Monster Crocodile a Predator of Early Hominids

Fear of Crocodiles an Ancient Human Trait

In the first episode of the BBC television series “Walking with Cavemen”, the episode entitled “First Ancestors” an adult Australopithecus afarensis is taking a drink from a river when a crocodile attacks, grabs the unfortunate hominid and drags him into the water to his death.  Although this scene was depicted in a fictional, albeit educational television series; this incident reflects what has been found in the fossil record, as some early hominid fossil bones have marks on them reputedly made by feeding crocodiles.

Most scientists had thought that these attacks were from Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) or at least a very similar species to the large extant predator found in this part of Africa today.  However, a new study from a joint team of US based scientists and researchers from the National Natural History Museum of Tanzania indicates that hominid attacks around 2 million years ago, may have been carried out by a different type of crocodile.

Ancient Hominid Attacked by Crocodile

Picture Credit: BBC

Following a review of partial and fragmentary Crocodilian remains from 1.8 million-year-old strata from the Olduvai gorge region of Tanzania, a new species of large crocodile has been identified, an animal similar in size to today’s Nile crocs, but one with a distinct crest of bone over the back of skull.  According to the authors of the Crocodilian study, Chris Brochu, a vertebrate palaeontologist from the University of Iowa, Robert Blumenschine and Tanzanian Jackson Njau, it is this crocodile that may have terrorised our ancestors.

In the report, published in this month’s edition of the online journal PLoS One, this crocodile may have been the largest predator these ancient humans encountered in their East African world.

Commenting on the fossil evidence showing crocodile attacks on prehistoric people Chris Brochu stated:

“I can’t guarantee these crocodiles were killing our ancestors, but they were certainly biting them.”

It was Brochu who named and described this new Crocodilian Crocodylus anthropophagus, the name means “man eating crocodile”, as Chris remarked he hopes that “people get the joke.”

The re-evaluation of the crocodile fossils found in the Olduvai gorge deposits indicate that this new species of crocodile could have been responsible for the attacks on people.  Certainly, our ancestors such as A. africanus et al were relatively small and light, many of them less than one metre tall.  Such small animals would have been no match for this 7- metre long predator.

Although roughly the same size as the modern reptilian apex predators of the Nile, the Olduvai crocodiles had thinner, more flared snouts and large horns that are more characteristic of a Madagascan crocodile that went extinct in the past few thousand years.

The discovery of C. anthropophagus points to far more diversity in African crocodiles in the past 2.5 million years than previously thought, Brochu stated:

“People have always perceived crocodiles as these slowly evolving, living fossils. That’s just nonsense.”

His team haven’t found many fossils belonging to C. anthropophagus, and none that is complete, so it’s impossible to determine its precise relationship to modern Nile crocodiles or when these particular man-eaters went extinct.  Crocodiles remain dangerous to humans today and a number of species are known to have attacked people and caused fatalities.  Our smaller ancestors had to cope with animals just as big as the ones we see in the Nile or in Australia today.

Perhaps, our fear of these scaly creatures began farther back in our prehistory than previously thought.  Humans reliance on freshwater and our underdeveloped senses when compared to other mammals would have made us vulnerable to ambush attacks from these freshwater predators.

Evidence of a “Leedsichthys Legacy” Fossil Evidence Fills 100 million gap

Giant Bony Fish Swam in Prehistoric Seas

Darwin described the fossil record as being like individual words in a book when the rest of the sentence, the rest of the paragraph, the rest of the chapter was missing.  One of the strongest arguments put forward against Darwin’s theory of natural selection was why did the fossil record that show many different types of intermediate forms as natural selection led to the evolution of a new species from an older species?

Darwin argued that the fossil record was so poor and fragmentary that the lack of evidence to support his theory was only to be expected, after all, only parts of the geology of the world had been explored at the time of Darwin’s ground-breaking (no pun intended) “On the Origin of Species”.

Even today the paucity of the fossil record is widely accepted, despite the fact that very much more of the world’s geology has been explored than in Darwin’s day.  However, there are still huge gaps, such as the fact that during the mid Jurassic around 170 million years ago there were giant plankton eating fish and then nothing until the ancestors of whale sharks, manta rays and such like plus the first filter feeding whales appeared during the end of the Mesozoic/beginning of the Cenozoic and began to fill this ecological niche.

