Unusual Requests – Image of a Xenarthran

Request from Museum for a Picture of a Glyptodon

At Everything Dinosaur, we get lots and lots of requests for information and advice from all over the world.  We do our best to help everyone who contacts us, whether it is the Mum of a dinosaur mad little girl, wanting a quiz for her daughter, or a palaeontologist at a dig site requesting an update on a model.

Take yesterday, evening as an example, we received a number of emails from locations such as the USA, Canada, France and of course from people in the UK.  One of the requests we received was from the American Museum of Natural History in New York.  They requested an image of a Glyptodon that they knew we had.  Glyptodonts were heavily armoured mammals that lived in the Americas (originated in South America), during the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs.  The last of their kind became extinct approximately 10,000 years ago.  The Glyptodonts belong to a bizarre group of primitive, placental mammals called the Xenarthrans (name means strange joints).  The name refers to the strange extra joints that these mammals have between their vertebrae.  Charles Darwin reported on a number of Xenarthran fossils whilst he visited South America on his famous voyage of discovery.  He studied the fossilised armour of Glyptodonts and even had a Xenarthran fossil named in his honour – an extinct sloth.

Sloths, anteaters and armadillos are extant representatives of the Xenarthrans.

An Image of a Glyptodon

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a scale model of a Glyptodon and dinosaur models: Prehistoric Mammal Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Glyptodonts are certainly strange looking creatures, the largest kinds such as Doedicurus and Panochthus, were the size of cars and would have weighed over 1,000 kilogrammes.

Glyptodon was named and described by the famous English anatomist and scientist Sir Richard Owen in 1839.  He based much of his work on the information and fossils provided by Charles Darwin from his voyage on the Beagle.

Dinosaur Eggs for Easter

Dinosaur Eggs for Easter

Dinosaurs seem to have had a very different reproductive strategy to that of mammals.  In modern mammals, with size ranges comparable to those of dinosaurs, a few well-developed offspring are born at a time and they are usually quite well cared for by the parents.  From evidence preserved in the fossil record, dinosaurs seem to have laid many eggs at a time and despite varying degrees of parental care, very few of the offspring survived into adulthood.  Effectively, dinosaurs seem to have relied on a strategy of “quantity not quality” a strategy akin to modern reptiles such as crocodiles.  Some extant species of reptile are viviparous (able to produce live young).  Most scientists believe that all the known species of dinosaur were egg laying, although some palaeontologists have remarked on the wide hips of Therizinosaurs and Pachycephalosaurs.  Were these wide hip girdles purely for making room for a large gut, or did these herbivores give birth to live young?

A number or extinct reptiles are known to have given birth to live young, the remarkable Ichthyosaur fossils of Germany, where a female Ichthyosaur seems to have perished and been preserved whilst in the process of giving birth.  It would make sense for these superbly adapted marine reptiles to evolve a viviparous reproduction strategy.  Although these animals evolved from land dwelling ancestors, they were so completely adapted to a marine existence that they physically could not clamber ashore to lay eggs, in the same way that turtles do for instance.

Dinosaur nesting strategies seem to have varied, some fossilised nests contain as few as ten eggs, whilst overs contain the remains of over 50.  Some dinosaurs such as the large Sauropods seem to have created a simple scrap in the ground, laid their clutch of eggs, buried them and left the developing young to their fate.  Other dinosaurs such as the Ornithopod Maiasaura, seems to have nested in colonies and built more elaborate nests, consisting of a raised mound covered in vegetation, perhaps some form of incubation.

Some Rare almost Complete Dinosaur Eggs

Picture Credit: CCTV.com

A common misconception about dinosaur eggs is that they were very large.  This is not the case.  The largest dinosaur eggs were about the size of a regulation football, it is believed eggs of this size were probably laid by a Sauropod (long-necked dinosaur).  The shelled egg is limited in size (amniotic egg); the egg shell has to be thick enough to support the fluid contained therein, but weak enough to permit the hatching animal to break out.  The thickest dinosaur egg shell exceeds 6 mm in thickness, any thicker than this and the offspring would not be able to break out of its egg.

