Discovery of New Horned Dinosaur from Montana

Huge Chasmosaurine Medusaceratops lokii a Montana Dinosaur Mystery

Scientists at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History have announced the discovery of a new genus of horned dinosaur (Ceratopsian) from Late Cretaceous sediments in Montana.  This new dinosaur, that roamed this part of the United States in herds, approximately 78 million years ago, is estimated to have exceeded 6 metres in length and weighed over 2 tonnes.  This new prehistoric animal, a member of the same group of horned dinosaurs (Chasmosaurine) as Pentaceratops and Triceratops, has been named Medusaceratops lokii, the genus name relating to the flamboyant crest with numerous epoccipitals (lumps, bumps, and horns around the head crest), resembling the fearsome snake covered head of Medusa from Greek legend.  The species name is in deference to the Norse God of mischief – Loki, as when fossils of this dinosaur were first discovered it confused scientists as to whether is was a member of the Chamosaurine or Centrosaurines (two sub-groups of Ceratopsians).

The announcement was made by the distinguished scientist and dinosaur expert Dr. Michael J Ryan, who is based at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (Ohio,United States).  The fossils of this new Ornithischian Ceratopsid have been dated to the Campanian faunal stage of the Cretaceous.

Dr. Ryan, the curator and head of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Cleveland museum has published his findings as lead author of a new book on North American horned dinosaurs; ”New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs:  The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium”.

We at Everything Dinosaur, have had the pleasure of reading a number of Dr. Ryan’s publications, as we sit here checking this article, a copy of “Dinosaur Provincial Park”, a volume on the ancient ecosystem of Alberta, Canada, is on a shelf in front of us.  Dr. Ryan was a contributor to this publication and many of the chapters written about Dinosauria contain references to his published work.

Medusaceratops belongs to the Chasmosaurinae subfamily of the horned dinosaur family Ceratopsidae.  The other subfamily is Centrosaurinae.  The specimen is the first Campanian-aged Chasmosaurine Ceratopsian found in Montana.  It is also the oldest known Chasmosaurine Ceratopsian known to science

Fossils of Medusaceratops were discovered in a bonebed on private land adjacent to the Milk river in north, central Montana.  Fossils and other material was acquired by Canada Fossil Inc. (Calgary, Alberta) in mid 1990s.  The company consulted Dr. Ryan and his colleagues about the fossils, but at first the scientists were unable to make a positive identification.

Medusaceratops had giant brow bones more than 3 feet long over each eye, and a large, shield-like frill off the back of its skull adorned with large curling hooks.  Medusaceratops lokii means “Loki’s horned-faced Medusa,” referring to the thickened, fossilised, snake-like hooks on the side of the frill (the epoccipitals).

Commenting on this discovery, Dr Ryan stated:

“At first we could not figure out what we had.  Some of the material looked as if it came from a form related to Centrosaurus [Centrosaurine Ceratopsian, like Pachyrhinosaurus or Achelousaurus] a Centrosaurine noted for having short brow horns.  The rest of the pieces had giant brow horns similar to Triceratops [Chasmosaurine].  That’s one of the problems with bonebeds – even though you can collect a large amount of material, much of it is broken and all of it is disarticulated, so the story is rarely clear cut.”

Eventually Dr. Ryan found a complete articulated skull of a Centrosaur with long brow horns in southern Alberta of what appeared to be the new animal from Montana, and named it Albertaceratops in 2007.  At that time, he assumed he was looking at a stray that had literally crossed the international border between what was to become Canada and the United States.

To read an article on the discovery of Albertaceratops: “Alberta Horned Face” – An Ancestor of Triceratops

After re-examining the material from Montana, Dr. Ryan realised that at least some of the material in the Montana bonebed was not Albertaceratops.  Some of the elements were much larger than any other horned dinosaur from the same time period, including Albertaceratops.  Even though Albertaceratops and Medusaceratops are superficially very similar, the shape and number of the hooks and ornaments along the edge of the frill actually puts them in separate horned dinosaur groups, with Medusaceratops being a Chasmosaur and Albertaceratops a Centrosaurine.

Commenting on the huge frill on Medusaceratops, Dr. Anthony Russell, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary (Alberta) stated:

“Although the ornamentation on the frill is pretty spectacular, it probably was not used for defence against predators, rather it was more likely prehistoric “bling” used to attract a mate.”

The descriptive terms, used to distinguish Centrosaurines from Chasmosaurines are often not adequate to permit a genus to be ascribed to the appropriate subfamily of Ceratopsians.  For example, the Centrosaurines are often referred to as “short-frilled” dinosaurs, with large nose horns, often bigger than any brow horns, if brow horns were present.  In contrast, the Chasmosaurines are known as “long-frilled” dinosaurs with large, neck frills and long snouts.  The brow horns are usually much bigger than any nose horn, if a nose horn was present.

An Illustration of Medusaceratops lokii

Picture Credit: Donna Sloan

Dr. Ryan said:

“Medusaceratops is the oldest member of the Chasmosaurinae in North America and shows that the group, like its most famous member, Triceratops, had long brow horns and were fairly large when they first evolved.  Later Chasmosaurs that are just a bit younger [found in later strata], tend to have much shorter horns and have much lighter, smaller bodies.”

