Prehistoric Cheetah Fossil Indicates that Big Cats Originated in the Old World

Prehistoric Cheetah Skull found in Asia

The origins of the big cats of today, the lions, tigers, pumas and cheetahs for example, are shrouded in mystery.  It had been thought that the modern cheetah Acinonyx jubatus had originated from North America (known as the new world), but now fossil evidence unearthed in China indicates that these felines may have evolved in Asia.

The fossil record of large feline predators is extremely sparse.  There are several reasons for this, firstly, as animals at the top of the food chain there are fewer of them compared to the herbivores and omnivores in any habitat, so the chance of any remains becoming fossilised is statistically less likely.  Also, most of the big cats live in areas such as jungle or savannah and these habitats provide very few opportunities for effective fossilisation to take place, so big cat fossils are very rare.  Finding a skull or teeth is a huge prize for palaeontologists when it comes to piecing together the relationships between various extinct species of large cat.  It is the skull morphology and the teeth that can be most helpful in determining the relationships between different genera.

A modern Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

Picture Credit: San Diego Zoo

A team of Chinese scientists have announced the discovery of the oldest fossil of a new species of cheetah.  This discovery would indicate that cheetahs originated in Asia and not in North America as previously thought.  Researchers found a partial cranium and some teeth in the Gansu Province of north-west China.  It is similar in size and shape to the skulls of modern cheetahs, but the teeth are much more primitive.

In a paper published by scientists from the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, this fossil represents an early stage in the evolution of these big cats.  The new species of cheetah has been named Acinonyx kurteni.  In prehistoric times, the big cat species were much more widespread, with cheetahs roaming Europe, Asia, India and North America.  Fossils of cheetahs found in various parts of the world have intrigued scientists as they try to calculate the site of the earliest fossils and hence the origins of this particular big cat family.

The newly studied fossils were dated to the late Pliocene, between 2.15 and 2.55 million years ago.   Although, not the oldest cheetah fossils known, this new discovery challenges the accepted theory that the cheetahs originated in the Americas.

Two prehistoric cheetah-like species of North America are believed by some scientists to be distant cousins of giant cheetahs of ancient Europe.  In North America, up until the end of the Pleistocene period, large cheetahs hunted on the plains (Miracinonyx).

To read more about the mega fauna of North America: The Bison – a Contributor to Mammoth Extinction

This possible relationship has led some scientists to suggest that the earliest cheetahs may have originated in North America and travelled across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Siberia, during a period of falling sea levels, when a land bridge between Asia and the Americas was formed.

This new find challenges this theory, the skull and teeth from China indicate a Eurasian/African origin of the cheetah family.  For instance, the primitive dental features would have been more developed in the Chinese fossil if cheetahs had come from North America.  The research paper supports the theory that the big cats originated in the old world and not the new world of the Americas.

Predictions for 2008 – How did we do?

Review of New Year Palaeontology Predictions 2008 – How did we Do?

Just for a bit of fun the team members at Everything Dinosaur tried to predict likely events, new fossil discoveries and other news in 2008.  We put our heads together, consulted with various experts, researchers and scientists around the world and compiled a list of ten predictions for 2008.

The article was published in early January of this year, now is a good time to review the list and to see how we did.

To read the original article in full: New Year Predictions for 2008

This is our list (in no particular order):

* More Australian Polar Dinosaur Discoveries to be Announced

* Walking with Dinosaurs Tour a big Success

* More Dinosaurs on TV

* Everything Dinosaur to increase Product Range

* Plenty of Plesiosaurs

* Chinese Authorities to announce New Dinosaur Species

* Museums to Charge for Entry

* More Specimens going into the hands of Private Collectors

* More fake fossils on Internet Auction Sites

* New Legal Disputes over Tyrannosaur Fossils

It certainly is a broad mix of ideas and predictions, most of which we could claim to have come true.  Take for example, our suggestion that 2008 would lead to the announcement of new dinosaur species by the Chinese authorities.  A number of new species have been reported, but this is not surprising given the scale of the research being carried out in China.  The Chinese have only just begun to explore fully the strata of Liaoning and Szechuan province, in fact, we published an article yesterday (29th December), as Chinese scientists had claimed they had uncovered the world’s largest dinosaur fossil site:

To read the article: Shandong Dinosaur Site – “World’s Largest”

In a similar vein, we would expect more Aussie dinosaurs to be discovered with a number of papers published on the prehistoric beasts of Gondwanaland.  Down under is proving to be a “hot spot” for dinosaur discoveries as areas of Queensland and Victoria are more fully studied and explored.  An article about the discovery of a potential new species of Aussie Dinosaur was published in the Autumn of 2008.

