Back to the Trees – Evidence of Earliest Tree Dwelling Vertebrate

Late Permian Fossil shows evidence of Adaptations to an Arboreal Habitat

A new paper in the scientific publication of the Royal Society journal Proceedings Biology, describes a strange ancestor of mammals that may have lived in the trees.  This is the first evidence from the fossil record of a vertebrate adapting to an arboreal lifestyle.  It also reveals a change in the eco-systems of the Palaeozoic with land animals adapting to and exploiting new food sources, such as leaves in the branches of trees.

The paper describes the articulated fossils and skull material of a primitive synapsid reptile.  The fossils of several individuals, including mature adults as well as juveniles were discovered in a single block of red mudstone discovered in central Russia’s Kirov region.  The long limbs and grasping hands of this 50 cm long animal seem perfectly suited to climbing trees.  The scientists have even found evidence of an “opposable thumb”, a particular adaptation of a digit to permit it to grasp and help the hand or foot to hold things, such as the branches of a tree.

The animal has been named Suminia getmanovi and the evolutionary changes that the fossils show allowed these animals to forage for food in tree branches, away from the fierce crocodilian predators and Pelycosaurs that roamed on the ground.

A Fossil of Suminia getmanovi

Picture Credit: Chicago Field Museum

In the picture the animal is lying with the head towards the right, the long humerus and the elongated fingers can clearly be seen .

The mudstone block containing the fossils, perhaps a group of animals that had drowned in a flash flood was discovered in 1994, but only recently have all the skeletons been available for close examination.

The team of researchers from the Field Museum in Chicago led by lead author Dr. Jorg Frobisch have claimed that this is the earliest fossil evidence of a vertebrate adapting to a life in the trees, some 100 million years before the first true mammals.

Commenting on the anatomical features of this little reptile that helped it climb trees; Dr Frobisch stated:

“The hands and feet made up almost half of the length of its whole limb.  That’s humungous, if you compare it to your own arm”.

The large manus (hand) ended in long, slender and curved fingers, ideal for climbing.  The fingers probably had claws helping this small creature to grip as it clambered up tree trunks.

Dr. Frobisch explained:

“In life these probably would have been covered in a hard, keratinous coating, much like in modern-day birds, these would have helped the animal climb”.

But the most significant observation the team made was that one finger on each hand and foot was “opposed” to the rest, much like a thumb.  Such an adaptation can be seen in our own thumbs, part of the tree climbing ancestry of humans.

Commentating on the importance of their discovery, Dr. Frobisch added:

“It’s the first time in the fossil record that we’ve seen evidence of an opposable thumb”.

Between the time when Suminia lived, and the period to which fossils of the earliest-known tree-dwelling mammals have been dated, there is a gap of about 100 million years.

Simon Conway Morris, a palaeobiologist from the University of Cambridge added:

“In this case a vertebrate, specifically a synapsid – from which the mammals themselves emerged – was ahead of the game of climbing trees.  In fact it was about 30 million years ahead of schedule”.

Dunkleosteus A Fish built like a Bulldozer and a Guillotine for Jaws

Dunkleosteus – The Terror of the Devonian

The Devonian period which lasted approximately sixty-three million years (417 million years to 354 million years ago), is known as the Age of Fishes, as fish were the most advanced vertebrates on the planet for much of the Devonian.  Although the Devonian period marks the formation of a supercontinent with the closing of the Iapetus ocean, life in the oceans still dominated and it was only towards the end of the Devonian that primitive Tetrapods began to venture out onto land. Lakes and rivers were becoming populated by fish and the land was forested as plants evolved greater adaptations to a terrestrial habit.  Indeed by the mid Devonian, land plants were becoming more complex and taller and by the end of this period the first trees had become established.

Insects diversified and began to increase in number, exploiting the many new opportunities life on land was providing.  However, it was in the sea where the truly spectacular animals lurked.  The top predators in the marine environment were the newly evolved primitive sharks and the armour plated Placoderms such as Dunkleosteus.