A team of scientists from the UK and America may have helped to “plug” this gap in the fossil record as they have re-interpreted known fossils and examined new specimens determining that filter feeders were around in prehistoric oceans after all.  The team of researchers, writing in the journal “Science” have identified fossil evidence that shows such fish existed between the time of Leedsichthys and the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago.

Leedsichthys (Leedsichthys problematicus) was a member of the Pachycormidae, a group of ray-finned fishes known only from Mesozoic fossils.  Named after the discoverer and one of the first researchers into these huge fish, Alfred Leeds, this fish is only known form a few isolated remains.  One of the problems of cartilaginous fish is that they tend not to leave many fossil remains, their soft cartilage does not preserve anywhere near as well as the bony skeletons of Teleosts for example.

Their are no close living relatives of the Pachycormidae today, the closest relatives are believed to be the North American Bowfin fish.  Leedsichthys was a large animal with a powerful tail. broad fins, an elongated body and a huge, gaping mouth.  When feeding these enormous fish would open their mouths very wide and swim forward causing large amounts of sea water to pass over their gill-rakers filtering out any plankton and small fish fry which was this animal’s prey.

An Illustration of Leedsichthys

Picture Credit: Robert Nicholls

These animals are reminiscent of the ray-finned filter feeders of today, creatures such as the Whale shark and the Basking shark.  Like these extant species of fish, Leedsichthys probably travelled great distances searching for food.  This life style is indicated by the geographical spread of Leedsichthys fossils – from East Anglia in England, to France, Germany and South America (Chile).

The international team of scientists that carried out the review of Pachycormidae fossil material included academics from Glasgow and Oxford Universities, plus researchers from Fort Hays University in Kansas, DePaul University in Chicago and the University of Kansas.  The team believes that they have uncovered a “missing piece in the evolutionary study of fish, mammals and ocean ecosystems.”

The project began in Glasgow, with a review of the known remains of the giant Jurassic fish Leedsichthys, in conjunction with the excavation of a new specimen of this creature in Peterborough (Cambridgeshire, England).  At first thought to have been the largest fish that ever existed, with an estimated length in excess of 25 metres, scientists now believe that Leedsichthys was not quite so huge, with some specimens perhaps as much as 17 metres long.  Leedsichthys was viewed as an isolated example of a large filter feeder in the oceans during the Mesozoic.  There was still a gap in the fossil record between the last fossils of this Jurassic leviathan and the first appearance of modern filter-feeders towards the end of the Cretaceous.  The first whales were toothed predators, filter feeding whales such as the Blue or the Grey evolved later, but mammals did not attempt to fill this ecological niche for many millions of  years after the extinction of the dinosaurs and marine reptiles.

Dr. Jeff Liston, from Glasgow University, was responsible for the excavation in Peterborough and found the new specimen to be an anomaly.

He commented:

“The breakthrough came when we discovered additional fossils, similar to Leedsichthys, but from much younger rocks”.

Dr. Liston went onto add:

“These specimens indicated that there were giant filter-feeding fishes for much longer than we thought.  We then started to go back to museum collections, and we began finding suspension-feeding fish fossils from all round the world, often unstudied or misidentified.”

Several of the most important new fossils – all from the same extinct bony fish family as Leedsichthys – came from sites in Kansas (United States), but other specimens from as far afield as Dorset, Kent and Japan were examined by the team as they attempted to piece together the story of large filter feeders in ancient oceans.

Dr Liston added:

“The fact that creatures of this kind were missing from the fossil record for over 100 million years seemed peculiar.  What we have demonstrated here is that a long dynasty of giant bony fish filled this space in time for more than 100 million years.  It was only after these fish vanished from the ecosystem that mammals and cartilaginous fish such as Manta rays, Basking sharks and Whale sharks began to adapt to that ecological role.”

The teams findings have “implications for our understanding of biological productivity in modern oceans, and how that productivity has changed over time”.

One of the best preserved Kansas specimens had previously been interpreted as being a fanged, predatory swordfish.  However, when the team began to prepare the specimen in more detail they discovered a toothless gaping mouth, with an extensive network of gill-rakers to extract huge quantities of microscopic plankton.

The team have named and described this new type of Pachycormidae – Bonnerichthys in honour of the Kansas family who discovered the fossil.

An Illustration of the Kansas Pachycormidae – Bonnerichthys

“Big Mouth” Bonnerichthys

Picture Credit: Robert Nicholls

Although, not quite the size of Leedsichthys the Kansas specimen indicates that these fish could grow up to 5 metres in length.