Science Events at the Bollington Festival

Science Events at the Bollington Festival – Hunting Dinosaurs

The Bollington Festival in Cheshire keeps growing and each year it gets bigger and better.    The Cheshire town of Bollington is just a few miles north of Macclesfield and it has become quite famous for its Festival.  This year, for the first time, there will be a series of events and presentations with a science theme.  The Festival has a dedicated science group and a total of 8 fantastic science themed events will be held over the duration of the Festival, which itself runs from the 8th to the 25th of May this year.

In keeping with the rest of the Festival, the scientific presentations are varied and cover a diverse range of subjects, for example Dr. Graeme Jones from the School of Physical and Geographical Sciences at Keele University will be presenting the definitive scientific guide to a good night out – “Saturday Night Science”.  In recognition of 2009 being the international year of astronomy, Dr Jamie Gilmour from the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester will be providing visitors to the Festival with a guide to meteorites, and how our little part of the Milky Way was formed.  His presentation is entitled “Meteorites, Stardust and the Solar System”.

Of course palaeontology will be represented…

Dr. Phil Manning from the University of Manchester, will be giving a talk on “Hunting Dinosaurs in the 21st Century” on the evening of the 12th May.  Knowing Phil, this will be a super presentation and extremely enjoyable as Dr Manning will no doubt, enthusiastically guide us through the latest research on the mummified Hadrosaurine (duck-billed dinosaur), discovered in Dakota.  Perhaps he will combine this with further information on several other projects, including the use of computer modelling techiniques to estimate dinosaur velocity, a specific software programme developed by the University of Manchester, to calculate just how first some bipedal dinosaurs could run.

The first dinosaurs walked the earth over 220 million years ago, yet people are still captivated by these amazing creatures.  With the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species” dinosaurs are one of the oldest evolutionary links to one of the worlds most diverse species of modern vertebrate, birds. Indeed, there are still more species of birds on this planet than mammals – perhaps a testament to their adaptability.  This talk will take the audience on a journey from the Badlands of North Dakota, supercomputers in Manchester and particle accelerators with dinosaurs as targets in California!

The Promotional Poster for the Dinosaur Presentation

Picture Credit: Annette Hurst (Bollington Festival)

Pleasing to see a picture of an Ornithopod (Iguanodontid) promoting Dr Phil’s presentation, which will focus on a superbly preserved Ornithopod fossil discovered in America.

For more information about the Bollington Festival, including how to book for events and presentations visit the Festival website: Bollington Festival

How did Liopleurodon get its Name?

The Naming and Describing of Liopleurodon

One of the Everything Dinosaur team members was asked the other day what the name of the large Jurassic, Pliosaur Liopleurodon means and how this fierce carnivore got to be named.  We tend to get asked a lot of questions about this particular prehistoric animal, it remains extremely popular after it was “tagged” with the title of the biggest carnivore of all time.  Liopleurodon was featured in one of the BBC’s “Walking with Dinosaurs” episodes (episode 3 – The Cruel Sea), the documentary claimed that this marine reptile was up to 25 metres long and would have weighed as much as 150 tonnes.  These statistics, although impressive, are difficult to confirm using the existing fossil record, but for young fans of the TV series, Liopleurodon remains a real star.

Liopleurodon was a fierce meat-eating, aquatic reptile of the Jurassic period.  A number of species of Liopleurodon are now known, but the fossils of this animal are extremely rare and many of the examples scientists have are poorly preserved. It was very probably the apex predator in its environment and as a consequence; there would have been fewer individuals in any one area compared to other animals in the food chain.  As a result, the fossils of such creatures are extremely rare.  The best-known species  (Liopleurodon ferox); was first named and described by the French palaeontologist H.E. Sauvage in 1873.  The holotype of this animal, the specimen on which the original description of Liopleurodon ferox is based is actually a single tooth.  The smooth sides of this tooth gave Liopleurodon its name.  The name Liopleurodon means “smooth-sided tooth”.

An Illustration of Liopleurodon

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The drawing above shows a Liopleurodon to scale with a human being, had this animal reached the lengths claimed by the BBC production team.

