A Picture Puzzle – Can you Guess what’s in the Picture?

A Mysterious Photograph – Watch the Birdie!

A couple of snaps taken by one of our team members in the early evening around 5pm GMT.  Every day for the last month, as we have been organising the late afternoon despatches to the post office and collection depot we have been observing a phenomenon.

What’s in the Picture?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The tiny black dots in the sky are actually birds, common starlings to be exact and over the last few weeks since Christmas, increasing numbers of them have been coming to our town to roost.  Starlings are small birds found in gardens and in the countryside, however, they form communal roosts and prefer to roost in towns (where it is slightly warmer than the surrounding countryside), and they create massive swirling clouds as they fly in vast numbers.

It is hard to estimate their numbers but an ornithologist suggested that there were in excess of 100,000 and they will dance and weave about above the town as they decide where to sleep for the night.  We were told that they prefer to roost in conifers and that it is very unwise to park your car near them as during the night several kilogrammes of highly corrosive guano will be created.

As these birds fly in huge flocks above the town, the perform a spectacular aerobatic display.  We have been lucky enough to  see some amazing animal sights in our travels over the years, herds of wildebeest migrating across the Masai Mara, vast flocks of flamingos nesting on salt lakes, elephants, tigers and such like.  However, perhaps the most amazing natural animal phenomenon any of us have observed is created by the humble starling just a few miles from our office.

Not a bad spectacle and I only got “pooped” on twice whilst taking the photographs.

Dinosaur Secret Diary from Everything Dinosaur

Dinosaur Secret Diary from Everything Dinosaur

When scientists are compiling their research, much of this work is done with little publicity for fear of publishing before theories and ideas have been thoroughly tested.  Reputations can be made or lost on inappropriate conclusions and the last thing any researcher would want is to have their thesis taken apart during peer review.

Although, science is ultimately a quest for truth, keeping information to yourself until you are ready to announce it to the world is a common practice in many fields of scientific enquiry.

With this in mind, the team members at Everything Dinosaur have introduced a dinosaur themed secret diary to help keep all your thoughts, ideas and secrets safe.  With a “Dinosaur for Girls” range that already includes pink T-shirts, letter writing sets with dinosaur themes and of course pink Utahraptors, the diary makes a fun edition.  The pages of this particular diary are lined and there is room for you to put the date on each page at the top, so you can start your diary at any time of the year and with its handy, school backpack size, it can be taken anywhere.

To visit the Everything Dinosaur website: Everything Dinosaur

The lock on the side of the diary protects the entries from snoopers and this diary comes with a pair of keys.  You can keep one on your person but have a spare in safe place in the house, just in case you mislay the first one.

The Secret Dinosaur Diary

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the diary: Back to School Stationery & Other Supplies

A lockable, secret dinosaur diary, that features Triceratops on the cover.  Just date each page and you can create your own personal dinosaur diary.  Diary comes with two keys and diary padlock.  A great idea to help encourage young dinosaur fans with their writing.

Battling Triceratops – Skulls show signs of Battle Scars

New Study on Ceratopsian Skull Injuries indicates that Horns were used as Weapons

Palaeontologists have debated for many years as to what were the exact function and purpose of the horns and frill on horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops.  Now a new study undertaken by American scientists has concluded that the horns on dinosaurs such as Triceratops were used as defensive weapons and wielded in battles with rivals.  The scars and damaged bone found on the skulls of these dinosaurs reveal rare evidence of dinosaurs fighting each other the scientists have stated.

Andrew Farke, curator at the Raymond M Alf Museum of Palaeontology, in Claremont, California said:

“Palaeontologists have debated the function of the bizarre skulls of horned dinosaurs for years now.  Some speculated that the horns were for showing off to other dinosaurs, and others thought that the horns had to have been used in combat against other horned dinosaurs.  Unfortunately, we can’t just go and watch a Triceratops in the wild.”