Dinosaur Dreaming Digs up Wallaby-Like Dinosaur

Annual Dinosaur Dreaming Event digs up Aussie Dinosaur that looked like a Wallaby

Wallabies, a small kangaroo-like marsupial (family Macropodidae) are native to Australia, making up part of the unique wildlife of that huge country.  However, wallaby-like animals may have roamed Australia millions of years before as the fossilised bones of a wallaby-like dinosaur have been found in an excavation south-east of Melbourne.

Each year in the south-eastern part of Australia, scientists from the Victoria state museum and Monash University organise volunteers to come and have a go at digging up dinosaurs from Australia’s Cretaceous past at a number of palaeontological sites near to the town of Inverloch about 100 miles south-east of Melbourne.  The event is known as “Dinosaur Dreaming” and since its inception in 1992 groups of amateur palaeontologists have helped to uncover many thousands of dinosaur bones, teeth and other fossil specimens from fossiliferous strata dating back 120 million years or so.

In this years, six week long event, more than 400 bones and teeth have been found, but for one of the event co-ordinators, Lesley Kool of Monash University’s School of Geosciences, the discovery of a wallaby-like dinosaur skeleton is the star find.

Commenting on the finding of these fossilised remains, she stated:

“Four limb bones very close together, within centimetres of one another, which is what has us hoping that we actually have part of a skeleton of one of these small dinosaurs.  We think that it belonged to a small plant-eating dinosaur probably the size of a wallaby, and also the same body shape as a wallaby.”

An Artist’s Impression of the Wallaby-like Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This part of Victoria is known as East Gippsland and is famous for a number of Hypsilophodontidae fossils, dinosaurs such as Leaellynasaura and Atlascopcosaurus.  Although, superficially resembling a wallaby, it is clear that this particular, as yet unidentified dinosaur was a fast runner.

Mrs Kool went onto add:

“Even though it [the dinosaur] was the shape of something like a wallaby or a small kangaroo, we can tell from the bones in the hind leg that it didn’t hop.”

The discovery was made at the Flat Rocks fossil site and it may represent a new species of Ornithopod, most likely a member of the Hypsilophodontidae.  The area is known for a number of small, cursorial dinosaur genera, mostly dating from the Aptian to Albian faunal stages of the Cretaceous.

Commenting on this new discovery, Mrs Kool declared:

“They had a long, powerful tail — like a kangaroo, very long, powerful hind legs, short forearms and small head.  If you think of a wallaby or a kangaroo without its fur and without its ears and covered in scales, that is what we think that these small dinosaurs looked like.  They certainly were not wallabies in any way, shape or form.” 

 The Dinosaur Dreaming event has attracted dozens of volunteers and over the years a number of important and unique discoveries have been made including fossils of large meat-eating dinosaurs, as well as birds, fish, turtles and small mammals.

Dinosaur Sunday

Dinosaur Sunday – Reassessing Science and Faith

At Everything Dinosaur, we get involved in all sorts of unusual projects, helping schools, museums and community groups by providing information and resources related to dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.  One such example was when we were contacted by the Brighthelm United Reformed Church and Community Centre to assist them with their dinosaur themed church service – Dinosaur Sunday.

As this particular group is based in Brighton, (East Sussex), they find themselves surrounded by important geological sites.  For example, to the west is the beginnings of the area designated as the “Jurassic Coast” – the famous stretch of English coastline which is a World Heritage Site.  To the east is the town of Lewes, the birthplace and home of Dr. Gideon Mantell, the amateur geologist and scientist who is credited for naming Iguanodon, only the second dinosaur to be formerly named and studied.

Dinosaur Sunday described by the organisers as a celebration of science and faith, with two church services emphasising the wonders of the world that surround this area of Britain’s south coast.  Talie, a young member of the church group gave a presentation to the congregation about how it is important to keep reassessing both science and faith.

The afternoon service, was held in the dark, with wall projections showing some of the prehistoric animals whose fossils have been found in the region.  A small piece of fossilised dinosaur bone (Iguanodontid) found in the Hastings area was brought in for church members to see and touch.

Part of the Church Service on Dinosaur Sunday

Picture Credit: Rev. David Coleman

The Everything Dinosaur contribution consisted of providing some information on Dr. Mantell’s views and our changing opinions regarding the Cretaceous Ornithopod Iguanodon.  After all, Mantell originally perceived Iguanodon to be a quadruped, then the Belgian palaeontologist Louis Dollo, who was responsible for the first reconstruction of the fossilised bones of Iguanodon thought it was a biped.  Now scientists, with many more fossils to study think that Iguanodon was capable of walking on its hind legs as well as on all fours.