The colouration on the model of Liopleurodon we stock is very striking.  We have advised a lot of people on the way in which this large predator may have looked but the colours depicted are pure speculation.  We do try to base our work on some scientific principles and evidence seen in extant creatures today.  For example, study of Liopleurodon and other Pliosaur skull material indicates that the eyes were positioned towards the top of the skull.  This would have helped Liopleurodon ambush its prey by attacking them from below, in much the same way as Great White sharks attack seals today.  We presume that this large animal, hid in the depths and then propelled itself upwards at a target animal such as an Ichthyosaur.  The four powerful flippers provided fast acceleration and the strong jaws equipped with large teeth (some up to 18 inches long), were capable of delivering a very powerful bite.

A Liopleurodon Model (Everything Dinosaur)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of Liopleurodon and dinosaurs: Marine Reptile Toys for Boys and Girls – Liopleurodon and Dinosaur Models

The dark markings on the top of the animal would help camouflage this large creature and break up its shape when viewed from above.  The white underbelly would have been almost invisible against the sun dappled surface waters, if viewed from below.

New Zip Bin Storage Boxes and Dinosaur Playmats

Dinosaur Storage Box that turns into a Prehistoric Themed Playmat

Storage problems for dinosaur models are solved at a stroke with the introduction of these new innovative storage boxes into the Everything Dinosaur product range.  With over 500 different products in stock, the team at Everything Dinosaur seem to provide everything for young dinosaur fans – exactly what the name of their company – Everything Dinosaur suggests.  Whether it is toys, games, puzzles, clothing or models, the team members including qualified teachers and real dinosaur experts are able to keep most enthusiastic dinosaur fans happy.

To visit the company website: Everything Dinosaur

Adding to the company’s “Dinosaurs at Home” range two zipped canvas storage boxes have been added – the Dinosaur Zip Bin and its smaller companion designed for holidays and travel, the Mini Dinosaur Zip Bin.

The Dinosaur Zip Bin

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Each sturdy, canvas box is ideal for storing dinosaur models and toys, helping to keep the bedroom tidy and preventing it from turning into a Jurassic Park.  However, once unzipped they fold out to reveal an exciting prehistoric landscape themed playmat complete with volcanoes, dinosaur trackways and a river, just the setting for some dinosaur adventures.

The Mini Dinosaur Zip Bin measures 15cm x 20cm x 13cm and when unzipped folds out to produce a 41cm x 46cm play area.  This pack even comes with three mini dinosaur models to start off your model collection.  This pack is ideal for taking on holiday and travelling, as all the dinosaurs can be safely stowed away when play is finished for the day.

The larger Dinosaur Zip Bin, another dinosaur themed portable play mat, comes complete with carrying handles.  An ideal storage area for dinosaur models that also unzips to transform into a 74cm x 81cm prehistoric landscape play mat.  Set includes four dinosaur models.  In storage mode, size is 34cm x 28cm x 20cm, providing plenty of storage space for any dinosaur model collection.

The Storage Bin and Play mat

Dinosaur Zip Bin and Playmat Combined

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Mini Dinosaur Zip Bin and other Dinosaur products: Dinosaur Gifts & Presents

Each item is suitable for children aged 3 plus and makes a super play area, encouraging creative play and discovery.

To Decal or not to Decal – our new Van Dilemma

To Decal or not to Decal the Van

With the arrival of our new van discussion in the company has turned to deciding what sort of promotional livery we should put on it.  Given that we all have to drive it at one time or another, we thought it best if everyone in the company was involved.  Over the tea and coffee breaks this has been quite a fascinating topic and as a result of this we all seem to be taken a heightened interest in the livery of other commercial vehicles that we see on the road.

The New Van – a Blank Canvas?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We have decided to choose another white van, giving us a blank canvas to work with as it were.  This time there are no rear windows so we have the opportunity to put some livery on the back of the vehicle as well as the front and sides.  Quite a competitive spirit has developed amongst us all, so it has been decided to adopt the same principles as many large multi-nationals when it comes to choosing a new corporate identity – we are going to run a competition.  Using some templates of vans (drawing a van shape proved quite tricky for some of us), we are running a competition for the next week or so.  Everybody who wants to can pick up a set of templates from our main office and then they can draw their suggested design for the new livery and seal up their artwork in the large envelope provided and “post” the entry into our competition box in the warehouse.