After studying a number of different skull specimens (fortunately, Triceratops skulls are relatively numerous in the fossil record, compared to other bones from these creatures), examining the fossilised bone for signs of traumatic injury; the team reported their findings in the journal the Public Library of Science One.

A Skull of a Triceratops

Picture Credit: Maynards Industries

Triceratops is one of the most famous dinosaurs of all, partly because it has been depicted in many films and television programmes fighting predators such as Tyrannosaurus rex.  This new research indicates that the script writers and production team may have got it right when they depict this six tonne dinosaur in combat with meat-eating dinosaurs.  Traces of blood vessels found in the frill and horn have indicated that these adornments may have been used for display or for regulating the temperature of these large four-legged animals.  As with other members of the Ceratopsian family, the frill would have probably been covered with skin and may have been brightly coloured, suggesting that it was used for display purposes.

A study by British scientists some years ago concluded that dinosaurs like Triceratops may have locked horns with opponents but not charged at them like a rhinoceros.  The impact forces from a 9 metre long, six tonne monster would have shattered the nasal and rostrum – not a particularly good outcome for the horned dinosaur.

The American team studied the skulls of Triceratops and compared them with the skulls of another Ceratopsian called Centrosaurus.  Triceratops had three horns, two large brow horns, in some specimens over a metre long, and a shorter nose horn.  In contrast Centrosaurus (Centrosaurus apertus), had just one prominent horn, the nose horn.  From studies of the numerous Centrosaurine skulls found at the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation in Alberta, scientists believe that juvenile Centrosaurs possessed a short, narrow horn.  As the Centrosaurs reached adult size, and presumably were able to breed, the nasal horn developed into a robust, long horn and parts of the skull became thicker and stronger.

The Two Horned Dinosaurs used in the Study (Triceratops and Centrosaurus)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In the picture above, the three-horned Triceratops is depicted on the left with the Centrosaurus with its large nasal horn on the right.

The Triceratops is the “Triceratops with attitude” from the Procon/Collecta range and the Centrosaurus is one of the dinosaur models from our party models collection.

To view Triceratops and other horned dinosaurs: Dinosaur Toys for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur Models

The injuries seen in Triceratops skulls were consistent with combat injuries, perhaps as rivals battled with each other over social status in the herd.  Centrosaurus skulls did not show similar injuries indicating that their horns and frill were perhaps used more for display.  Interestingly, a number of Centrosaurine bone beds are known.  A bone bed is a deposit of a large number of fossilised bones representing many individuals of a single species.  Such bone beds are evidence that dinosaurs moved in large herds, perhaps a number of the herd members met their death at the same time, for example, fording a river, much in the same way that many gnu die when crossing flooded rivers in Africa.

From this fossil evidence scientists have concluded that Centrosaurus lived in large groups, whereas no such bone bed evidence has been found to date for Triceratops.  It can be speculated that Triceratops lived in much smaller groups, if this is the case then combat could be envisaged when males were seeking mates as the herd structure being smaller would have led to battles only occasionally.  In contrast, if Centrosaurus lived in large groups, using facial ornamentation for display would make a lot of sense as in a large herd the chances of combat would be higher as more animals of near rank and size would be in close proximity to each other.

Dr Farke added: “If Triceratops and Centrosaurus only used their horns and frills for showing off, we would expect no difference in the rate of injury for both animals.  The most likely culprit for all of the wounds on Triceratops frills was the horns of other Triceratops”.

The team went onto compare the horns of Triceratops with a Swiss Army knife, suggesting that the horns may have been used for a variety of purposes, combat, ritual display and for defence against predators.  Skulls of Ceratopsians had been studied in detail before, but this study looked at a huge number of different specimens and looked for similarities in the injuries they found and modelled how these wounds could have been caused.

The injuries seen on the Triceratops fossils were consistent with the animals battling one another and fighting with their horns.  Centrosaurus, however, showed no such pattern, suggesting that its facial adornments were more for display.