Abydosaurus – Gives Sauropod Research a Head Start

Abydosaurus – Skull Material in mid Cretaceous Sauropoda

Sauropod skull material is a bit like London buses, you wait ages for one to turn up and then four come along at once.  Thanks to a discovery in Utah (United States), scientists at Brigham Young University have an embarrassment of riches of Sauropod skull material to work on at the moment and all the skull material belongs to a single, new dinosaur genus – Abydosaurus.

Skull material in long-necked dinosaurs (Sauropods) is exceptionally rare in the fossil record, less than 10% of all the articulated or associated long-necked dinosaur fossils ever discovered actually have some skull material present at the dig site.  The reason for this is quite simple, take an animal such as Diplodocus, this Diplodocid dinosaur could reach lengths in excess of 25 metres, but even in an immense adult; the head was no bigger than that of a horse’s head.  So the heads were relatively small and being on a long, thin neck, skulls were prone to fall off any carcase, becoming detached.  Femurs, and vertebrae being much heavier than the skull bones have a greater chance of remaining close to other bones and surviving the preservation process.  These heavy bones are much more common than the skull.  Some Sauropods, the early Cretaceous Nigersaurus from West Africa, for example, had an exceptionally light and delicate skull.  The thin struts of bone that make up part of the skull material would only very rarely have survived the fossilisation process.  Even famous mounted exhibits in Natural History museums do not necessarily have the right head posed on the rest of the Sauropod’s body.  For example, there  have been instances where both Apatosaurus and Diplodocus exhibits have had casts of Camarasaurus skulls (a Macronaria-type Sauropod) stuck onto them.  This in the past was down to ignorance, or in some cases deliberately done to finish off an exhibit even though scientists were actually unaware at the time of what Diplodocid dinosaur skulls looked like.

Rare Things Indeed - Sauropod Skull Material

Picture Credit: Illustration by Michael Skrepnick

But why all the fuss about skull material, surely with several tonnes of fossil bones to be getting on with in your average Sauropod skeleton, that’s enough to keep even the most grumpy palaeontologist happy.  True, but skulls can tell scientist a great deal about an animal.  If the jaws are present an insight into diet and feeding behaviour can be obtained.  Studies into the braincase can be carried out and very importantly skull material can help establish whether the fossils represent a new genus or species of a dinosaur in many cases.

A paper on the new Brachiosaurid dinosaur named Abydosaurus mcintoshi was published yesterday in the German science publication Naturwissenshaften.  The research paper was compiled by scientists at Brigham Young University and this new mid Cretaceous Brachiosaurid is significant not just for the skull material associated with it, but because Brachiosaur fossils are increasingly rare in younger Mesozoic strata.   The Brachiosaurs seemed to have had their hey day in the late Jurassic, but over the course of the Cretaceous, the main types of Sauropod, such as the Diplodocids and Brachiosaurids become increasingly rare in the fossil record.  The Sauropods were by no means finished, particularly in the southern hemisphere, as the Titanosaurs were about to come to the fore, but the food chains and ecosystems of the Cretaceous were becoming increasingly dominated by herbivorous Ornithischian dinosaurs.

The remains and the fossilised skulls of this new dinosaur, were found at the National Dinosaur Monument site in Utah (United States), not in the famous Morrison Formation, but in much younger, sandstone rocks dating from around 105 million years ago (Albian faunal stage) – the Cedar Mountain Formation.

Finding just one skull would be impressive, but four is beyond what any dinosaur hunter could hope for.  The skulls revealed jaws crammed with dozens of tiny, peg-like teeth.

Commenting on the skull material, Professor Brooks Britt, a geologist at Brigham Young University stated:

“It’s quite a fortuitous thing.  In many dinosaurs, the bones of the head do not fuse up, especially in Sauropods.  You have an array of components that are held together by soft tissue.  The only thing that stays together is the brain case.”

National Park Service employees first discovered an interesting cache of bones near the monument’s visitor’s centre in the late 1990s and enlisted Professor Britt’s help to prepare the specimens.  After the initial find, park staff delivered a two-tonne block to Brigham Young’s University Museum of Palaeontology.  Dinosaur bones, including pieces of a skull, were apparent on the surface, but as the researchers carefully prepared the sandstone block, a second almost complete skull was revealed.

