pass this feature on when they breed too.  In this way, a mutation can become inherent in an entire population over time.

Support for Darwin’s theory was difficult to obtain as central to his argument was that these differences altered organisms over vast amounts of time.  Marsh’s study of the evolution of the horse from a four-toed small browser into the single-toed animal we know today was evidence supporting Darwin’s theory.

Charles Darwin himself, although quite elderly, expressed a desire to travel to America to see Marsh and his collection at Yale.  It was this work that helped popularise the theory of natural selection amongst New World scientists and it is for this ground-breaking study, as well as his work on the dinosaurs that Charles Othniel Marsh is best remembered.

2009 Prehistoric Animal Calendar Available from Everything Dinosaur

2009 Calendar Exclusive to Everything Dinosaur

A 2009 Dinosaur calendar featuring scientific illustrations and prehistoric animal  facts produced by Everything Dinosaur in association with American illustrator Mike Fredericks is now available from Everything Dinosaur.

Website: Everything Dinosaur

Palaeontologists do not know what colour dinosaurs were, so young palaeontologists can use their imaginations and show us what dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals looked like.  Using the scientific drawings in this calendar you can colour them in and bring them back to life!

A number of recent dinosaur discoveries are featured in the calendar, animals such as Bambiraptor and Dracorex, rubbing shoulders with old favourites such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Liopleurodon.  We have even included a special “Spot the Dinosaurs” quiz with links to this blog so that young dinosaur fans can hunt down the answers.

An Illustration of the 2009 Calendar

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This makes a clever and inspirational Christmas gift.

Juvenile Heterodontosaurus Skull provides insight into Dinosaur Vegetarians

Skull of a Juvenile Heterodontosaurus Provides Information on Dinosaur Diets

A tiny skull, of an early Ornithischian dinosaur is helping scientists learn more about dinosaur growth and their eating habits.  The skull, one of the smallest dinosaur skulls known, has been identified and described by a group of researchers from London, Chicago and Cambridge and their findings published in the scientific journal “The Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology”.

The skull belonged to a juvenile Heterodontosaurus, an early member of the Ornithischian group, it is not complete but in life the skull of this animal would have measured 45 millimetres (less than the width of a credit card) and the juvenile would have weighed about 200 grammes.

Heterodontosaurus (the name means different-toothed lizard), was a small dinosaur of the early Jurassic. Fossil finds have been dated at around 202 – 190 million years ago (Hettangian to Sinemurian faunal stages).  It is regarded as one of the most primitive members of the dinosaur Order Ornithischia (bird-hipped dinosaurs) and regarded as an ancestral form of this huge and diverse Order.  Ornithischian dinosaurs are believed to be entirely plant-eaters and are represented by types of dinosaurs as varied as the horned dinosaurs, the duck-billed dinosaurs and the armoured dinosaurs.  The classification of the Ornithischians was first outlined in a seminal paper written by the British palaeontologist Harry Govier Seeley, 120 years ago (first published in 1888).  Seeley remarked on the similar types of pelvis certain dinosaurs had, he commented upon their “bird-like” features, as with modern birds the pubis bone at the front of the pelvis projected backwards.  With birds, this position of the pubis is believed to be related to efficient breathing enabling muscles to be oxygenated for flight.  However, with the Ornithischians, it is believed the backward pointing pubis made room for a large gut – just what you need to digest tough vegetation.

Little is known about Ornithischian origins, the oldest member of this Order is thought to be a tiny dinosaur called Pisanosaurus, dating from approximately 225 million years ago, but the classification of this dinosaur as a member of this group is controversial.  It did possess skull and teeth characteristics of a “bird-hipped” dinosaur but other aspects of this animal’s anatomy are more Saurischian (lizard-hipped).

It is believed that all dinosaurs evolved from meat-eaters, this new research into the juvenile skull of a Heterodontosaurus provides an insight into the transition from a meat-eating animal to a plant-eater (herbivore).

“It’s likely that all dinosaurs evolved from carnivorous ancestors,” pointed out study co-author Laura Porro, a post-doctoral student at the University of Chicago. “Since Heterodontosaurs are among the earliest dinosaurs adapted to eating plants, they may represent a transition phase between meat-eating ancestors and more sophisticated, fully-herbivorous descendants.”

The tiny skull of the juvenile, the first found for this species indicates that these dinosaurs were still in the middle of that transition.