Just for a bit of fun we have extended the competition to non-members of staff and we have had suggestions from school children, teachers and given from the car dealer we published this van from and our local garage.  In a few days time, we will go over the competition entrants at our regular weekly meeting to decide which design would be best.  Nobody has asked about a prize for the winner, which is good, but I suspect we shall have to come up with something suitable as a reward for their artistic efforts.

Humans and Dinosaurs a “Handy” way to tell the Difference

Latest Palaeontological Research helps with Classroom Exercise

A few weeks ago, team members at Everything Dinosaur reported on the research published by a team of American scientists who had studied the best preserved hand prints of a Theropod dinosaur.  Theropod dinosaurs such as Megalosaurus, Allosaurus and Dilong were bipedal.  This means that they walked upright on their hind legs.  Scientists had speculated how these animals would have used their hands and what movement they would have had with their forelimbs.  A lot can be determined by studying the fossilised arm and hand bones of these particular dinosaurs, but no decent, well-preserved ”hand prints” of such animals had ever been found.

The study of a dinosaur trackway, left in mudstone has revealed that dinosaurs had hands that were not suitable for walking upon very early in their evolution.  In a report published in the online palaeontological journal PLos ONE, a U.S. based team have concluded that the fossil hand-prints, perhaps the best Theropod hand-prints discovered to date, indicate that these dinosaurs abandoned the use of their forelimbs as legs early in their evolutionary development.

The lead author, Andrew R. C. Milner of the St George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm in Utah, stated that due to the disproportionately small forelimbs of most Theropods, trace fossils of them as they rested on the ground are extremely rare.  Only a few other examples of Theropod hand-prints are known, but the discovery of a wonderfully well-preserved set of impressions in 2004, have enabled scientists to shed more light on the range of movement of dinosaur hands and arms.

Vertebrate palaeontologist Milner and his colleagues describe in the paper, a clear set of 5 cm deep impressions preserved amongst hundreds of other trace fossils in the sediment that has been dated to the early Jurassic (Sinemurian faunal stage), approximately 198 million years ago.  The rock preserves trace fossils of worm borings, tracks made by crabs as well as body fossils of fish.  The sediment represents a part of a shoreline adjacent to an ancient lake (known as Lake Dixie).  The water level seems to have altered and as a result the sediment shows signs that the water levels fell and the muddy sand cracked and dried in the sun.  A Theropod dinosaur left a remarkable trackway, on this shoreline, it stopped and sat down, perhaps to rest for a while.  As it rested it put its hand’s on the ground and these left impressions (left manus and right manus).  There is even the marks in the fossilised trackway that show where the base of the tail was rested on the ground.

To read the article in full: Dinosaur Hand-print Reveals Link to Birds

An Artist’s Impression of the Theropod Resting and Trackway Picture

Picture Credit: H. K. Luterman of Cedar City, Utah

Everything Dinosaur, is always keen to build in new ideas and scientific developments into its teaching programmes so we combined the research work carried out on these remarkable trackways with an experiment with school children to see if dinosaurs and people has the same range of movement in their hands and arms.  We term this teaching exercise, part of our range of classroom activities “the palms down activity”, but many of my colleagues prefer the more intriguing title – can dinosaurs juggle?

As well as showing various fossils with the class, we run an exercise to test how we place our hands when we are resting.  By splitting the class into groups and appointing a student to supervise the exercise for each group we can get the entire class to repose with their hands in a relaxed, comfortable position.  By studying how we; H. sapiens rest and comparing our resting position with that of a Theropod dinosaur we can see differences in how we use our arms and hands compared to a dinosaur.