To read the article: New Aussie Dinosaur Discovery

With a couple of predictions we were less successful.  Our team members were a little off the mark with the charging policy to museums being introduced.  We are aware of the subventions and grants being given by the UK Government are under pressure and we suspect that to decrease public borrowing charges may be introduced soon.  However, most of the national and regional museums were able to offer free entrance for this year.  The “Walking with Dinosaurs” Tour certainly was a big success but the London dates did not occur this year, the itinerary for the UK was not announced until a few weeks ago.  The tour will be huge in the UK next year.  We already have our VIP passes organised.

Sadly, our predictions about more specimens going to private collectors and the increasing amount of fossil sales on Internet sites were true.  The global recession may curb some collector’s enthusiasm for fossils, and prices may indeed fall but chances are the cost of dinosaur fossils at auction will remain beyond the budgets of most scientific bodies.

As for purchasing fossils from Internet sites, we urge caution and advise interested parties to source any materials from legitimate organisations.

It is so pleasing to see new parts of the world being opened up for exploration by palaeontologists.  We did predict that more Plesiosaur fossils would be uncovered and this would lead to the announcement of new genera.  It is always exciting to read about these amazing marine reptiles.  It was fantastic to read about the discovery of Plesiosaurs in Iran.

To read the article: Fossil Plesiosaurs Found in Iran

In 2008, we added a new Plesiosaur model to our Collecta range.  The Plesiosaur concerned was Hydrotherosaurus (name means “water beast lizard”).

An Illustration of the Hydrotherosaurus model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Collecta Hydrotherosaurus and dinosaurs: Dinosaur Toys for Girls – Dinosaur Models

The super, streamlined model of Hydrotherosaurus illustrates what a well adapted animal Hydrotherosaurus was, very much at home in a marine habitat.  The small head on a long neck was ideal for darting into shoals of fish to snatch a meal.

We did predict that our product range would increase in 2008, and indeed it has, we have plans to increase the number of items we stock and  plans are already advanced for introductions in 2009.  Team members have been working on several projects including new models so it looks like we are going to be very busy next year.

Shandong Dinosaur Site – “World’s Largest” Dinosaur Fossil Site

Chinese Scientist Claim that Shandong Fossil Site is “World’s Largest”

For China 2008 has been a memorable year, the economy has established itself as important contributor to global economic growth, and many Chinese banks now support the American financial institutions.  The Beijing Olympic Games were an astonishing feat of organisation, London 2012 will do well to compare favourably to the Chinese efforts.

From a palaeontological point of view, Chinese researchers have continued to publish details of amazing fossil discoveries from around their vast country.  Now the Chinese authorities are claiming that a dinosaur fossil field being excavated in eastern China could well represent the largest in the world.

The site, located near Zhucheng City in the province of Shandong has yielded more than 7,600 fossils but many more will be found as the site is explored further.  Many of the scientists studying the area are from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology at Beijing.  An institute, that was founded in 1957 and even though it is much younger than many of the museums in the west; it already boasts one of the biggest dinosaur and vertebrate fossil collections in the world.  The collection is estimated to exceed over 200,000 vertebrate specimens, no doubt the number will be increased even further as material from Shandong is added.

The palaeontologist in charge of the dig sites at Shandong, Dr Zhao Xijin stated:

“The discoveries are expected to contribute to research on the mystery of the dinosaur extinction”.

This reflects the fact that the strata in the area was laid down at the end of the Age of Reptiles, during the late Cretaceous.  The majority of the major dinosaur fossils found to date represent members of the Hadrosaur group (plant-eating dinosaurs).  It is hoped that the Chinese discoveries will eventually rival those finds of duck-billed dinosaurs from North America.

Map of Showing Location of Shandong Province

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The arrow in the picture indicates the location of Shandong Province on the eastern seaboard of China.  The eastern part of the country is famous for fossil finds, indeed many of the provinces have their own Natural History museums, some of which have collections that are larger than the major Natural History museums in the United States.