“If Triceratops and Centrosaurus only used their horns and frills for showing off we would expect no difference in the rate of injury for both animals”.

Concluded Dr Farke.

One particular injury, of the squamosal bone on the frill, (top and back of the skull), was ten times more frequent in Triceratops than in Centrosaurus.

Dr Farke went on to add:

“Our findings provide some of the best evidence to date that Triceratops might have locked horns with each other, wrestling like modern antelope and deer.  This suggests that the animals, principally males, sparred for dominance and access to mates.  Many modern herbivores with antlers or horns do this”.

A fellow contributor to the study, Ewan Wolff of the University of Wisconsin-Madison stated that this was the most comprehensive assessment of Ceratopsian combat yet.  The conclusions have been compiled from an extensive study of a number of different specimens, allowing close comparisons between individuals to be made.

Ewan Wolff went on to state:

“In the past, individual remains have been used to reconstruct the story of ancient injuries.  I think this research shows the great potential of looking at injury patterns, even less obvious ones, to provide appropriate conclusions.   The features we studied were very subtle”.

Update on Lucy – Pictures from an Exhibition

Lucy’s Legacy – The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia

Yesterday we wrote about the fascinating early hominid fossil skeleton of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis), known to scientists by the fossil number A.L. 288.  This 3.2 million-year-old fossil is part of an exhibit currently being held at the Pacific Science Centre in Seattle in the U.S. state of Washington.

Lucy is perhaps the most famous fossil hominid, about 40% of the fossil was found and it is believed to represent a female that stood 107 cm tall and importantly, walked upright.  So far, A. afarensis fossils have only been found in Ethiopia and Tanzania.  Early hominid fossils are extremely rare and it is likely that this particular species was quite widespread across central and east Africa.  The large distance between the fossil sites has led scientists to deduce this.

The media team at the Pacific Science Centre have sent us over some more information and some exclusive pictures of the various exhibits.  The exhibition’s full title is: Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia, and it showcases the evolution of human history from the very cradle of human existence (scientists believe that our species did evolve in Africa and that that hominids first evolved on that continent).  As well as getting the very rare chance to view some of the ancient fossils of hominids from Ethiopia, visitors have the opportunity to explore the rich history and culture of Lucy’s homeland – a story that dates back to 5 million years ago.

The Fossilised Bones of Lucy (A. afarensis)

Picture Caption: The world’s most famous fossil, known as “Lucy,” will be on display for the first time outside of Ethiopia in the world-premiere special exhibition Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia. 

Picture Credit: Houston Museum of Natural Science

The exhibit is well worth a visit, the fossils rarely travel outside of Ethiopia and the range of cultural artefacts on display provide a fascinating insight into the story of our own species and the development of humankind.

Meeting the Ancestors – Not a Popular Pastime in Seattle

Ancient Hominid Fossil Fails to Wow Audience

Museum officials at the Pacific Science Centre are “sleepless in Seattle” as concerns have been expressed over the low attendance at an exhibition that focuses on the origins of our species, one of the first times that some of the exhibits have been shown outside of Africa.

Lucy – the name of the world famous fossil of an Australopithecus afarensis, had been booked by the Seattle based Pacific Science Centre, but it has not attracted the visitor numbers that the museum officials had hoped.  With the exhibition due to close on March 8th, only 60,000 have attended to date, the exhibition organisers had hoped to attract 250,000 to this very special showcase of early hominid fossils.

Approximately, 40% of the fossil of Lucy has been found (discovered by Tom Grey and Donald Johanson at Hadar in Ethiopia in 1974).  Her official name is A.L. 288, but the fossil, believed to represent a female, was named Lucy as the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds“, was playing in the field camp as the team celebrated their discovery.