Heterodontosaurus was named and described in the early 1960s after a single skull was found, but in 1976 an almost complete adult skeleton was discovered, one of the most complete of any dinosaur fossil found to date.  Heterodontosaurus fossils have only been found in South Africa, thanks to the beautifully preserved fossil, scientists have been able to work out what this animal looked like.  It was small, just over a metre long, fleet-footed, capable of bipedal running but the forelimbs were long and strong.  The hand had five digits and it is possible that the thumb was opposable, so it may have been able to grasp vegetation, very efficiently, a feature seen in later Ornithopods such as the Iguanodonts.  Opposable thumbs, the ability to grasp and manipulate objects using the thumb is also a feature of primates.  Our own thumbs are capable of facing and touching the other fingers on our hands.

An Illustration of Heterodontosaurus (adults and juvenile)

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum

Laura Porro had heard rumours of a juvenile Heterodontosaurus skull in the collection of the South African Museum but no scientific paper or description had ever been produced about it.

As part of her research, Porro visited the Iziko South African Museum which is situated in Cape Town, to examine the adult fossils. When she was there, she got permission to explore the Museum’s collections and to examine the extensive archive of fossils. While going through drawers of material found during the original Heterodontosaurus excavations in the 1960s, she found two more Heterodontosaur fossils, including the partial juvenile skull.

“I didn’t recognise it as a dinosaur at first,” Ms Porro said, “but when I turned it over and saw the eye looking straight at me, I knew exactly what it was.”

The study’s lead author, Richard Butler of the London Natural History Museum explained the importance of the juvenile skull.

“This discovery is important because for the first time we can examine how Heterodontosaurus changed as it grew.  The juvenile Heterodontosaurus had relatively large eyes and a short snout when compared to an adult”.

The skull displays typical features of juveniles, big eyes in proportion to the rest of the skull are seen in other animals, many baby mammals possess this characteristic, a trait taken to extremes by artists and illustrators in many Disney films.

A specialist on the mechanics of feeding, Porro was particularly interested in the new fossil’s teeth.  Heterodontosaurs, have an unusual combination of teeth, with three pairs of stabbing jaws just behind the beak, the rearmost and largest looking like big canine tusks.  The teeth towards the back of the jaws are closely packed and blunt, designed for crushing and grinding food.  This little dinosaur may have possessed cheeks, another adaptation to help it chew its food.  In contrast, most reptiles, including other dinosaurs have teeth which change little in shape along the length of the jaw.

This bizarre suite of teeth has led to debate over what these dinosaurs ate.  Some scientists think Heterodontosaurs were omnivores who used their differently-shaped teeth to eat both plants and small animals, such as lizards and insects.  Others contend that Heterodontosaurs were herbivores who ate only plants and that the canines were sexually dimorphic – present only in males, as in living warthogs.  In that scenario, the canines could have been used as weapons by rival males in disputes over mates and territories.

Porro and colleagues found that the juvenile already had a fully-developed set of canines.

“The fact that canines are present at such an early stage of growth strongly suggests that this is not a sexually dimorphic character because such characters tend to appear later in life,” said Butler.

Instead, the researchers suspect that the canines were used as defensive weapons against predators, or for adding occasional small animals such as insects, small mammals and reptiles to a diet composed mainly of plants, the authors of this scientific paper refer to this as occasional omnivore behaviour, perhaps reflecting the fact that these little dinosaurs were opportunistic carnivores.  However, the presence of well developed fang-like front teeth may be explained by the fact that like most reptiles, the diets of youngsters was very similar to the adults, although the could not tackle large prey or such a copious amount of vegetation.  It has been suggested that with their strong forelimbs and sharp canine-like teeth these little dinosaurs may have also fed on roots.  They could have dug them up with their five-fingered hands and then used the strong front teeth to break them open.

The study of this tiny skull may have shed light on Heterodontosaur ontogeny (growth and development), but a new mystery has emerged.  With the aid of X-rays and CT scans, Porro found a complete lack of replacement teeth in the adult and juvenile skulls.

Most reptiles, including living crocodiles and lizards, replace their teeth constantly throughout their lives, so that sharp, unworn teeth are always available.  The same was true for dinosaurs, this is why when you look at the picture of a T. rex fossil skull, all the teeth are of different sizes as they are different ages.   Most mammals, such as ourselves on the other hand, replace their teeth only once during their lives, allowing the upper and lower teeth to develop a tight, precise and efficient fit.

Heterodontosaurus was more similar to mammals, not only in the specialised, variable shape of its teeth but also in replacing its teeth slowly, if at all, and developing tight tooth-to-tooth contact. “Tooth replacement must have occurred during growth,” the authors conclude, “however, evidence of continuous tooth replacement appears to be absent, in both adult and juvenile specimens.”