An Artist’s Impression of Abydosaurus mcintoshi

Abydosaurus

Picture Credit: Michael Skrepnick

The skulls are on display at the Brigham Young University Museum, where visitors can watch students work on other Abydosaurus bones in the preparation laboratory.

Professor Britt made follow-up trips to the dig site and found a fourth skull in 2003.  All four specimens belonged to juveniles who may have died in the same event and were quickly buried before scavengers and bacteria could destroy the carcasses.   Although it is difficult to estimate the size of an adult Abydosaurus from the fossil remains found so far, the research team have estimated that these animals could have reached lengths in excess of 25 metres.

The teeth of Abydosaurus are most intriguing, in a statement Professor Britt said:

“They [the teeth] are small, small as a triple-A battery cut in half, a centimetre in diameter.  Why is that?  Perhaps the teeth reflect food sources and eating habits, but the small teeth fit a pattern seen over the course of dinosaur evolution from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous.

“There is a trend from large to small teeth, packing them in there close together, not just in Brachiosaurus, but all the Sauropods that survived into the Cretaceous.  In the Jurassic, they had an array of tooth sizes, but in the end everyone has these small pencil-like teeth.  We attribute it to a way to increase the enamel, so their teeth last longer.”

Researchers believe that Sauropod dentition evolved over time to offer a greater surface area of enamel.  This would make them more durable and more hard-wearing when being employed to strip foliage.  It could also be an adaptation that reflects the growing numbers of Angiosperms (flowering plants) that were evolving and beginning to make up an increasing proportion of the diet of these huge animals.

Professor Brooks Britt with one of the Abydosaurus Skulls

Banging heads together

Picture Credit: Mark A. Philbrick/ photo courtesy of BYU

Dwarf Dinosaurs on Dinosaur Island

Evidence of Dwarfism in Late Cretaceous Dinosaurs that lived on an Island

The Hungarian scientist Franz Nopcsa, proposed a theory that if animals are marooned on an island, the limited resources would have a fundamental effect on the animal population over generations.  Large animals would have a tendency to become smaller over time, eventually evolving into distinct species from their mainland ancestors.  This rule, seen in many extant island species today, also rings true for those creatures known only from the fossil record.  In a new paper, published by a team of scientists, it seems that dinosaurs trapped on islands with limited resources also evolved into dwarf forms.

Nopsca called his theory the “insular theory”, it is perhaps more commonly known as the “island rule”.  Animals having to cope with environments where resources are limited either adapt or become extinct.  One of the ways in which animals adapt is to become smaller and smaller over subsequent generations.  Many thousands of years ago, dwarf species of elephant lived on some of the islands of the Mediterranean.  These animals had been cut off from their African homeland as sea levels rose.  Many of these types of elephants evolved into dwarf forms as a result of their isolation.

The finding of the fossilised skulls of these long dead elephants by human settlers gave rise to the cyclops myth.  The nasal area of the skull rots away leaving a hole in the centre of the forehead.  This was mistaken by Greek settlers to those Mediterranean islands where elephant populations had existed, as being a single eye socket.  Hence the myth of the one-eyed, giant cyclops arose.

Image of an Elephant Skull

Picture Credit: african-hunter

Ironically, Franz Nopcsa’s family owned estates in part of Romania and it is from the study of the ancient Cretaceous fauna from this part of Romania known as Hateg Island that indicates that Nopcsa’s “island rule” applies also to Dinosauria.  The concept of diminutive dinosaurs on Hateg Island was put forward by Nopcsa and this new research into the fossils found in that region shows that he may well have been right.

Professor Mike Benton (University of Bristol) and six other researchers from Romania, Germany and the United States have published a paper online detailing their studies of the fossil bones found in the Late Cretaceous strata of the region.  Thanks to earlier work, the dinosaurs of this part of eastern Europe are very well documented and a number of species and genera are known.  What is surprising is how small many of these animals seemed to be.

For example, the Titanosaur, Magyarosaurus one of the largest animals known from this region measured only six metres long, making it one of the smallest Titanosaurs in the fossil record.  Many dinosaur remains indicate that in the Hateg area dinosaurs were in many cases less than half the size of their close relatives found in slightly older strata in northern Europe.

The team of scientists examined the fossilised bones of a number of types of dinosaur from the Hateg Island region, Theropods, Ornithopods and of course Titanosaurs.  They have concluded that the Hateg Island dinosaurs were indeed dwarfs and not just young dinosaurs whose remains have been preserved with no adult animal material present.