A Scale Illustration of Dunkleosteus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The model in the picture is a Wild Safari Dinos Dunkleosteus model.

Dunkleosteus was a huge prehistoric fish with an armoured head and thorax made up of several interlocking plates.  In large specimens (the biggest may have been as long as bus), the armour was up to 5cm thick.  The word Placoderm means armoured or plated skin, it is pronounced plak-oh-dermz and this particular group of jawed fish had their origins in the Silurian, rapidly diversified in the Devonian before becoming extinct at the end of this period, leaving a sort of evolutionary dead end.  The ancestors of Placoderms lacked teeth, instead this group developed a pair of bony plates that hung down from the top jaw, whilst the edges of the lower jaw were also bony and very sharp.  When the mouth was closed the jaws sheared against each other making a self-sharpening cutting surface.  Dunkleosteus was a top predator and the fossilised remains of regurgitated fish, the remnants of a meal from a Dunkleosteus have been found.

With jaws like a guillotine and a front end built like a bulldozer, Dunkleosteus was a very formidable predator indeed.

To view a model of Dunkleosteus (Carnegie Safari model) and dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Land of the Lost Movie Review

Land of the Lost Movie Review

Summer holidays must be here and the schools broken up as this time of year sees the release of a certain genre of film designed to entertain families and hopefully while away an afternoon.  The Land of the Lost straddles the science fiction/screwball comedy genre and if you are keen to spend an afternoon out of the rain at the cinema then this film delivers a number of nice comedy moments.  It doe not really hang together as a cohesive story though, it gave us the impression of a number of sketches and bizarre situations rather stitched together, but it does have its funny moments.  Most of the amusing lines are delivered by the film’s main star, Will Ferrell who plays Dr. Rich Marshall.  The cast includes Anna Friel, playing a somewhat smarter research assistant and Danny McBride as a sort of American version of Ray Mears.

Our trio of unlikely heroes end up proving Dr. Marshall’s theory of time travel correct and ending up in a strange parallel universe populated by early hominids, lizard people, Pterosaurs and of course dinosaurs.  The chase scenes with T. rex at least allow Will Ferrell the chance to test some of the theories scientists have regarding this large predator.  For example, how fast could T. rex run, was this dinosaur able to turn swiftly and such like.  We enjoyed the references made to some of these theories and concepts, but in parts of the film the CGI did not look very realistic and overall the look of the movie was quite disappointing.

If you like the bumbling humour of Will Ferrell then you won’t be too disappointed.  The film is based on a old American TV series, none of us can remember the original and we suspect that this film will also soon slip from our collective memory.

Carnegie Collectibles Dinosaur Models

Carnegie Collectibles Dinosaur Models

Safari Ltd have introduced a wide range of dinosaur models (also prehistoric animal models such as the Carnegie Dimetrodon), into the company’s model range.

Part of the Carnegie Collection of Prehistoric Animal Models

Carnegie Collectibles models available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Carnegie Dinosaurs and prehistoric animal models are a scale model range approved by the palaeontologists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

To view the range of dinosaur models (Carnegie Dinosaurs) available from Everything Dinosaur: Carnegie Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

The Remarkable Scutosaurus – a Brilliant Light Bulb

The Remarkable Scutosaurus – Permian Giant

The Permian period lasted from 290 million years to 248 million years ago.  A major event during this part of the Palaeozoic was the formation of the super-continent of Pangaea.  Shifting continental plates had begun to create a single, huge landmass in Carboniferous times, but it was in the Permian that the supercontinent Pangea formed.  Pangaea was to last for over a 100 million years before beginning to break up in the Early Jurassic.  As the continental plates that make up the Earth’s crust are still moving today, the break up is continuing.  For example, the Atlantic ocean is getting a little wider each year, roughly at the same speed your finger nails grow.

The end of the Permian is marked by a mass extinction event, approximately 65% of all vertebrate families became extinct.  Amongst the casualties were the bizarre armoured Pareiasaurs, a group of strange looking reptiles, some of which grew to the size of cars.

