Sir Roderick Murchison – A Scottish Pioneer in Geology

Sir Roderick Murchison – A Scottish Pioneer in Geology

On this day, November the 30th, St., Andrews day, the patron saint of Scotland, it is worth remembering the great contribution to science made by Scots.  One person in particular springs to mind – Sir Roderick Murchison (1792 – 1871).

Born into a wealthy Scottish family, at Tarradale House, on the shores of the river Beauly in the region of the Scottish Highlands called Easter Ross, the young Roderick Murchison was destined for a career in the British military.  He attended military college and fought in the Napoleonic wars.  However, when he married he was introduced to the joys of fossil collecting by his wife and his high status in Scottish society led him to be influenced by the many distinguished scientists that he met.  He became an active member of the Geological Society of London, helped to form the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geographical Society, becoming this Society’s President.

He is perhaps best remembered for his work on the dating of geological strata.  Working with the Reverend Adam Sedgewick, a professor at the University of Cambridge, Murchison mapped the strata of Wales.  He was truly a pioneer of geology and his study of Palaeozoic rocks helped define our understanding of deep geological time.

He identified rock strata younger than the Cambrian, in his study of Wales and his analysis of fossil arthropods, brachiopods and mollusca enabled him to help develop an understanding of biostratigraphy.  He named the Silurian period in 1835 and together with Adam Sedgewick named the Devonian System of strata in 1839.  He also helped to establish the Permian System in 1841.

He was knighted in 1846 and is regarded today as one of the early pioneers of Earth Sciences.

Lyuba Makes Her Terrestrial Television Debut

Secrets of a Baby Mammoth

The discovery of a perfectly preserved baby Woolly Mammoth by a nomadic reindeer herder in the north-western part of the huge Siberian tundra, sent shock waves rippling across the scientific world.  Baby Woolly Mammoths had been found before, but they had been weak and sickly animals, Lyuba (as that was the name given to the carcase), was different.  Here was a young Mammoth that had drowned and by all accounts was a strong calf.  Her body was to provide an insight into the fauna and flora of an Ice Age world some 40,000 years ago.

To read an article on Lyuba: New Baby Mammoth Found

The story of the research and the study of this amazing well preserved fossil has been made into a ninety minute documentary.  It has been shown on satellite television channels before, but it is being shown on terrestrial television for the first time this Friday.

To view a model of a baby Woolly Mammoth and dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

This programme is being shown on Channel 4 at 9pm on Friday December 4th.  It should be fascinating.

More Dinosaurs Up for Auction

Dinosaurs and other Fossils Up for Sale

With all the difficulties in finding a buyer prepared to pay the agreed price for “Samson” the Tyrannosaurus rex mounted skeleton that went up for auction last month, you would think that auctioneers might lay off the dinosaur lots for a while.  Sadly this is not the case as another range of prehistoric artefacts go under the hammer in Paris at the beginning of next month.

To read what happened to the T. rex called “Samson”: “Samson” going to a Museum

The evolution themed auction being held on the 1st and 2nd of December features a whole host of prehistoric animals, from Trilobites, and fossilised dragonflies, plus prehistoric mammals such as a mounted Sabre-Tooth Cat exhibit.  The star attraction is going to be an 8 metre-long mounted skeleton of the fierce predator Spinosaurus, complete with spines and huge teeth-lined jaws.

A Size Comparison between Spinosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The human figure in the drawing is dwarfed by the two meat-eating dinosaurs.  The sail-backed Spinosaurus has been claimed by some scientists to be the largest predatory dinosaur known in the fossil record, with estimates of a length in excess of 16 metres.

To view a model of a Spinosaurus and other dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur Models

To own your very own Spinosaurus fossil skeleton and other dinosaur craft ideas: Dinosaur Crafts for Children

Spinosaurid fossils, like most large Theropod fossils are extremely rare.  The mounted Spinosaurus exhibit is actually a composite (most exhibits are like this), consisting of the remains of several individuals put together to create one display.  The missing bones are either replicas of bones from other specimens “gap fillers” as we call them, reconstructions to represent the fossilised bone that has never been found.  This particular exhibit, is made up from Moroccan finds.  It has been suggested that this specimen could fetch as much as $750,000 USD at the auction.