The fossil has been dated to approximately 3.2 million years ago (Pliocene Epoch).  Ironically, it is easier to establish the evolutionary relationships between different types of Trilobites which died out over 250 million years ago than our own ancestry, with the origins of our own species dating back just a few million years.  Fossil remains of extinct hominids are extremely rare and incomplete.  With hominid fossils, only teeth, knuckle bones and parts of the skull are usually found.  In comparison, Trilobites, being animals of a marine environment with a hard exoskeleton are much more likely to be candidates for fossilisation.

According to the Seattle Times, the Pacific Science Centre faces a deficit of approximately $500,000 USD, this could lead to staff redundancies as the centre tries to balance the books.

The Lucy exhibit, part of a tour that commemorates the first time this particular specimen has been put on display outside of Africa, is believed to have cost the Pacific Science Centre approximately $2.25 million USD.

Commenting on the exhibit, the President of the Centre, Bryce Seidl stated:

“It’s a powerful story of evolution and culture and history … but we’re not getting the attendance we need for an exhibit of this scale”.

With an admission charge in excess of $20 USD, the low turnout has been blamed on the difficult economic conditions.  At an earlier exhibit, back in 2007 at Houston, Texas over 200,000 people came to see the fossil skeleton and as a result the exhibit was extended by five months to accommodate the demand.

Donald Johanson, the American anthropologist who along with Tom Grey discovered Lucy and whose lecture “Lucy’s Legacy” on Feb 5 in Seattle is a sell-out, said fascination with the skeleton remains strong.

“As I travel around the country lecturing, people seem to have a deep interest in their origins, in their roots, “ Mr Johanson commented.

We will do our bit to promote this event, although travelling to Seattle is a bit too much even for our dedicated staff, we would encourage anyone in the area to take this opportunity to see Lucy and her fellow exhibits – after all, in a way it is just like going to meet a long lost relative, a 3 million year-old relative at that.

Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year

Today, January 26th marks the start of the Chinese New Year.  In China and in Chinese communities throughout the world this important date is marked by celebrations and festivities.  In the Chinese calendar, years are symbolised by animals, for example 2009 is the year of the Ox.  During this important festival and in the days following New Year a number of dragon dances are performed.

Dragons are synonymous with Chinese mythology.  The colourful dragon dances, featuring lines of dancers, the dance leader wearing a dragon head costume; are very noisy and there is lots of drum banging and cymbal bashing.  The idea behind most of the dances is to drive evil spirits away, with the fierce dragon and loud noises frightening away any evil presence that may persist in the area.

In this way the local Chinese can help to guarantee themselves a peaceful and prosperous New Year.  Given the current state of the world’s economy, perhaps everyone should indulge in such practices.  However, it is also worth considering the implications on palaeontology of the Chinese dragon myths.  It is believed that when the Chinese came across the large fossilised bones of ancient animals they deduced that these were the bones of dragons.  This may be how the dragon myths came about.  Ironically, if the fossils found had been those of dinosaurs then the ancient Chinese were quite accurate.

In the west, dragons are mostly regarded as evil, but in oriental cultures dragons can represent both good and evil.  Some dragons can even be seen as benevolent.  Given the huge contribution to palaeontology made by Chinese scientists and institutions such as the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing we have a lot to thank the Chinese for.

Studies of amazing fossil finds in provinces such as Szechuan and Liaoning have advanced our understanding of ancient life in the Mesozoic considerably.  We predict that Chinese scientists will remain at the forefront of palaeontology for many years to come.

Chilly Dinosaurs – Evidence from Northern Russia indicates Dinosaurs did not mind the Cold

Dinosaurs more Robust then Scientists Previously Thought – Adapted to the Cold

It is partly thanks to the palaeontologists that have worked at the Dinosaur Cove site in Victoria, Australia that we have an appreciation of the adaptability of dinosaurs to harsh environments.  Evidence from mid Cretaceous sediments has shown that Antarctica, was not always a frozen wasteland but once had dense conifer forests and marshes that teemed with life.  Scientists believe that many animals were seasonal migrants – herds of plant-eaters migrating with the seasons to take advantage of the long daylight hours in the short Summer.   Following close behind would be the carnivores.  However, dinosaurs like the little Ornithopod Leaellynasaura are believed to have been permanent residents.