The new fossil bed was discovered as the strata was explored by a mining company.  One bed is estimated to be 300 metres long by 10 metres wide and approximately 5 metres deep.  More than 3,000 fossils have been found at this one site alone, many of the fossils may represent new genera, the research team have claimed.

New genera of Ankylosaur, Tyrannosaur and other Theropods have been discovered and a 2 metre long skull of an unknown species of Ceratopsian (horned dinosaur like Triceratops) has been unearthed.  This is the first discovery of such a large, horned dinosaur to be made in Asia.

It seems that this region in the late Cretaceous was an ideal dinosaur habitat, with lush vegetation and plenty of lakes and rivers.  In an attempt to explain the concentration of fossil remains scientists have speculated that a nearby volcano may have erupted that killed off many of the large animals in the area, and subsequent floods brought the fossils together into their final resting place.

Mining exploration has been suspended in the area, until better weather arrives in the spring, but local authorities are already commenting on the possibility of there being a fossil museum and park built on the site.  This would reflect the importance of the location to the scientific community and a similar park has already been built in the central province of Szechuan at Dashanpu – the site of another dense dinosaur fossil bed, this time representing animals from the mid Jurassic.

The Bison – A contributor to Mammoth Extinction

The American Bison – Played a Role in the Extinction of North American Mega Fauna

The large areas of grassland and forest that covered much of the United States and other parts of North America were populated by a diverse range of large mammals.  Elephants, Mammoths, Camels, the American Lion, Dire Wolves and Horses roamed the great plains.  Large animals in an eco-system are called mega fauna.  The extinction of many of these large creatures is put down to a number of causes, over hunting by Clovis man, disease and dramatic climate change.  However, at least one distinguished American palaeontologist reckons that the American Bison may have had a role to play in the demise of many of the species of North American large mammal.

The American Bison (Bison bison) is the largest land mammal in North America today, with adult bulls weighing as much as 1 tonne and standing 2 metres tall at the shoulder.  They are regarded as a “keystone” animal, their herding, grazing and wallowing behaviours shape the landscape and the environment around them.  It is this influence on the environment that, it is claimed by at least one American palaeontologist, can help explain the demise of other large species 10,000 years ago.

Eric Scott, curator of palaeontology at San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California has commented on the North American mega fauna extinction and indicates that the Bison could well have played a role in the demise of other large herbivores.  The reduction in large mammalian plant-eaters would have had a significant impact on the large predators in the area, perhaps speeding up the extinction of the Sabre-Tooths, a number of types of large bear and the American Lion.

There was even a type of Cheetah living on the plains (Miracinonyx), not a true Cheetah but a genera of cats related to the Puma that evolved long, lean bodies and specialised in fast pursuit of prey animals.  Indeed, scientists have speculated that the American Pronghorn Antelope, was probably these fast felines preferred prey.  This antelope is capable of running at over 55 mph, but now with the fast running cats extinct, there is nothing on the American continent quick enough to run one down.

For Eric Scott, extremely knowledgeable on Californian prehistoric mammals from the Pleistocene, the migration of the American Bison from Asia across the Bering Straits into North America may be one of the reasons for the mega fauna extinction.

He sees the introduction of this large bovine as “a change in the composition of the animal community”.

The aggressive behaviour of large herds of Bison would have affected the ecosystem, perhaps to such an extent that it speeded up the demise of a number of other species of large mammals.

“When they (sic Bison) graze, when they trample, when they wallow they change biological communities”;  observed the palaeontologist, other animals have to adjust their behaviour to accommodate the Bison, if they don’t they may face extinction.

The role of the Bison in the extinction event at the end of the Pleistocene, was one of the areas covered by Eric, in a series of winter lectures being given by museum staff.  Horses and Camels did not return to the Americas naturally, for example the horse was re-introduced by the Spanish in the 16th Century.  Much can be learnt from the past, Eric Scott went on to comment on the changing climate of our times and drew parallels with the Pleistocene/Quaternary extinction events.

The greenhouse-gas-induced climate change is a major concern, he commented:

“The 1980s were the hottest decade on record.  They were eclipsed by the 1990s as the hottest decade on record.  In 2008, I can tell you that the 1990s are being eclipsed by this decade as the hottest decade on record”.