This article has been reproduced from an article written by the University of Chicago Medical Centre entitled “Tiny Juvenile Dinosaur Fossil Sheds Light On Evolution Of Plant Eaters”.

 

Introducing Liopleurodon

New Liopleurodon Model Available

Ever since Liopleurodon was featured in episode three of the BBC TV series Walking with Dinosaurs (episode called “The Cruel Sea”), this large, marine reptile has been a firm favourite with young dinosaur fans.

Such is the power of television programmes such as these and the subsequent video and DVD sales, what was presented in a factual documentary format is now accepted as scientific truth by many viewers.  This BBC series has received criticism in the past over its dramatisation of events that may or may not have occurred, for example at the time of its first broadcast there were a number of doubts expressed over the programme’s authenticity.  An article published in a leading UK broadsheet newspaper “Who put the “P” in Postosuchus”, summed up some of the concerns from the scientific community nicely.  In order to tell a story, the writers and producers of the series had created certain scenarios that, although based on some fossil evidence could not be substantiated.  For instance, the large carnivorous Postosuchus marking its territory with urine (the reason for the headline in the newspaper).  Scientists have speculated that this large predator probably hunted alone and required a large territory to sustain it.  Perhaps they would have developed an aggressive display towards others which may have involved urinating to mark their presence in an area.

In the DVD of Walking with Monsters, one of the special features deals with how the writers and researchers tackled some of these issues.  It is all a matter of how the evidence is interpreted and how much licence the writers have to use their imaginations to create probable plots and scenarios.

However, with Liopleurodon the fossil evidence was somewhat more stretched and the claims made for the size of these Pliosaurs were (based on the evidence to date), exaggerated.

An earlier blog article touched upon this issue:  How big was Liopleurodon?

So popular is Liopleurodon that this particular article was placed at number 3 in our top ten list of the most read articles in our annual review of our web log.

To view the top five, including the Liopleurodon article: The most popular web log articles of 2007 (part 2 – the top five)

Liopleurodon is still regarded by many as being the top predator of the Mesozoic, comparisons are made with Tyrannosaurus rex and other dinosaurs and Liopleurodon is compared very favourably.  We found an example of this when reviewing the Walking with Dinosaurs 2001 annual.  An article in this book covered “Dinowars”, an imagined contest between some of the animals featured in the original series to see which one would come out top in fantasy gladiatorial battles – a sort of prehistoric fight club.  Liopleurodon billed as “the biggest killer of all time” comes out top.

However, the fossil evidence gathered to date does not substantiate the claims made about this animal’s huge size.  In the Walking with Dinosaurs episodes and books claims are made about males of the species reaching lengths around 25 metres and weighing as much as 150 tonnes.  The limited fossil evidence known to date indicates that although there were several species of Liopleurodon, L. ferox, the species with the greatest amount of fossil evidence ascribed to it may have been between 5 and 10 metres in length.

Larger species may have around 15 metres in length, but the estimates given by the BBC series are simply not backed up by the fossil data.  However, the idea of huge sea monsters strikes a chord with many and I know that several palaeontologists are secretly hoping that one day fossils will be found that give credence to the claims made by the TV programmes.

Liopleurodon’s popularity cannot be doubted, as Everything Dinosaur launches the Procon/Collecta range the model Liopleurodon has been the one most requested and we have a large number of models already placed on our reserved shelves in the warehouse awaiting delivery to their new owners who have pre-ordered them.

The influence of the TV programmes can be seen in this new model, devised 10 years after the programmes were first shown.  The colouration and markings mimic how Liopleurodon was depicted in the series.  Our reasoning behind this is simple, we suspect Liopleurodon was an ambush killer, launching itself at large prey animals by attacking them from underneath.  The mottled markings on this new model would have provided effective camouflage in the surface waters where it hunted.  The white belly would have been almost invisible when viewed from below against the sun dappled waters.

The Liopleurodon Model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Liopleurodon model: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Up Close and Personal with Liopleurodon (Front view of Model)

Liopleurodon Model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Praise from Everything Dinosaur Customers

Lots of Positive Comments from Everything Dinosaur Customers

With team members at Everything Dinosaur busy preparing and packing orders for customers in readiness for Christmas, it is important that we still make time to reply to all the questions, feedback forms and emails that we receive from our many thousands of satisfied customers.  We try to respond to all those customer queries and questions that require a reply, it does mean working very long hours but we think it is worth it.  For a small business such as Everything Dinosaur, customer testimonials mean an awful lot to us and we do get sent some wonderful feedback with regards to our dinosaur toys and games and our customer service.

For example, J. Shebden who had purchased a dinosaur soft toy took the time and trouble to email us saying:

“Great choice of products, thought your delivery time was excellent – really fast!”