The sale is to take place at the Drouot-Montaigne auction house, Paris.  The organisers claim that there is something for every-body’s budget and every-body’s taste.  As well as the prehistoric animals, items from the Russian space programme are also up for sale, including bright green, cloth nappies made for Russian cosmonauts.

We hope that the fossils and other rare exhibits are purchased by public bodies or private collectors who are willing to let them go on public display and are happy to let scientists study them if required.

Quetzalcoatlus – From the Feathered Serpent God of the Aztecs

Quetzalcoatlus northropi

The biggest Pterosaurs known are those of the family Azhdarchidae, the largest of them all (at least the one scientifically named and described), is Quetzalcoatlus northropi.  The first fossils of this huge flying reptile were found in Texas in 1971.  Unusually for a large Pterosaur, the fossils were not found in marine strata, but in sediment laid down inland.  Named after the feathered serpent deity of the Aztecs, this huge creature is estimated to have had a wingspan in excess of 11 metres.  It is regarded by scientists as being the largest flying animal ever.

An Illustration of Quetzalcoatlus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Quetzalcoatlus was one of the last Pterosaurs (flying reptiles), not a dinosaur but closely related to the Dinosauria sharing a common ancestor with them from the Archosaurs.  Although huge, it has been estimated that these animals weighed less than 100 kilogrammes.  Pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus had evolved a number of weight saving devices to assist flight, such as a lack of teeth in the jaws and a skull so thin and light it has been described to us by scientists as resembling expanded polystyrene.  The bones had a lot of air spaces in them, and although strong, the bones were exceptionally light.  Few bones such as these survive the fossilisation process, so even after nearly 40 years after its first discovery few fossils of Quetzalcoatlus have been found.

To view a scale model of Quetzalcoatlus and other flying reptile models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

The extinction of the Pterosaurs at the end of the Mesozoic was not a sudden event.  The fossil record indicates that these amazing and magnificent animals were decreasing in their diversity in late Cretaceous times.  Only a few types of Pterosaur survived into the Maastrichtian faunal stage, it seems that these creatures were already declining before the mass extinction event the marked the end of the Cretaceous.

Muttering like a Muttaburrasaurus

Strange Phrases in the Office

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later, after all we are just like any other group of people working together in an office/warehouse environment, we have developed our own special terms, a sort of modified language.

Over the years as we have worked on all sorts of prehistoric animal projects, a kind of vernacular or short-hand develops to describe certain prehistoric animals.  Models and merchandise related to Diplodocus are known as “Dips” amongst us.  In a similar fashion Triceratops has been shortened to “Trys”.

With some dinosaur genus names exceeding twenty letters or more I suppose abbreviations were inevitable, however, we have noticed that certain expressions have now crept in, ones that are probably unique to Everything Dinosaur and our kind of business.

For example, when somebody does something well, we say that they have got “the big Iguanodon thumbs up”, a reference to the massive defensive spike on the first digit of this type of dinosaur.  Indeed, it is the Iguanodontids that seem to have inspired a number of terms and expressions.  “Muttering like a Muttaburrasaurus” is quite popular in the office at the moment, especially as we have so much to do at the moment, what with packing Christmas orders and other projects that are rolling out into 2010.  Muttaburrasaurus may have been a very vocal dinosaur, the bony bump on the snout may have been an adaptation to allow these large herbivores to vocalise loudly, however, scientists cannot be certain.  This dinosaur was not named in recognition of a perception that it was noisy, the genus is named after Muttaburra Station the site of the first fossils found.  The species name Muttaburrasaurus langdoni honours rancher Doug Langdon who found the first specimen back in 1963.

Girl Finds Dinosaur Bone Dating from the Mid Cretaceous

Girl Finds Dinosaur Bone

When team members at Everything Dinosaur go into a school to do some dinosaur themed teaching or some other event such as a school talk, we demonstrate how young people are better at finding fossils than us “oldies”.

Children have two major advantages over adults when it comes to hunting for fossils.  Firstly, their eyesight is normally much more acute.  They can distinguish between different items on the ground and this can help them find unusual objects such as fossils.  Secondly, your average seven year-old tends to be shorter than a grown up.  This means that they are nearer the ground, and since fossils are found on the ground they are a lot nearer the action.  It is worth remembering that more fossils are found by children than are dug up by palaeontologists – and one nine year-old girl from Virginia (USA) has just found her first dinosaur bone, as if to prove our point.