The eminent palaeontologist went on to add:

“So many animals that went extinct have living representatives which are also endangered or threatened.  What we learn about the ice age extinctions does have a very real potential to tell us about what’s going on in the world today.  But we need to be asking the right questions”.

With the United States the source of more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country, much more than every country in the European Union combined, such lectures by Eric Scott and other scientists, may play a role in helping the U.S. government to recognise the serious predicament the planet is facing.

 

The Most Popular Web Log Articles of 2008 (Part 2)

The Most Popular Web Log Articles of 2008 – The Top Five

Each year team members at Everything Dinosaur review the web log articles that have been written over the last 12 months and calculate using the site’s statistical software, the top ten most popular blog entries.  Our web log is read by many thousands of people, all over the world and the articles published on the Everything Dinosaur blog, range from updates on research, new fossil finds, product updates, information about events, reviews, in fact all sorts of stuff to do with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.  The variety of articles published by our team members is reflected in our top ten list, we have already counted down from ten to number six with our previous entry, here now are the top five of 2008.

5.  Duck-billed Platypus swam alongside Duck-billed Dinosaurs

The discovery of an ancient jawbone in the state of Victoria, Australia has been identified as belonging to a prehistoric platypus.  The tiny fragment of jaw showed signs of the nerve canal, diagnostic of this particular monotreme, as it is this canal that carries the nerves to the bill of this swimming, egg-laying mammal.  The research into Cretaceous mammals from this part of Australia has been led by husband and wife team, Dr Tom Rich and Pat Vickers-Rich, their work would indicate that the Platypus has remained largely unchanged for 65 million years.  It looks like the ancient ancestors of the modern Platypus were swimming in rivers and lakes whilst dinosaurs grazed along the bank.

An Duck-Billed Platypus (inset fossil jaw fragment with coin for scale)

Picture Credit: The Age. Com (Australia)

To read the article in full:  Duck-billed Platypus lived alongside Dinosaurs

4. Packing Parcels with Posters

A surprising entry in our top ten at number 4, an article on the steps taken by Everything Dinosaur team members to ensure that posters and other difficult to mail out items such as gift wrap are received by customers in tip-top condition.  Since the inception of Everything Dinosaur, the team has strived to find educational and informative products related to dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.  In the beginning , when our product range was considerably smaller than it is today, posters were an important product category.   Posters provide young people the opportunity to learn about prehistoric animals, can help theme a bedroom into a young child’s very own “Jurassic Park” and can provide a useful teaching and reference source for schools and home educators.

The number and types of posters we now stock has increased considerably, but one issue with posters always remains – how to ensure that they arrive in tip-top condition when they have been mailed out.  Making sure that posters arrive safely and undamaged is a problem for all mail order companies that sell items such as this.  We would not want to disappoint any of our customers, so right from the day the company first started trading we have taken great care to make sure that posters get VIP treatment.  This article, originally published in January of this year has entered the top ten most popular list at number 4.  It is  a testament to the care taken by our team when packing and dispatching products, as well as a very fast turnaround of orders, we try our best to ensure that the dinosaur toys and games that we sell are well packed and protected.

3.  New Dinosaur Models Available from Everything Dinosaur

Additions to the Schleich “Saurus” range in September make our top ten list, coming in at number 3.  Schleich retire a number of models from their ranges each year and then introduce new ones to replace them.  In September, the scale models of Spinosaurus, Allosaurus and the huge Brachiosaurus were launched.

The New Model Dinosaurs from Schleich (Schleich Saurus Range)

New from Schleich

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Schleich Saurus model range: Dinosaur Toys for Children – Dinosaur Models

In 2009, Schleich are changing their policy on model introductions, they intend to retire some models over the course of the year and phase in new ones.  There is a super, new Apatosaurus model due for launch, along with a new interpretation of Quetzalcoatlus.  We ourselves, are already working on some sculpts for the 2010 season, it seems like a model makers work is never done.

2.  Trying To Trace the Dinosaur Family Tree

The runner-up in our top ten most popular articles in 2008, is a little discourse on the problems associated with classifying dinosaurs and trying to establish taxonomic relationships between different types of these prehistoric animals.  Although, dinosaurs are very much part of the public conscience, their classification and phylogeny is very hard to pin down.  Much of the work of the Victorian anatomists and scientists and their classification of the Order Dinosauria has now been revisited and redefined.  It seems that dinosaurs and how they are all related to each other is going to challenge scientists for a long time to come.  The lack of data in the existing fossil record is one of the main problems, after all, some genera are known from just skull fragments or even a single tooth.