It seems that based on this study, the “island rule” also appears to apply to dinosaurs.  The Hateg Island area is assumed to have been a series of small islands that were formed as sea levels rose at the end of the Cretaceous.  Although, some geologists question the evidence for this part of the world being a series of small islands, a sort of archipelago island chain, at the end of the Cretaceous, island habitats with their limited resources would provide some explanation for the dwarfism seen in the dinosaur fossils.

A close study of the fossils confirmed that the dinosaurs had reached adulthood so they were not just underdeveloped youngsters who had died young and been preserved as fossils.

Detailed studies by Martin Sander in Bonn and his students also show that the bone histology (the microscopic structure) is adult, meaning that at six metres long; that was about as big as a Magyarosaurus could expect to grow to, whilst other types of Titanosaur could grow to lengths in excess of 20 metres.

These well-studied examples suggest dwarfing can happen quite quickly, the team believes.

Professor Benton, said:

”The general idea is that larger animals that find themselves isolated on an island either become extinct because there is not enough space for a reasonably-sized population to survive, or they adapt.  One way to adapt is to become smaller, generation by generation.”

As Professor Benton added:

”Either way, this research demonstrates that once they arrived they evolved to become dwarfs.”

The island of Isla Sorna, the small, second island used by the creators of the Jurassic Park dinosaur land in the movie of the same name, may have been a work of fiction, but this new paper indicates that small islands in the past did support populations of dinosaurs albeit dwarf species compared to their mainland cousins.

Not all animals from the Hateg islands were small, recently evidence has been found of a gigantic Pterosaur, large enough to rival the biggest of the Azhdarchids in strata from this area.  The genus has been named Hatzegopteryx and although the description is based on fragmentary fossil evidence, some scientists have claimed this Pterosaur would have had a wingspan in excess of 12 metres.

New Oviraptor Model from Papo of France

New Oviraptor Model from Papo of France – A Naked Dinosaur

Papo of France has emerged over the last two or three years as a major player in the museum quality, scale model market.  Whilst other manufacturers have been scaling down (no pun intended), their prehistoric animal model ranges, Papo have been adding to their product lines.  This year, the company intends to add three new models and one new colour variation to their award winning prehistoric animal line up.  A new interpretation of Velociraptor, plus two new models, an Oviraptor and a Pachyrhinosaurus are being launched in the early spring with a new model of a Plesiosaurus to follow in the Summer.

Interestingly, Papo bucks the current trend for depicting Velociraptor and Oviraptor as feathered, their interpretations of these members of the Maniraptora are naked, not a single feather can be seen.

The New Oviraptor Model from Papo

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Papo

To view this model: Dinosaur Toys for Children – Dinosaur Models

Like all the models and cavemen in the Papo prehistoric animals range, this Oviraptor is beautifully painted, the brown and tan markings would have given this small Theropod dinosaur excellent camouflage in its dry, arid habitat.  The peculiar crest on the head has been carefully recreated indicating that the species represented by this 1:12 scale model is O. philoceratops.

There are a number of species ascribed to the Oviraptor genus, they are distinguished many by differences in the shape of the hollow crest on the top of the head.  The large orbits (eye sockets) in the skull indicate that these animals had big eyes, the Papo model shows this feature well and the open-mouthed pose illustrates the peculiar snout and muzzle of this dinosaur particularly effectively.  Although the name Oviraptor means “egg thief”, scientists are unsure as to the actual diet of these dinosaurs.  The powerful beak and  jaws are toothless, except for two teeth on the palate.  It has been suggested that this small dinosaur was an omnivore, or it may have eaten shell fish.  The finding of the original fossil material close to a nest of dinosaur eggs, led to the naming of Oviraptor, certainly the dentition could indicate that it specialised in eating other dinosaur’s eggs.  The Papo model is depicted holding the egg of a dinosaur, perhaps it has just stolen it and it is running off with its booty.

Spring is in the Air

Spring is Coming – Honest!

Today Sunday, a nice and relaxing day in the office.  Unfortunately, we did not reckon on the 6 cm of snow that fell overnight.  Time to clear the yard of snow (once again), this has been the busiest winter we have had in terms of snow clearing duties.  Surely, it can’t go on much longer?  The trouble with the British weather is that is can be very predictable, we have had snow in June before now and last year snow in April (see picture below).