We carried out this experiment with Year 6 students at Barnfields Primary School in Stafford (England).  The results, were as we predicted with most of these 10-11 years old pupils resting with their hands on the table palms down.  This is a comfortable position for our hands, a very different pose to that of a Theropod dinosaur.  If the fossil trackway evidence from Utah proves to be conclusive, Theropod dinosaurs rested with their palms facing in a more upwards direction.

Barnfields Primary School Children “Hands Up” Exercise

Examining Dinosaur Hands

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Pupils with their Hands in a Natural Resting Position

Dinosaur Hands being examined

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

(Our thanks to the Barnfield Primary School, the teachers, parents and pupils for giving us permission to publish these photographs).

The pictures show that the majority of children, when unprompted, placed their hands palms down, interesting also to note the tendency to splay the fingers out, again in response to no prompting.  We were then able to compare the student’s reaction to the fossil trackways and establish differences between our hands and those of a dinosaur.  Teachers and teaching assistants could develop this exercise by plotting the results on a simple bar chart or by introducing concepts of theory testing or describing events.  The peculiar shaped object in the top right had section of the second photograph is actually a fossil, one of the many exhibits that we hand round in class.  It is a fossil of a Woolly Mammoth’s tooth.  Here at Everything Dinosaur, we have developed a number of ideas based around delivering a practical demonstration of real palaeontology – all based around the National Curriculum.  For example, in our lesson plan for this exercise we cover concepts such as “make comparisons and identify patterns - N.C. KS2 SC1 2iand ” how animals in a habitat are suited to their environment – N.C. KS2 SC1 5c”.

The exercise certainly proved very popular with the pupils and it did demonstrate our ability to pronate our forelimbs (twist our arms), a skill inherited from our tree climbing ancestors, and from the evidence presented here, we humans seem to have a greater range of arm movement than a Theropod dinosaur.  So, we can conclude that dinosaurs probably couldn’t juggle.

To view other dinosaur workshops offered by the qualified teachers at Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Workshops for Schools

Addressing the North West Science Alliance

Addressing the North West Science Alliance

This evening one of our team members has the honour and privilege of addressing members of the North West Science Alliance at their quarterly meeting.  The North West Science Alliance (NWSA - I can never understand why scientists, especially those involved in academia revel in acronyms), was established to bring together those parties with an interest in science in the North West of England. 

I am not too sure of the organisation’s mission statement, but in essence a very broad definition of science is given by the NWSA, they cover medicine, natural sciences, engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, technology – an eclectic range of scientific disciplines, as the Chairperson, the very capable Lorelly Wilson says herself: “if in doubt, it’s [the science discipline] included”.

The North West of England has a strong tradition in the sciences with many major science based employers having premises, research stations or factories within the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria as well as the metropolitan areas of Manchester and Merseyside, areas that the NWSA covers.

The geology of the area favours many of these industries, Cheshire is close to the major port of Liverpool, the flat Cheshire plain has proved an ideal location for many chemical companies in particular.  In the past; there was access to coal fields to the south and the especially soft water of the area was ideal for use in many industrial processes.  One of the things the NWSA aims to do is to act as a conduit for schools, colleges and such like helping them to gain access to science demonstrations and scientists to enrich learning.

Such endeavours, just part of what this highly enthusiastic group undertake, will no doubt help to encourage the next generation of scientists.  Certainly, students can have a tremendous enthusiasm for science if they can be motivated and encouraged by innovative and exciting teaching programmes.

From our own point of view, we are not sure what is more daunting, casting a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth from a latex mould in front of a dozen or so excited Year 6 students all wanting to help and all so keen to get involved, or addressing this esteemed body.

Hopefully, our presentation looking at ways in which the NWSA could develop its presence on-line will prove helpful to them.  We certainly have learnt a lot since we started attending about two years ago.

I am sure we will be able to make further contributions to assist this group of dedicated individuals in the future.

Impact of the Recession Dryosaurus fails to Sell

The Global Recession is Affecting Auction Prices of Fossils

One consequence of the global economic downturn is that fossils of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are failing to reach their reserve prices at auction.  In the past, wealthy private collectors were able to outbid many museums and other organisations at specialised auctions where rare dinosaur fossils and other exhibits went under the hammer.