Writing to express similar thoughts, M. Harvey left a review on the Everything Dinosaur website after purchasing another dinosaur soft toy, simply stating:

“Very quick service, I liked the confirmation email, very helpful.”

It is always a pleasure to hear from customers, it is satisfying to know that all our hard work is appreciated.

Commenting on the Jurassic Wars dice game that she had recently purchased Amy wrote:

“The game is well packaged and presented, the sturdy box makes an excellent combat arena for the dinosaur dice battles.  Lovely to see a dice based game involving tactics and lots of dinosaurs.”

We share such feedback with the manufacturers, such comments are most welcome.

Sauroposeidon – Super-sized Dinosaur

Sauroposeidon The Tallest Known Dinosaur

Originally described from four cervical vertebrae (neck bones), discovered in Oklahoma (Antlers Rock Formation), Sauroposeidon is classified as a member of the Macronaria clade of Sauropods and it might have been the tallest terrestrial animal ever.  When the neck bones of Sauroposeidon were first found, it was thought that they represented petrified wood as they were so big.  A number of other fossil specimens from Early Cretaceous strata have now been assigned to Sauroposeidon (Late Aptian to Early Albian faunal stages), intriguingly, the number of long-necked dinosaurs known from North America at this time in the Cretaceous is very low.  Sauroposeidon may be the last known Sauropod from North America until the evolution of Alamosaurus which is known from Upper Cretaceous strata nearly forty million years younger.

Based on scaled up versions of the brachiosaurid Giraffatitan (G. brancai), it has been estimated that the height of the head of a fully grown Sauroposeidon (S. proteles) would have been around the twenty metres mark.

A Scale Chart of Sauroposeidon compared to Brachiosaurus and an Elephant

Scaling up Sauroposeidon and comparing it to Brachiosaurus and an extant African elephant.

Scaling up Sauroposeidon and comparing it to Brachiosaurus and an extant African elephant.

The actual size of this dinosaur is difficult to estimate, it may have been much more gracile than other members of the Macronaria.  Some palaeontologists have speculated that Sauropseidon weighed as much as sixty metric tonnes and measured over thirty-two metres in length.

The species name proteles is derived from the Greek and it means “perfect before the end”.  This refers to Sauroposeidon’s status as one of the last Sauropods known from Lower Cretaceous strata of North America. Sauroposeidon was probably a specialist, in terms of its feeding behaviour.  If indeed, it was a super-sized brachiosaurid it would have specialised in feeding on the tops of trees.  It was probably invulnerable to attack as an adult but young dinosaurs and juveniles were probably hunted by the large Theropod Acrocanthosaurus (A. atokensis).  Some palaeontologists have speculated that the famous “dinosaur chase” footprint fossils from the bed of the Paluxy River, Texas, represent a Sauroposeidon being stalked by an Acrocanthosaurus.

The genus name is from the Greek meaning “lizard of Poseidon”, the Greek deity whose domain was the sea and who was thought to be responsible for earthquakes.  In 1999, when press releases were sent out announcing the discovery of a huge dinosaur from the United States, “Earthquake lizard” seemed a highly appropriate name.

Spot the Dinosaurs – Calendar Quiz Answers

Spot the Dinosaurs – Quiz Answers

On the last page of the Everything Dinosaur 2009 calendar,  a little quiz has been put together by our experts to see if young palaeontologists really know their dinosaurs.

Here are the answers:

Spot the Dinosaurs (Answers)

A, C, D, H, I, J, L = Dinosaurs

A = Stegosaurus (Dinosaur) Jurassic Period (plant-eater)

B = Sabre Tooth Tiger (Mammal) Pleistocene (meat-eater)

C = Tyrannosaurus rex (Dinosaur) Cretaceous Period (meat-eater)

D = Brachiosaurus (Dinosaur) Jurassic Period (plant-eater)

E = Elasmosaurus (Marine Reptile) Cretaceous Period (fish-eater)

F = Dimetrodon (Mammal-like Reptile) Permian Period (meat-eater)

G = Pteranodon (Flying Reptile) Cretaceous Period (fish-eater)

H = Triceratops (Dinosaur) Cretaceous Period (plant-eater)

I  = Ankylosaurus (Dinosaur) Cretaceous Period (plant-eater)

J = Deinonychus (Dinosaur) Cretaceous Period (meat-eater)

K = Ichthyosaurus (Marine Reptile) Jurassic Period (fish-eater)

L = Allosaurus (Dinosaur) Jurassic Period (meat-eater)

If you got them all right – congratulations!  Don’t worry if you did not get them all correct, the science of palaeontology is famous for examples of mistakes and errors being made.  With our view of prehistoric animals changing with each discovery of new fossils and the development of new research techniques, if you did not quite manage to spot the dinosaurs, there is no need to fret, you are in good company.