One of the more advanced Pareiasaurs was the enormous Scutosaurus.  At something like 3 metres long and weighing as much as 1,000 kilogrammes this animal was one of the largest land living animals to have ever existed when they roamed the dry, arid landscapes of the Permian supercontinent.

Scutosaurus had a squat body, strong, powerful legs, and a short tail that was too small to reach the ground.  The broad head had a large mouth and the animal was probably an unfussy grazer of coarse, plant material.  The large body supported a huge gut, a prerequisite if you are going to try to digest tough plant matter.

The skull was thickened and ornamented with bizarre knobs and bumps.  Ornamentations on the skull are a common feature of Pareiasaurs, some smaller forms even evolved head shields, making them resemble horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops and Styracosaurus.

A Fossil Skeleton of Scutosaurus

Picture Credit: The American Museum of Natural History

Scutosaurus was a very advanced Permian reptile, the legs of this animal did not sprawl out to the side like other reptiles.  Instead they were directly under the body, supporting the animal’s great weight.  This stance and gait made Scutosaurus a very efficient walker and these animals may have migrated long distances in search of food to fill their enormous stomachs.

When the fossil record is examined, the Pareiasaurs seem to have evolved and diversified very quickly towards the end of the Permian, perhaps exploiting the environmental niches left vacant as other genera died out.  Scientists have estimated that there may have been dozens of different genera.  Then, as quickly as they appear in the fossil record, they all disappear, it seems that no Pareiasaurs survived into the Mesozoic.  Some palaeontologists refer to ancient reptiles like Scutosaurus as fossil record light bulbs – they shine very brightly, but briefly in the fossil record, before like a light bulb, burning out and disappearing forever.

A Scale Model of Scutosaurus

Scutosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of Scutosaurus: Dinosaur Models for Girls and Boys

Dinosaurs for Girls – What’s in a Name?

Naming Female Dinosaurs – use “a” not “us”

Team members at Everything Dinosaur get asked all sorts of questions by young dinosaur fans when we are out and about visiting schools.  Now that most of the schools in the UK have broken up for the Summer holidays, the questioning does not stop, we get sent emails or we are cornered at a dinosaur event and put on the spot.

Our experts try to answer every enquiry the best they can and do follow them up, sending out more information if an a particular query requires it.  For example, one of our team members was asked the other day why Maiasaura had such a strange name compared to other dinosaurs.  Maiasaura was a late Cretaceous Hadrosaur (Hadrosaurine, duck-billed dinosaur).  Fossils of this particular dinosaur have been found in North America and the animal is most closely associated with the Upper Cretaceous sediments at Two Medicine Formation near Choteau in western Montana.  On a visit to the area in 1978, the famous American palaeontologist Jack Horner was shown a collection of tiny dinosaur bones by a group of amateur fossil collectors.  Jack, recognised the remains as fossils of baby dinosaurs, and, when the location was fully explored, a fossilised nesting colony of Maiasaura was discovered.  This site in Montana has yielded over 200 individual specimens, ranging from unhatched eggs to fully sized adults.

A Scale Drawing of an Adult Maiasaura with a Nest

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It seems that Maiasaura lived in large herds and migrated to favourite nesting sites to breed and raise their young, just like some modern birds.  Something like, fifteen individual nests were discovered by Jack Horner and his team, but the site itself is much larger with extensive fossil rich sediments to explore.  The Maiasaura built nests by piling together leaves and soil in a similar fashion to Alligators.  The rotting vegetation helped incubate the eggs.  When the eggs hatched the young stayed in the nest for sometime and depended on the parents to feed them (altricial behaviour).  Jack Horner and his colleagues estimated that the baby Maiasaura stayed in the nest for about one month.  Interestingly, the space between each nest on the Montana site was quite uniform.  There was approximately 7 metres between each one, just about enough room for an adult Maiasaura to squat next to her nest to guard it.  This type of formation is found in many sea bird nesting colonies today.