For Gabrielle Block a trip to Laurel Dinosaur Park in Maryland proved to be a day to remember when she found a small piece of dinosaur bone, believed to have been from a small, meat-eating dinosaur (Theropod).  This site had only recently been opened to the public to allow visitors to dig for fossils, visitors are allowed to go on their very own fossil hunting expeditions on the first and third Saturdays of every month.   This new visitor attraction has certainly been put on the map thanks to Gabrielle’s discovery.  The piece of 100 million-year-old dinosaur bone has been tentatively described as a tail bone (caudal vertebrae), this find has been sent to the experts at the Smithsonian Institute for further analysis.

The Dinosaur Bone found By Gabrielle

Picture Credit: PR Handout

The fragment of bone measures less than 3 cm long, and although it is too small to permit scientists to identify the dinosaur species, more fossilised bones and teeth may be found which might give scientists more help in working out the type of dinosaur this was.

The fossil was found amongst debris in a scree slope.  When asked to reveal how she actually found the bone, on what was her first trip to the Maryland site, Gabrielle stated:

“I looked on top [of the dirt], got a handful and sorted through it”.

When mum Karin was shown the little fossil, she immediately thought her daughter had picked up something very unusual.  For fourth grader, Gabrielle, she seems to have taken all the publicity generated in her stride, although she did admit to being “very excited” when she was told that she had found something so special.

It is younger sister Rachael (7 years) who is the budding palaeontologist of the Block family, when asked about her sister’s find she said she wished she had found the fossil herself but she was very happy for her big sister.  Perhaps Rachael will get the chance to find her own dinosaur bone in the near future, as the family intend to return to the Dinosaur park before Christmas.

For experienced, amateur palaeontologist David Hacker, such a find is an amazing discovery and just the sort of good PR the park needs.

He stated:

“It’s a big deal in that this little girl, who has never hunted for fossils before, found something.  I didn’t find my first vertebra out there for several years.  How important it is to science is yet to be determined.”

If more elements of the fossil can be discovered, then the experts at the Smithsonian might be able to identify it as a new dinosaur species.  How about naming the new dinosaur “Gabriellosaurus” in honour of this observant young girl from Virginia.

Christmas – Last Safe Posting Dates – Update

Christmas – Last Safe Posting Dates 2009

With Christmas fast approaching it is worth remembering the last safe postal dates for the sending of mail from the UK overseas.  The last safe posting dates for postal items going by Airmail service for South and Central America, the Caribbean, Middle East, Far East plus New Zealand and Australia is looming.  The last recommended posting date for parcels going to those parts of the world listed above is Friday 4th December.

A Table Summarising UK Key Postal Dates for Christmas 2009

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read the article listing all the information on posting dates for Christmas 2009: Christmas 2009 – Posting Dates Information

With so much hectic activity coming up in the next few weeks as everyone builds up to the big day, it is worth noting these important dates.  We at Everything Dinosaur, do everything we can to ensure a swift despatch, but with a busy Christmas post, the earlier items are mailed out the greater the chance of the parcel making it to the recipient in time.

Safari Product News – 2010 Releases

New Prehistoric Animal Models from Safari Ltd

Although all the team members at Everything Dinosaur are busy sorting out Christmas orders, we are still preparing for new products and working on new exciting projects ready for next year.  There are going to be some exciting additions to our product ranges and we are hoping to introduce the latest models from our dear friends at Safari in the Spring.

The Safari Wild Dinos series is being extended to include some wonderful models, a revised Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus for example.  The Stegosaurs are represented by a lovely model of Kentrosaurus, a distinct improvement on a much smaller version of this armoured dinosaur produced under the direction of scientists at the Natural History Museum.  The focus seems to be on marine prehistoric creatures with an updated Mosasaur (Mosasaurus) plus the long awaited Liopleurodon from the American designers.  Our favourite is the Coelacanth model which looks fantastic and it would be great to get this model into our range.

A Taste of Things to Come – New Models from Safari

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Safari

Finally, for now one other new model has come to our attention, there is going to be a new Pterosaur introduced, a long-tailed Pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus model, a personal favourite of ours since two model Rhamphorhynchoids were included in the Jungle Swamp kit from Aurora.