Better luck next time!

Everything Dinosaur Web Site

Dinosaur “Dance Floor” on the Arizona-Utah Border

Rare Jurassic Trackways Discovered in Western USA

A series of dinosaur trackways dating from the early Jurassic have been discovered near to the Arizona/Utah state line in the Western United States.  The site which covers approximately 3/4 acre is covered in numerous impressions, scientists estimate that at least four types of dinosaur are represented, although the researcher’s comments have led to other scientists requesting further analysis before firm conclusions can be drawn.  An estimated 1,000 footprints have been observed along with a number of strange parallel line impressions in the sandstone rock, interpreted as tail drag marks.

The study of this remote site in Arizona, dating from approximately 190 million years ago (Pliensbachian faunal stage), has been undertaken by a team of researchers from the University of Utah.  It is believed that the site represents evidence of an ancient waterhole surrounded by desert.  A whole range of prehistoric animals were attracted to this source of water and their footprints have been preserved in the soft sand surrounding the water.  Interpreting the tracks could prove difficult as the trackways are muddled up and may represent activity at the oasis over a long period or the result of specific short-term conditions that led to the preservation of these impressions.  Churned up ground as a result of numerous dinosaurs stomping over a particular site even has its own special name used by palaeontologists – the phenomenon is known as “Dinoturbation”.

Commenting on the discovery, Marjorie Chan (University of Utah) stated:

“All these footprints at a watering hole might tell us something about the social life of the dinosaurs”.

Chan, the co-author of the published paper on this site with University of Utah graduate student Winston Seiler wonders which species might have mingled at this “dinosaur dance floor.”  Perhaps these tracks are evidence of a prehistoric version of Strictly Come Dancing!

The paper detailing the trackways is being published in the scientific journal Palaios, but the interpretation of the data has attracted controversy since the site was first discovered in 2006.   A number of scientists have questioned the research team’s conclusions and some of even doubted that authenticity of a number of the marks and impressions left in the sandstone.

Winston Seiler Showing some of the Prints

 

Picture Credit: Nicole Miller (University of Utah via Press Association)

In the picture a number of impressions can be seen, these could be the tracks of large long-necked dinosaurs called Sauropods, although other scientists have expressed doubts over the exact interpretation of these impressions.  Ichnologists (the name given to scientists who study trackways and prints), are notoriously cautious when it comes to deciphering information from such trace fossils.  A general identification can be made possibly down to family level but prints such as these cannot be linked to a specific genus or species.  To do this with any level of confidence fossilised bones have to be found in association with the footprints.  No bones have been recovered from the site, the research team have stated that perhaps conditions were not conducive for bone preservation.

Theropod (meat-eater) tracks as well as plant-eating dinosaur trackways have been identified at the site.

Smaller tracks could be smaller species or younger dinosaurs. “Sometimes it’s really hard to tell,” Chan said.  The print patterns may help scientists understand how groups of dinosaurs moved and provide information on potential herd structures.

However, not all scientists are convinced by the conclusions drawn by the Utah based research team.  Alan Titus, a palaeontologist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in nearby Kanab, Utah, has not seen the site in person but remains unconvinced that these are really dinosaur tracks.

“I’ve observed thousands of tracks in early Jurassic rocks of the Colorado Plateau and have never seen one that looked like the one in the news release,” he commented, adding that he would have to view the prints in situ to get a clearer picture.

Utah’s state palaeontologist Jim Kirkland also has not been to the site personally, but he has seen many of the researchers’ photos and agrees with some of their conclusions.  He has stated that he believes that some of the impressions are most certainly dinosaur tracks but remains sceptical about the evidence for tail drags.  Tail drag impressions are exceedingly difficult to verify.

In any case, he said, the find could reveal a wealth of new information about dinosaur behaviour and herd interaction.

“Someone needs to take this to the next level,” Kirkland said. “It’s an exciting site.”

A number of alternative explanations have been put forward for the strange pothole like structures, they may have been caused by water induced erosion, however, Winston Seiler, the discover of the site commented:

“Upon close inspection many of the impressions are ringed by mounds of displaced sand that had to be formed when the sand was soft, before it was turned to rock.”

Although the site is remote and difficult to access, more research will be required before the palaeontologists can get to grips with what happened at a desert oasis 190 million years ago.

Staypressed theme by Themocracy