As Maiasaura is associated with a nesting colony and altricial behaviour she was named “Good Mother Lizard” and since it was suggested that the majority of adult skeletons associated with the site were female, Maiasaura was given the female gender for her name.  The female form is “saura” and the male, more commonly used format is “saurus”.  This is why Maiasaura has an unusual ending to her name (binomial name M. peeblesorum).

The Scale Model of Maiasaura by Carnegie Safari

Model of “Good Mother Lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Maiasaura is represented in the modelling world by a super replica from Carnegie Safari.  When the model was first introduced, (Carnegie Collectibles Maiasaura dinosaur), the adult Maiasaura was depicted sitting on her nest.  This was not an accurate representation, a fully grown Maiasaura would have crushed any eggs she sat on.  The model makers introduced a second model showing the mother Maiasaura and her eggs separately.

To view the Maiasaura model: Dinosaur Toys and Dinosaur Models

The only other dinosaur with the female form to her name that we can think of is the small dinosaur Leaellynasaura, associated with polar deposits in the southern hemisphere.  This dinosaur was named by husband and wife palaeontologists Tom and Patricia Rich after their daughter Leaellyn.

Ancient Mammals Make their Mark on National Dinosaur Monument

Scientists Find Fossilised Mammal Trackways at the Dinosaur National Monument

The United States National Parks Service established the Dinosaur National Monument in October 1915 following a presidential decree and in recognition of the scientific importance of the Jurassic sediments exposed in the state of Utah.  The fossils of a number of famous dinosaurs have been found in this area, dinosaurs such as Allosaurus, Apatosaurus and Stegosaurus.  However, a keen-eyed scientist has discovered that sharing this Jurassic environment with the huge dinosaurs were a number of tiny mammal species.  The ancient footprints and trackways of rat-sized creatures have been discovered at the Dinosaur National Monument site and these tracks provide a record of mammal activity from 190 million years ago.

Commenting on the discovery, Dan Chure, a palaeontologist with the National Park Service stated that this was “an amazing find”.

It was Dan and his co-worker George Engelmann of the University of Nebraska who spotted the tiny footprints preserved on the side of a fossilised sand dune.  The two scientists hope that further examinations of the area may reveal fossilised skeletons of the tiny mammals.

The trackways, which number in the hundreds, were preserved in the Glen Canyon Formation.  This formation which consists of fossilised sand dunes that covered much of Utah and Wyoming as well as parts of Colorado, northern Arizona, and New Mexico during the Early Jurassic period has already provided a number of important dinosaur fossils.

Mr Chure stated that their discovery was a testament to the diversity of life in the arid region when the giant dunes, which reached heights of up to several hundred feet, were interrupted by an occasional oasis.

A Close up of One of the Fossilised Mammal Prints

Picture Credit: National Parks Service

The tracks, discovered in the Utah section of the monument in Uintah County, indicate the little mammals were walking uphill because the heel imprints are more distinct than the toes.  The coin is provided for scale.  Mammal tracks in this area are rare but they have been found before, unfortunately, tiny trace fossils such as these can be easily overlooked, the tracks themselves are only visible when light is shone on them from a particular angle.

“It was almost like a bunch of juveniles running around,” Chure said.

One of the challenges is accurately mapping the tracks, some of which are so faint they can only be seen when the light is at a certain angle.  Mixed up with the small mammal prints are the trackways of other animals, the scientists have tentatively ascribed these tracks as to belonging to small dinosaurs.

George Engelmann commentated:

“This was a time when the ancestors of modern mammals were losing dominance on land to the dinosaurs.  It’s near the beginning of a long time when dinosaurs ruled and our ancestors tried to stay out of their way”.

Such finds enable scientists to understand more about the food chains and eco-systems in ancient environments, helping them to build up a picture of life in the state of Utah 190 million years ago.