To view our existing range of Carnegie Safari models and the Safari Wild Dinos model series: Dinosaur Toys – Dinosaur Models

Bikini Clad Girls Photographed on top of a Crocodile Trap

Girls in Bikinis Dance on Top of Crocodile Trap

It was not Darwin who coined the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” but a contemporary of his Herbert Spencer, a philosopher born in the English city of Derby in 1820.  We wonder what Darwin and Spencer would make of the antics of two bikini clad girls as they dance away using the top of a crocodile trap as their stage.

Crocodile Rock or will it all end in Crocodile Tears?

Picture Credit: Herald Sun

The girls were photographed drinking champagne and using the bottles as microphones as they danced on top of a crocodile trap that had been set close to the coastal town of Manigrida in Australia’s Northern Territory.  As the rain poured down, the girls seemingly unaware of any danger or simply oblivious to it, danced on top of the croc trap, that had been placed there to catch a deadly Salt Water crocodile, the largest reptile on Earth.

The image was taken last weekend, and has been published just a day after a picture of two male tourists tempting fate by doing a similar thing at the Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park.

The image, taken at the weekend, surfaced a day after the paper published a picture of two male tourists tempting fate by doing a similar thing at Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park, also in the Northern Territory.

The Salt Water or Estuarine crocodile is known to be a man-eater, or in this case a bikini clad girl-eater.  Growing to lengths in excess of 8 metres long in the remote Australian outback.  Large males can weigh over a tonne and they are the apex predators in the area.

Recently, there have been calls from local residents to curb the crocodile population by having a cull, after a number of people and domestic animals were attacked by these fearsome, prehistoric reptiles.

To read an article on the problems with the growing Salt Water crocodile population in Australia: Invasion of the Crocodiles

Commenting on the actions of these men, park ranger and crocodile expert Garry Lindner said this sort of behaviour was “absurd”.

He went on to add:

“Crocs are attracted to the bait in the traps, so it is extremely dangerous to fool around like this.”

These Aussie “Sheilas” are perhaps trying to prove Herbert Spencer’s phrase “Survival of the Fittest” as you would certainly have to question their common sense in choosing a crocodile trap as a dance floor.  Let’s hope the only “snaps” they encounter are the photos taken by the photographer.

Even the Salt Water crocodile would be dwarfed by the giant crocs of the Mesozoic, for example Sarcosuchus (the name means “flesh crocodile”) was over 12 metres long and palaeontologists estimate it would have weighed as much as two Indian elephants.

To view a model of Sarcosuchus and other prehistoric crocodiles: Dinosaur Toys for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur Models

Five “Oddball” Crocodiles From the Mesozoic

Weird and Wonderful Crocodiles of the Mesozoic

A team of scientists led by Professor Paul Sereno, palaeontologist at the University of Chicago and an acknowledged expert on the Mesozoic fauna of north Africa has uncovered a range of bizarre and very diverse ancient crocodiles.  These new types of reptilian predator have been given nicknames that reflect their place in the ancient Saharan eco-system.  There is RatCroc, the gigantic BoarCroc, as large as any living crocodile species today, as well as DogCroc, DuckCroc and the curious PancakeCroc.

The fossils of these curious animals have been recovered from dig sites in present-day Niger and Morocco and an analysis of the fossils is provided in the scientific journal “ZooKeys”.  During the Cretaceous these parts of Africa were lush, river deltas and plains which teemed with life, including many dinosaurs and ancient crocodilians.

Sereno and colleagues have been scouring the harsh deserts of northern Africa since 2000 for evidence of a “lost world” of crocodilian ancestors.  Although, not that closely related to modern types of crocodile, the Neosuchians, these ancient animals may have been the ancestors of our present day crocodiles, they certainly demonstrate that crocodiles evolved to fill a number of niches in the Cretaceous.

For instance, the rodent-like RatCroc had buckteeth for rooting through the ground after tubers or simple animals.

The flat-bodied PancakeCroc was the “ultimate sit-and-wait predator,” Sereno said. The animal would lie motionless and “wait for something stupid” to swim into its rail-thin, 3-foot-long (0.9-metre-long) jaws, which were lined with rows of spiky teeth.  The jaw of this particular animal are in some ways similar to the jaws of a modern day Gharial.  It is likely this type of crocodile was an almost exclusive fish eater.