We have learnt that the best thing to do with snow around the warehouse is to clear it quickly before any vehicles compact the snow and make its removal more difficult.  Fortunately, we invested in some plastic snow shovels, spades and stiff brushes and these have proved invaluable.  Within 90 minutes the warehouse yard and the road leading it to was clear and we had put down some grit to help thaw out any ice or compacted snow that still remained.

England in Springtime

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above was taken on the 6th April last year, we may have snowy, chilly weather for some weeks to come.  Surprisingly, one of our colleagues stated that the northwest of England has has more snow recently than the site of the Winter Olympics in Canada.

Still we must not complain, the United Kingdom may have some unpredictable weather, but at least we don’t suffer the extreme weather conditions that some parts of the world have to face.

Evidence for Aquatic Dinosaurs – Swimming Spinosaurs

Was Spinosaurus a Swimmer?  Watery Habitat for Largest Theropod

Scientists have found evidence of flying dinosaurs, there is evidence to suggest that some dinosaurs were at home in the trees, some lived in burrows, but a dinosaur that lived an aquatic existence?  That surely must be a step too far for a group of reptiles whose suitability for life on land and simple hinge-like ankle joints gave them a significant advantage over other land animals in the post Permian extinction race for dominance of the Earth.

However, a team of French scientists have concluded that at least one type of dinosaur – the Spinosaurids may have spent a considerable amount of time in water, in fact about as much time in the water as extant species of crocodiles do today.

Romain Amoit from the University of Lyon (France) and his colleagues studied the amount of an isotope of oxygen within the fossilised teeth of a number of dinosaurs.  They then compared their findings to known aquatic animals from the fossil record, turtles and crocodiles and from these results they have concluded that the Spinosaurs probably spent most of their time in a watery environment.

The Spinosaurids, most famously Spinosaurus, the dinosaur villian in the movie Jurassic Park III were a widespread early Cretaceous Theropod dinosaur.  Remains of such creatures have been discovered in England (Baryonyx), Africa, South America, China, Thailand and Japan.  These dinosaurs were characterised by having long, narrow jaws armed with many sharp, straight teeth, in most cases resembling the teeth of crocodiles.  Most of this group of large, carnivores had humps or elaborate sails along their backs.

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, was named and described by the great German palaeontologist/geologist Ernst Stromer von Reichenbach in 1915.  He had led a number of fossil hunting expeditions to North Africa between 1911 and the outbreak of World War I.  Unfortunately, very little Spinosaur fossil material or information is left from these expeditions as the Munich museum in which these items were stored was utterly destroyed by an American bombing raid during World War II.  However, based on the notes and illustrations from Stromer’s time plus more recent Spinosaurus remains from Morocco, some scientists have claimed that this type of Spinosaur is the largest known predatory dinosaur in the fossil record with some size estimates putting Spinosaurus at more than 17 metres long, much larger than the biggest Tyrannosaurus rex, or Giganotosaurus.

An Illustration of a Spinosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Papo

The picture shows a typical model of a Spinosaurus, the distinctive big claw on the thumb can clearly be seen.  Evidence of these types of creatures being fish eaters has been found before, for example, the remains of fish scales (Lepidotes) found in association with the Surrey Baryonyx skeleton, but the French team go further, they claim that as well as eating fish, these animals spent much of their time in the water.

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

In a report published in the scientific journal “Nature News”, the French team provide evidence that Spinosaurs avoided competition with the other large, carnivorous dinosaurs that shared their environment, by specialising as fish-eaters and by being very much at home in their watery habitats.  Such areas would have been avoided by the other types of predatory dinosaurs, the Allosauroids for example, after all, there is plenty of evidence to suggest such large and heavy creatures were prone to becoming stuck in soft mud and sand in pursuit of a herbivore that had become mired.  Unable to extricate themselves from what would turn out to be their muddy grave (predator traps) many fossils of Allosaurs have been found under these circumstances.

Amiot and his team took a look at oxygen isotopes locked away inside the preserved enamel of the Spinosaur’s teeth and compared them to the oxygen isotopes found in the teeth of crocodiles and other dinosaurs, and turtle-shell fragments from the same geological period – the Cretaceous.

It is known that animals that spend a lot of time in a dry environment lose water through breathing and through evaporation from skin.  As one type of oxygen isotope; oxygen-16 is lighter than another isotope – oxygen-18, it is more readily released with water vapour. As a result, oxygen-18 becomes more concentrated in tissues and when tooth enamel is formed.  Analysing the types of oxygen isotopes preserved in the fossil fragments could provide an indication as to how close to water, or at least how close to a humid, watery environment did extinct animals live.