During this time in the Cretaceous, approximately 106 million years ago, the lands that were to become New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica were fused into a super continent.  The climate was much warmer then, but as the sun dropped below the horizon the residents would have had to endure long periods of total darkness and temperatures below freezing.

Now a team of scientists studying fossils from the very end of the Age of Reptiles have uncovered evidence of thriving dinosaurs in the far north, just 1,000 miles from the North Pole.  Working with fossils dating back to between 68 and 65 million years ago (Maastrichtian faunal stage), the researchers from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences have uncovered evidence of Hadrosaurs, Nodosaurids as well as meat-eaters such as Tyrannosaurids and smaller Dromaeosaurs in northeastern Russia.  Work has been going on in Alaska studying Hadrosaur fossils (duck-billed dinosaurs), but scientists assumed that these dinosaurs migrated into the area to take advantage of the 24-hour daylight in the short northern hemisphere Summer that would have allowed lush plant growth.  The Belgian team have discovered fragments of dinosaur egg shell, indicating that at least some species bred at high latitudes.  Whether or not the nesting sites were created by permanent residents or by migrating dinosaurs is unclear.  No fossil evidence for crocodiles, turtles and lizards have been found in the Russian site to date.  Does this mean that this northern region was just to cold for these cold-blooded reptiles to survive?

By studying fossil pollen and plant material the team working on the exposed late Cretaceous strata of northeastern Russia have concluded that the average annual temperature was approximately 10 degrees Celsius.

Commenting on the research, recently published in the German scientific journal “Naturwissenschaften“, the leader of the expedition Professor Pascal Godefroit stated:

“For the first time we have firm evidence that these polar dinosaurs were able to reproduce and live in those relatively cold regions.  There is no way of knowing for sure, but dinosaurs were probably warm blooded just like modern birds, which are the direct descendants of dinosaurs”.

Professor Godefroit added:

“We have no remains of cold-blooded reptiles such as turtles, crocodilians and lizards in that area which suggests it was too cold for them.  The dinosaurs were incredibly diverse in polar regions – as diverse as they were in tropical regions. It was a big surprise for us”.

The Belgian’s work could have a big impact (no pun intended), on Mesozoic extinction theories.  It seems that certain types of dinosaur may have been more tolerant to harsh, cold climates than previously thought.  If sudden and dramatic climate change is put forward as a theory for the demise of the dinosaurs, then why could this be so?  The fossil record indicates that some dinosaurs could migrate to cooler environments in search of food and indeed, some may have actually adapted to the cold conditions and actually thrived.

The Application of Science – Louis Pasteur

Great Quotation About Science and Scientific Enquiry

In an address given at the inauguration of the Faculty of Science at the University of Lille in 1854, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) stated:

“Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les espirits prepares.”

He was making the point about how vital it is to observe and show discipline when it comes to scientific enquiry.  In the Earth sciences such as palaeontology, observation is extremely important.  We advise amateur fossil hunters to draw and sketch their fossil finds as well as photograph them as we believe it is only through careful observation, such as that needed to produce a facsimile of an object, can one really understand a fossil.

Translated, Pasteur’s quotation is:

“Where observation is concerned chance only favours the prepared mind.”

In our view Pasteur was emphasising the importance of being disciplined and the need to observe carefully.

Local Fossil Collector Charged with Theft

Amateur Palaeontologist facing Theft charges over “Raptor” Fossil

The raptors, or to give them their scientific name the Dromaeosaurs are typically, small, swift, bipedal dinosaurs and the name raptor is translated as meaning “robber or thief”, perhaps an apt description for these little dinosaurs.