New Carnegie Safari Models in Stock

New Carnegie Safari Models Available from Everything Dinosaur

If prehistoric animals such as the huge meat-eating dinosaur Giganotosaurus, or the fearsome marine reptile Tylosaurus are amongst your favourites then this is your lucky day!  Perhaps you have a fascination for feathered dinosaurs such as Caudipteryx, Microraptor or the bizarre Oviraptor – no matter what your favourite prehistoric animal, the Carnegie Safari model collection from the United States is bound to have something to satisfy you.

Carnegie Safari Prehistoric Animal Models

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The model range offered by Everything Dinosaur has been extended and now the company run by parents, teachers and real dinosaur experts is able to supply an extended range of Carnegie Safari hand-painted, scale models with the promise of more models to come.

Added to the company’s range are new models of Tylosaurus, the Triassic super-predator Postosuchus and the Permian giant Scutosaurus.  Also included are some of the more difficult to obtain models such as Maiasaura, Amargasaurus and the monstrous Kronosaurus (Pliosaur).  All models are packed with an Everything Dinosaur animal fact sheet providing further information on that specific prehistoric animal.

The New Model of Scutosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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

So if you have an interest in model collecting, of you are just curious to see what’s new visit the Everything Dinosaur website and check out the Carnegie Safari section of the site, which also includes Wild Safari Dinos dinosaur models.

Confusion over “Bronto” Burgers

How not to impress eight year-olds – use the name Brontosaurus

Team members at Everything Dinosaur, were discussing yesterday an incident that happened at a local tourist attraction that they had been involved with, providing some advice and support for a dinosaur themed event.  It seems that the event organisers wanted to offer some dinosaur themed food and had a barbecue with sausages, burgers and other treats.  Having a barbecue in the great British Summer is a risk in itself, after all, the weather in July has not been exactly wonderful over most parts of the country.

However, it wasn’t the weather that caused the problem. The organisers had tried to theme up the food on sale with their dinosaur event.  There were Stegosaurus sausages, Spinosaurus salad and salsa, even some Diplodocus dips – very creative.  Unfortunately, they had also got some “Brontosaurus burgers” on sale.  Some of the young visitors soon pointed out that the name Brontosaurus is no longer valid and this dinosaur is officially referred to as Apatosaurus.  Many children obsess on dinosaurs and are able to read up on and absorb so many facts that they can quickly spot any potential mistakes.  They are quick to point things out when the grown ups get it wrong.

Fortunately, one of our team members was on hand to help out, a quick visit to the our office to print out some extra Sauropod drawing materials and the “Brontosaurus burgers” were soon changed to “Brachiosaurus burgers” and everybody was happy once again.

“Chinasaurs” are Coming to Town

Largest Touring Exhibition of Chinese Dinosaur Fossils opens at the Maryland Science Center

The Maryland Science Center, based in Baltimore (United States), is playing host to the largest touring exhibit of Chinese dinosaur fossils this Summer, providing visitors with the opportunity to get up close and personal with “Sino – Dinosaurs”.  The exhibit, which runs daily until September 7th consists of more than 20 mounted prehistoric animals, including the spectacular Sauropod Mamenchisaurus with the longest neck of any dinosaur known.

As well as amazing plant-eating dinosaurs there are plenty of meat-eating dinosaurs on display including the fleet-footed, Jurassic Theropod Szechuanosaurus, a member of the Allosaur family and one of the top predators around China in the Jurassic.  Szechuanosaurus is classified as a member of the Sinraptoridae, a group of fierce meat-eating dinosaurs with strong jaws and powerful grasping forelimbs.

An Artist’s Impression of a Typical Sinraptoridae Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These animals were certainly very impressive, and some of the these fascinating prehistoric creatures have been brought to life as the exhibit also features a number of animatronic models.  As well as marvelling at the wonderful fossils, visitors will also be given the chance to see how palaeontologists interpret the fossil record and recreate dinosaurs with the wonderful robotic animals on display.

Chinasaurs: Dinosaur Dynasty is open daily at the Maryland Science Center, for further information visit the website: Maryland Science Center

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