The researchers reasoned that if Spinosaurs were aquatic, then the concentration of oxygen-18 in their tissues would closely match aquatic animals such as crocodiles and turtles and be lower than the isotope values of other dinosaurs, as the other dinosaurs would be presumed to be more terrestrial in their habits.  Sort of “land lubbers” to the Spinosaurs being “jolly jack tars”.

The University of Lyon team studied the oxygen isotopes of a total of 133 Cretaceous specimens, a mixture of Spinosaurs, other dinosaurs and animals known for their nektonic behaviour (active swimmers), such as crocodiles and turtles.  Their study showed that the Spinosaurs had oxygen-18 levels that were significantly lower than those found in other more terrestrial dinosaurs.  Interestingly, the oxygen-18 values in crocodiles and Spinosaurs were not significantly different.  The French team have postulated that this is evidence that Spinosaurs were dwelling in aquatic habitats, perhaps occupying a specific niche in the Cretaceous food chain.

Aquatic Spinosaurs – A Dinosaur at Home in the Water

Isotopes reveal association with water

Picture Credit: Marc Simonetti

The above picture shows a group of Spinosaurs at home in a river, the one in the background is swimming and its sail-back can clearly be seen above the water.  This image may take a little to get used to, but the evidence from the French scientists does suggest that these particular Theropods may have spent a considerable amount of time in the water.  The large thumb-claw, a characteristic of the Spinosauridae would have made an effective fish hook, spearing fish as the Spinosaurus stood on the bank fishing, like a modern Grizzly Bear, but equally, it could have been used to help steady this large animal and retain its grip on the muddy bottom of a riverbed.

We think this debate is going to run and run, for example, although fish scales are associated with the Baryonyx fossils found in a Surrey clay pit, so are the remains of a small Iguanodontid.  Other Spinosaur fossils have been associated with the fossilised remains of their last meal, a flying reptile.  Just like most crocodiles, these animals may have been unfussy eaters, devouring anything and everything that they came across.  The bones of these creatures do not show many adaptations for an aquatic lifestyle.  For instance, there is little evidence for a deepened tail to help with swimming.  Elements such as any webbing between the toes would not necessarilly have been preserved, so the jury is still out as to just how much time this dinosaur spent swimming.

It is known that dinosaurs could swim and many took to the water, traces of their tracks as they crossed lakes and rivers have been found in various parts of the world.  In one remarkable example from northern Spain, the fossilised trackway of a Theropod dinosaur as it swam across a body of water has been preserved.

To read more about this remarkable trace fossil: Swimming Dinosaurs, Evidence from Spain

The sandstone, in which the occasional claw impressions and prints have been preserved as this animal swam across the water, occasionally touching the bottom and pushing itself off again, is approximately 125 million years old.  This date coincides to the time when the Spinosaurs were around, could this be evidence of a swimming Spinosaur?

Steven Spielberg set for Return to a Dinosaur Theme

Jurassic Park Director set for Return to Dinosaur Genre

It has been reported in the American showbiz magazine, Variety that the famous Hollywood director Steven Spielberg is in talks with Fox about him becoming involved in a new dinosaur/lost world television series – Terra Nova.

For Spielberg, who directed the first Jurassic Park film (1993), it could mean the chance to work with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals again.  He has often been quoted as having a fascination for dinosaurs and has expressed a desire to get involved with projects involving dinosaur and time travelling themes.

According to the magazine Variety, the concept of Terra Nova involves a family from the future being transported back in time to the late Jurassic, 150 million years into prehistory.

Spielberg is in talks with the chairman of the 20th Century Fox Network, Peter Chernin regarding the possibility of Spielberg acting as executive producer on this new family, sci-fi drama.  Sources at Variety have reported that Fox are keen to make the television series and want to jump straight into making episodes rather than take the more traditional route of creating a pilot to test how the programme would be received.  It is very likely that the series, if made would then be syndicated around the world.

A spokesman for Everything Dinosaur, stated that this was welcome news and the concept of a CGI based dinosaur show would have widespread appeal.  However, it is not known how this development could affect the prospects for a long awaiting Jurassic Park 4 movie, although scripts have been written and directors discussed, this particular project seems to be forever in pre-production.

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