To read the article in full: Trying to Trace the Dinosaur Family Tree

1.  New Feathered Velociraptor Model from Bullyland

In at number one, the most popular article published on Everything Dinosaur’s web log in 2008 is an article written on the 18th May about the introduction of a new dinosaur model.

Dinosaur toys and models are beginning to catch up with the latest scientific thinking on these amazing prehistoric creatures.  A new interpretation of Velociraptor by the German model maker Bullyland, captures the latest views of this little meat-eater quite nicely.

This new Velociraptor model is vividly painted and shows the dinosaur dressed in feathers.  Relatives of Velociraptor (Dromaeosaurs) are known to have been covered in simple, insulating proto-feathers and the model makers wanted to depict this.

Feathered Velociraptor From Bullyland

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the model:  Dinosaur Models – Dinosaur Toys

This dinosaur model, added to our museum line range of dinosaur toys and model is beautifully hand-painted and depicts this fearsome little hunter in an aggressive pose.   The blue facial markings are an interpretation of the animal’s pack hunting habit, the vivid markings helping individuals to recognise others in the group.  The wings are swept forward in a typical hunting pose.  The placement of the feathered arms is significant because Dromaeosaurs such as Velociraptor had a novel feature in the bones of their hands.  They had a half-moon shaped wrist bone (called a semi-lunate carpal).  This allowed the wrist to be flexed sideways in addition to up and down.  This permitted these animals to swivel their wrists quickly to snatch up prey.  The semi-lunate carpal is also seen in the earliest recorded fossil of a bird Archaeopteryx.  The presence of this bone in the skeleton of Velociraptor is evidence that these little dinosaurs were closely related to birds.

It seems that reading about feathered dinosaur models is very much in fashion, as this is the article that has proved to be the most popular in the Everything Dinosaur 2008 list.

The Most Popular Web Log Articles of 2008 (Part 1)

The Most Popular Web Log Articles of 2008 (Part 1)

As 2008 draws to a close we have the chance to review the past year and to consider which of the articles and items featured on the Everything Dinosaur web log have been the most popular.  We have certainly covered a lot of topics, new palaeontological developments, obituaries, discoveries, new resarch, product developments, reviews, in fact all sorts of subjects as our blog now has in excess of 500 published articles.

Over the next couple of days we will put together a list of the ten most popular articles, in terms of the ones with the greatest number of page visits.  The list contains a diverse number of articles, covering a broad subject range, which in itself reflects the eclectic nature of the Everything Dinosaur blog.

10.  Young Boy finds Dinosaur Tooth on First Fossil Hunting Expedition

This article published in early June, epitomises the science of palaeontology, where simply by going for a walk and finding a fossil you can change the view of the world around us.

For seven year old Josef Banbala, his first fossil hunting trip turned out to be a very important event for palaeontologists on the Isle of Wight.  His keen eyes spotted a two-inch long dinosaur tooth, one of the largest ever found on the island.  The tooth, believed to belong to a predatory dinosaur, possibly Baryonyx has opened up a lively debate over the size and scale of these particular dinosaurs.  Josef’s find just goes to show that you never know what amazing discoveries a walk on the beach might reveal.

To read the article in full: Young Boy Finds Dinosaur Tooth on First Fossil Hunting Expedition

9.  Getting Stalked by a Flock of Quetzalcoatlus

Number 9 on our list of the most popular web log articles of 2008, is an article on some new research published in May, suggesting that the large flying reptiles of the late Cretaceous were more stalkers than flyers.

A team of scientists led by the likes of the brilliant illustrator/palaeontologist Mark Witton, from the University of Portsmouth, published a paper suggesting that large Pterosaurs such as the biggest Azhdarchids, (large toothless Pterosaurs from the very end of the Age of Reptiles), had a different lifestyle than previously thought.  It was suggested that they may have stalked the plains of the late Cretaceous like giant cranes or storks snatching up prey with their long, pointed beaks.

The likes of Quetzalcoatlus with its huge 11 metre plus wingspan, may have been more of a walker than a glider.