Now it looks like even the very wealthy are feeling the pinch.  A rare complete skeleton of a 150-million-year-old dinosaur languished on an auction block yesterday, failing to sell despite interest from two museums, the auctioneering company stated.  Neither museum could meet the reserve price, an estimated $300,000 dollars for the 3 metre long fossil of the Jurassic Ornithopod Dryosaurus.

Dryosaurus was a common and widespread plant-eating dinosaur of the late Jurassic, it was named by the famous American scientist Othniel Charles Marsh in 1894.  This particular specimen was discovered at a private quarry in Wyoming in 1993 and put up for sale by a company called Western Palaeontological Laboratories Inc, in an auction of fossils and other rare palaeontological specimens.

Speaking on behalf of the auctioneers, Josh Chait, Operations Director commented that no one could meet the asking price for this particular lot, stating that this was probably due to “a lack of funding, more than the price”.

The auctioneers are trying to negotiate the sale of this mounted skeleton to a museum, they are prepared to fore-go their commission if the fossil is sold to a museum.  Perhaps the problem is that a Dryosaurus is likely to be less of a draw than a mounted skeleton of a fierce meat-eating dinosaur such as an Allosaurus.

A number of other lots were sold during the auction including a teenage Mammoth skeleton which fetched $55,000 and a nearly complete Mosasaur skeleton that went for $67,000, but neither of these items fetched their expected price.  Each of these lots was expected to be sold for more than $100,000.  A number of the exhibits were purchased by unidentified private collectors.  Let us hope that these specimens are made available to the public for viewing and to scientists for further study, although we suspect that at Everything Dinosaur, this is the last we shall hear of these items as more and more precious fossils end up in the hands of wealthy private collectors.

Commenting on the relatively low prices for some of the lots (in comparison to previous auctions), Josh Chait stated that:

“I can only guess that the economy’s having an effect”.

Sinraptor – An Unusual name for an Allosaur

Sinraptor – not a “Raptor” at All

Discovered by a joint Canadian/Chinese expedition to the north-west of China in 1987 led by eminent palaeontologists Dr. Phil Currie and Xian Zhao, this large meat-eating dinosaur would have probably been the apex predator in the area during the mid to late Jurassic.  Sinraptor was formerly named and described in 1994.  The species name is Sinraptor dongi, in honour of the famous Chinese palaeontology professor Dong Zhiming, who is reputed to have named and described more dinosaurs than any other scientist over the last 30 years or so.  He is one of the most important scientists within China and a leading light in the field of dinosaur fossil study.

There are believed to be at least two species ascribed to the Sinraptor genus, although there is still debate over the exact taxonomy of this species in relation to its close relative Yangchuanosaurus.  Both Sinraptor and Yangchuanosaurus have been classified into the Family Sinraptoridae, both these dinosaurs share typical Allosaur features and a lightened skull.  However, the few fossils of Sinraptor found are from sediments that are several million years older than Yangchuanosaurus.  Evidently, these animals were the biggest predators in Asia during the mid to late Jurassic.

An Illustration of Sinraptor

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To see a scale model of Sinraptor: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

To date, very few fossils of large carnivores are known from this part of China.  Fortunately, one nearly complete fossilised skeleton of Sinraptor has been found.  This animal was not fully grown, it is a sub-adult, not a mature animal.  Estimates of the size of this Allosaur vary as a result, but scientists believe that this dinosaur may have been up to 8 metres long.  Yangchuanosaurus may have been slightly larger, perhaps reaching lengths in excess of 10 metres, making Yangchuanosaurus comparable in size to Allosaurus fragilis of the Morrison Formation in the United States.

The name Sinraptor means “Chinese Thief or Plunderer”.  This is an unusual name for a member of the Allosauridae, as this particular Theropod is not closely related to the Dromaeosaurs, those dinosaurs made famous by films such as the “Jurassic Park” trilogy, otherwise known as the “raptors”.

A full-size model of Sinraptor can be seen outside the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing.  This particular museum is reputed to house the largest collection of vertebrate fossils in the world, with something like 200,000 specimens in its collection.

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