It is easy to imagine a sharp-eyed Velociraptor seizing the opportunity when a Protoceratops has left her nest unguarded, to rush in and steal an egg.  Ironically, a “raptor” fossil is at the centre of allegations of fossil theft in the state of Montana, USA.

In the late autumn of 2006, Nathan Murphy, a well-known and highly regarded amateur palaeontologist and fossil collector took a specimen of a small, Dromaeosaur to be studied at his local dinosaur study centre – the Dinosaur Field Station.

Mr Murphy had identified the fossil bones as belonging to a new type of Dromaeosaur, a turkey sized animal that he had nick-named “Sid Vicious”, after the infamous punk rock singer.  If Mr Murphy owned the rights to this fossil, then it could prove to be an extremely lucrative discovery, as there would be a considerable amount of money to be made selling casts to museums and private collectors.  However, Montana State law enforcement officers now accuse Mr Murphy of theft as the specimen had been discovered several years earlier, not where Mr Murphy claimed to have found it, but on private land and this means that “Sid Vicious” actually belongs to someone else.

Montana is one of the largest States in the USA.  Although it is sparsely populated, it is extremely important to palaeontologists with an absolute treasure trove of Mesozoic fossils, many of which are dinosaurs from the Cretaceous.  Montana is famous for its Hadrosaurine (duck-billed dinosaur) fossils, the State fossil is Maiasaura (Maiasaura peeblesorum), a medium sized Hadrosaur whose remains along with a nesting colony were discovered in Montana in the 1970s.

In the Autumn, after a long investigation by the Federal authorities, Mr Murphy was charged with the theft of the dinosaur fossil.  It seems that this specimen had been discovered many years earlier, at a different location from the one Mr Murphy first claimed.  The raptor fossil had been found on land belonging to somebody else and Mr Murphy had attempted to deceive the true owners keeping any monetary gains associated with this find.

A trial is scheduled for March, but it may not be required if Mr Murphy pleads guilty to the charge of theft.  He had claimed the fossil was found near Saco, Montana, some 25 miles from where it was actually discovered a few years earlier.

Whatever the reasons for Mr Murphy’s deception, whether intended or not, the real tragedy is that the lie about the specimen’s discovery means that palaeontologists will have difficulty in studying the surrounding strata.  The provenance of the fossil has been lost.

It is easy to see where the conflict between science and fossil collecting for profit can arise. Such are the stakes in terms of monetary gain and prestige.  Unfortunately, the science of palaeontology is the real loser in instances such as this.  A valuable specimen cannot be researched properly because of the deception and important scientific information concerning this little Dromaeosaur has been lost.

Commenting on the case and the difficulties of separating science from commercial fossil operations, Dr Robert Bakker, the eminent American palaeontologist commented:

“You need a Chinese wall between them”.

Updating Lesson Plans for Dinosaur Workshops

New Lesson Plans for Dinosaur Worksh0ps

The teaching team at Everything Dinosaur have been updating and adding more experiments and activities to their dinosaur workshops for schools programme. With increasing interest from teachers’s of particular age groups in schools, staff are having to adjust their dinosaur teaching in schools to accommodate the particular learning needs of these other groups.  These actions are all part of our on-going commitment to continuous improvement and also a desire to reflect the latest scientific discoveries when it comes to working with school children.

We try, where possible, to build in aspects of real palaeontology into our teaching work, as we think there is no better way to get across scientific principles such as observation, enquiry and challenging assumptions.  We expect that when the national curriculum is reviewed, there will be even greater emphasis placed on mathematics, literacy and science, our teaching team intend to reflect these new initiatives in their support of the work of teachers and teaching support staff.

Learning About Dinosaurs in School is Also Fun

Everything Dinosaur team members committed to helping fellow teachers.

Everything Dinosaur team members committed to helping fellow teachers.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Dinosaur Workshops in School

It is also important that we keep learning fun, we are working on a number of physical activities that can be incorporated into our teaching work.  These activities will be aimed at reinforcing learning as well as allowing the session to appeal to different learning styles.

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