To read the article: Large Pterosaurs Stalkers not Gliders

8.  Colour Variations on Dinosaur Models – Dilophosaurus

Back in January, the team members at Everything Dinosaur wrote an article providing further information on how colours are chosen for certain dinosaur models.  The article focused on the Early Jurassic Theropod – Dilophosaurus.  The introduction of a bright red Dilophosaurus model from Bullyland of Germany was used to explain some of the thought processes that go into deciding what colour a new model dinosaur should be.

To read the article in full: Colour Variations in Dinosaur Models – A new Dilophosaurus

7.  Review of the Pop-Up Dinosaurs Fact Book

One of our product reviews makes the top ten most popular articles, coming in at number seven.  The review of one of our new books, introduced into the Everything Dinosaur range in April 2008 makes our chart.  The book was the “Pop-Up Book of Dinosaur Facts”, a novel and interesting addition to our shop.  The book written by Richard Dunworth and produced by Templar publishing, combines the fun and novelty of a pop-up book with a factual account of the rise and fall of the dinosaur dynasty.

To view the book: Dinosaur Books for Kids

An Illustration from the Pop-Up Facts Book

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A hardback book that is beautifully illustrated contains lots and lots of facts and information about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.  Young readers can wonder at the huge plant-eating Sauropods that pop out of the page at you, examine fossil evidence of the colossal meat-eating dinosaurs and study marine reptiles as well as Pterosaurs.  Page after page of truly impressive pop-ups, packed with fascinating facts, tabs to pull, flaps to lift and wheels to turn.  Even the front cover which depicts a Theropod dinosaur in 3-D relief has a dinosaur eye that looks straight back at the reader.

To see the book review: Dinosaur Pop-Up Facts

6. The Introduction of the Nothronychus Model

A picture of one of the very latest introductions to our Dinosaur Collection range (Procon/Collecta) entered into the top ten most popular items on our web log in 2008.  Although this information was only published recently, the addition of a Therizinosaur dinosaur model, a Nothronychus did attract a lot of attention, especially from keen dinosaur model collectors.

This Nothronychus model can claim two achievements this year, not only did information and a picture of the new model enter this list, but sales of this dinosaur model led to it being included in our list of top selling dinosaur models in 2008.

A fascinating addition to any dinosaur toy or dinosaur model collector’s catalogue, this beautiful, hand-painted model of this bizarre prehistoric animal represents the best known Therizinosaur to date, with the most complete fossil skeleton of any Therizinosaur found.

To see the Nothronychus information: The Nothronychus Model – Introducing a new Dinosaur Toy

The Nothronychus Dinosaur Model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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

This concludes our countdown from numbers ten to six of our most popular web log articles of 2008.  We will shortly be continuing this list, counting down to the most popular web log article published on the Everything Dinosaur blog this year.

The Top Selling Prehistoric Animal Model of Christmas 2008

Liopleurodon is Number 1

The top selling prehistoric animal model of 2008 is not a dinosaur, dinosaurs only represent a small portion of the large animal fossil record.  The team at Everything Dinosaur have monitored prehistoric animal model sales over the last few weeks leading up to the festive season and can announce today that the most popular prehistoric animal model is…

Liopleurodon.

A Picture of the Liopleurodon Model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the model and dinosaurs: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Prehistoric Animal Models

The Liopleurodon model is an addition to our “Dinosaur Collection” series, a bit of misnomer as Liopleurodon was not a dinosaur but a marine reptile belonging to the Pliosaur group, otherwise known as a short-necked Plesiosaur.  This huge sea-going predator with teeth up to 18 inches long was a fearsome hunter and top of the food chain in the mid-Jurassic.  Just how big this animal was is open to debate.  The relatively few remains of this creature have led scientists to deduce that there were at least two species, but lengths of 25 metres or more and weights in excess of 150 tonnes are speculative.

Still, this monster, often called the “largest predator of all time”, was capable of attacking and killing most other types of animal in the ocean and with teeth twice the size of a Tyrannosaurus rex’s it was very formidable.

The Business End of a Liopleurodon (Liopleurodon Model)

Super Liopleurodon Model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Top Selling Dinosaur Model Christmas 2008 – Number 2

Tyrannosaurus rex – Second Most Popular Model Dinosaur at Christmas 2008

Tyrannosaurus rex, arguably the most famous dinosaur of all, is not the best selling prehistoric animal model at Everything Dinosaur for Christmas 2008.  It is however, the best selling dinosaur model of this festive season, but more about the most popular model tomorrow (without giving too much away).  After all, not every animal in the fossil record is a dinosaur.