DuckCroc, evolved along a different evolutionary path.  It had a long, smooth, sensitive nose to poke through vegetation as well as hook-shaped teeth to snag frogs and small fish in shallow water.  Although, the fossil record for amphibians is relatively poor, it is likely that the lush, slow flowing rivers in which DuckCroc lived teemed with frogs and other small amphibians.

And the plant-eating DogCroc had lanky legs that meant it was likely spry enough to run into the water if threatened.   Some types of crocodile today, such as the Australian Freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni), are capable of running very fast, they rise up on their legs and move very rapidly with undulating body and tail movements in a side-to-side motion, heading usually for the safety of the nearest water.  They can easily out pace an athlete over rough ground.  The study of the fossilised bones of DogCroc indicate that this ancient crocodile may also have been capable of this behaviour.

The largest crocodile in the study, the one named BoarCroc, seems to have grown in excess of 6 metres long, and although not in the same size league as Sarcosuchus or Deinosuchus it would have been a formidable ambush predator.  It would have attacked dinosaurs and other large animals that came down to the water to drink.  BoarCroc has been described as a “Sabre-Toothed Cat in armour”, the three sets of fangs, so long they jutted above and below the jaw when shut gave this crocodile a fearsome bite.  Once these reinforced, armoured jaws had snapped shut, the victim would have had little chance of escape.

The Jaws of BoarCroc are Carefully Revealed

Picture Credit: AP Photo/National Geographic, Mike Hettwer

The picture above released by National Geographic shows Professor Paul Sereno (left) and Professor Hans Larsson carefully excavating the fossil skull of the Cretaceous giant crocodile nicknamed BoarCroc.  Professor Sereno is working on the back of the skull, whilst his associate Professor Larsson removes fragments of the sandstone matrix from around teeth in the fossil jaws.

Commenting on the study, palaeontologist Hans Dieter-Sues of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D. C. stated:

“Gondwana had lots of real oddballs”.

He went on to add:

“For somebody who has studied a lot of fossil Crocodilyforms, I’m fascinated by these creatures”.

Commenting on the nimble and speedy nature of some of the specimens; the research team have suggested that Crocodilian ancestors could run and swim with equal dexterity, this may have given them a leg-up when escaping predators and perhaps help them survive the end Cretaceous mass extinction event.

Some ancient crocs must have survived the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.  Being nimble on land and in water suggests the crocodile cousins may have taken refuge from environmental catastrophe in bodies of fresh water, where modern many types of modern-day Crocodilians still thrive; concluded the research team.

The fossils have been dated to approximately the mid Cretaceous period (112-100 million years ago).  These animals would have shared their environment with Sarcosuchus (S. imperator), one of the largest crocodiles of the Mesozoic, a 12-metre-long giant that may have weighed as much as 8 tonnes.

Professor Paul Sereno compares the skull of DogCroc to that of SuperCroc (Sarcosuchus)

“Dog croc” v “Flesh croc”

Picture Credit: Mike Hettwer/National Geographic/PA

To view a model of Sarcosuchus. Deinosuchus and other prehistoric animal models: Dinosaur Models and Dinosaur Toys

Christopher Brochu, a palaeontologist at the University of Iowa, said that it’s hard to tell if the ancient crocs really galloped.  Reflecting on the habits and behaviour seen with extant crocodile species (those that are around today), he stated that it is possible that the rapid-running gait developed in true crocodiles, the Neosuchia.  He urged caution, when superimposing the behaviour seen in animal’s alive today on extinct species.

No matter how crocodiles moved, these fossils show how adaptable the basic Crocodylian body plan is and the Alligators, Caimen, Gharials and Crocodiles around today is proof enough of the ability of this type of animal to survive.

Professor Paul Sereno with a Gallery of new Crocodilians

Paul Sereno admires his crocodile collection

Picture Credit: Mike Hettwer/National Geographic/PA

The picture shows Professor Paul Sereno behind the skull of the giant Sarcosuchus with the tusked BoarCroc to his left, the long-jawed Pancake Croc in the front with RatCroc, DogCroc and DuckCroc models shown at the front of the photo.

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