Although there are many models of Tyrannosaurus rex, and indeed we would estimate that this particular dinosaur has the most merchandise based on it, there are not that many fossils of this predator to study.  Less than 30 have ever been found of T. rex, most of these are only partial remains.

Despite the lack of real fossil evidence (especially when compared to the relative abundant data scientists have on animals such as the duck-billed dinosaurs), T. rex is still very popular and most museums strive to gain access to Tyrannosaur fossil material.

Model of Tyrannosaurus rex: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Indeed, most museum shops sell far more T. rex toys than any other prehistoric animal, but for Everything Dinosaur, the introduction of a particular prehistoric animal toy has changed things for this year.

The most complete fossil skeleton of T. rex was discovered by Susan Hendrickson on August 12th 1990, over 80% of the bones associated with this animal were found.  This dinosaur was nicknamed “Sue” and was sold at auction for the world record amount for a fossil of $8.36 million dollars.

Top Selling Christmas Dinosaur Toys and Models – Number 3

Dracorex – A Very Popular Bonehead!

The Pachycephalosaurs are a group of Ornithopods from the Late Cretaceous.  These animals seem to have been one of the last major dinosaur groups to evolve and most of what scientists know about these plant-eating dinosaurs has been derived from studies of their extraordinary skulls.  Very few fossilised bones have been found, but the skulls, many of which had extraordinary bumps, ridges and horns and some were extremely thick have survived the fossilisation process, partly due to their very robust nature.

Pachycephalosaurs are dinosaurs of the northern hemisphere (Laurasia).  They are related to the horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops (Marginocephalia), the largest of these dinosaurs known to date is Pachycephalosaurus.  It is estimated that this particular dinosaur grew to lengths of 5 metres or more, the top of the skull was thickened, it comprised of over 25cm of solid bone.

The best known Pachycephalosaur is Stegoceras and most other Pachycephalosaur reconstructions are based on this dinosaur.  The dinosaur called Dracorex (Dracorex hogwartsia), is based on Stegoceras.  As with other Pachycephalosaurs, fossils of Dracorex (the name means King Dragon of Hogwarts, after the school in the Harry Potter novels); are rare.  Remains of Dracorex were found in the famous Hell Creek Formation of the USA, they consisted of a single tooth, one skull, almost complete and some neck bones.  This dinosaur was named and described in 2006, the name Dracorex was chosen after a competition involving American school children.

An Illustration of Dracorex

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Despite being such a rare fossil, model sales of Dracorex have been really surprising.  Perhaps this is because there are so few models of Pachycephalosaurs available.  Sales of this recently introduced dinosaur model have been so good that it enters our top selling Christmas dinosaur model chart at number 3.

To view the dinosaur model: Dinosaur Models and Toys

Picture Credit: Indianapolis Children’s Museum

Most Popular Dinosaur Models – Nothronychus in at Number 4

Nothronychus a Popular Dinosaur Model at Christmas

A model of the first Therizinosaurid dinosaur to be found outside Asia, makes the Everything Dinosaur top five best selling prehistoric animal models in the lead up to Christmas 2008.

Unlike other Therizinosaur fossils, an almost complete skeleton of this particular dinosaur has been found.  The fossils were discovered in New Mexico, Nothronychus, like the other Therizinosaurs is a most bizarre-looking dinosaur.  For instance, although it is related to the Theropods, it seems to have adopted a plant-eating lifestyle.

We tend to regard these type of dinosaurs as animals that possess a range of peculiar features, a sort of dinosaur “designed by a committee”.

To read more about Nothronychus: Nothronychus – a dinosaur designed by a committee

These type of prehistoric animals, also referred to as Segnosaurs seemed to have found a successful niche in the Cretaceous eco-system as they diversified into a number of genera and lived in Asia as well as the United States.

A Illustration of Nothronychus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of Nothronychus: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaurs

Estimated to have measured approximately 5 metres in length, and tipping the scales at over 1 Tonne, this peculiar dinosaur lived in what was the western USA approximately 90 million years ago.  The dinosaur was named after its sloth-like claws (Nothronychus means sloth-like claw), as the scientists who named and described this dinosaur thought that it may have filled the niche that sloths have in today’s ecosystems.

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