If this large, herbivore evolved large brow horns to fend off the attacks from predatory dinosaurs, then this poses an intriguing question for the scientists.  What types of really big predatory dinosaurs shared this environment with Medusaceratops?

A number of Tyrannosaurid genera are known from the western part of North America (Campanian faunal stage), perhaps awaiting discovery are the fossils of a large carnivore bigger than Daspletosaurus or Gorgosaurus.

Dr. Ryan said:

“Here we have something almost the size of Triceratops, but 10 million years before it lived.  T. rex was not around yet, so what was Medusaceratops squaring off against?  That’s one of the things we’re looking for in Alberta.”

The research was originally conducted when Michael Ryan was a Ph.D. candidate working with Dr. Russell at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.  Much of the material, including the holotype, is now in the collection of the Wyoming Dinosaur Centre in Thermopolis, Wyoming (USA), with other material curated at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta (Canada).

Another Bonhams Auction – Prehistoric Items and Rare Objects up for Sale

Bonhams and Butterfields Auction of Rare Prehistoric Items

The latest prehistoric relics and strange object auction took place last Thursday at Bonhams and Butterfields auction house (New York).  If you have ever fancied owning your very own mounted, fossil skeleton of a Woolly Rhino or perhaps the skull of a Cave Bear then the New York auction house on Madison Avenue was the place to go.  Dinosaur fossils were also represented including a tooth from a T. rex that scientists believe was swallowed by another dinosaur.

For space fans there were meteorites and other rare minerals and rock on which to place bids.  For us, one of the highlights of the auction was the fully mounted and almost complete fossilised skeleton of a fearsome fish predator from the late Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway.

This fishy lot consists of the beautifully preserved specimen of a Xiphactinus (pronounced zie-fak-tin-us), a bony fish that was streamlined and powerful hunter of the Late Cretaceous.  The mouth of Xiphactinus could open very wide, and fossils of this bony fish have been found with the remains of smaller fish that had been swallowed whole.  These carnivores could reach lengths of up to 6 metres long, about as long as a Great White Shark.

The Xiphactinus Specimen up for Auction

Picture Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP

However, don’t expect to snap up this particular exhibit for small fry, the auctioneers estimate that this lot will sell of around £120,000 GBP

Dublin Team Announces Discovery of New Pterosaur

Earliest Known Member of Azhdarchidae Pterosaurs Announced

A team of Dublin scientists have published a paper in the on line scientific journal PLOS ONE on the discovery of the fossilised remains a 95-million year old Pterosaur, found on the Moroccan/Algerian border.  The fragile and delicate fossils represent the earliest known specimen of an Azhdarchid Pterosaur, the Family of Pterosauria that persisted until the very end of the age of Dinosaurs, and led to the evolution of some of the largest Pterosaurs of all.

Expedition leader and University College of Dublin doctoral research scholar Nizar Ibrahim commented on the field work which took place in south-eastern Morocco, close to the border with Algeria:

Before you go, you dream of finding something special.”

Scientists from the UK, Ireland and Morocco visited the Kem Kem plateau, a parched an arid environment today, but during the middle of the Cretaceous this area was a lush river basin with a diverse flora and fauna.  The Pterosaur fossils have been dated to approximately 95 million years ago (Cenomanian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).

The researchers had suspected that this terrain carried a high chance of finding the low density bones of Pterosaurs that needed to be flimsy and lightweight for flight.

Nizar stated:

“We heard of this locality that nobody had explored before.”

The research team excavated a large Pterosaur jawbone.  It had been broken into three pieces, these elements and some partial cervical vertebrae (neck bones) have led the team to identify and name a new genus of flying reptile.  This new Azhdarchid Pterosaur has been named Alanqa saharica, the genus name has been derived from the Arabic word al-anqa, which means phoenix, the species name honours the desert environment, from which the delicate fossils were extracted.

An Illustration of the New Pterosaur (A. saharica)

 

Picture Credit: David Bonnadonna

This new Azhdarchid Pterosaur had an estimated wingspan of approximately 6 metres, making it far larger than any extant bird species today.  Although, a large animal, the hollow bones and delicate body would have made this animal extremely light, perhaps weighing no more than a medium sized dog.  The largest known Azhdarchids are from the very end of the Cretaceous with creatures like Quetzalcoatlus (Q. northropi) having wingspans in excess of 10 metres.

Nizar Ibrahim commented:

“They [Azhdarchid Pterosaurs] appeared late in the age of the Dinosaurs, and we don’t have many fossils of animals from this group.”

The scientists have noted that this Pterosaur had a remarkable lower jaw.  The toothless jaw was shaped like a lance, the lower jaw being very narrow and ending in a sharp point.  It is not known what this animal ate, but the scientific team have described the jaws as “heron-like” indicating that this animal probably ate fish.  The fossilised remains of two other types of Pterosaur have also been recovered from the Kem Kem plateau by the team, indicating that in this part of the world during the Cretaceous Pterosaur numbers may have been quite large.

“Grinding Mouth and Wrinkle Eye” – American Scientists Announce New Dinosaur Genus

Jeyawati rugoculus A new Genus of Basal Hadrosaur from New Mexico

A team of American palaeontologists have announced the discovery of a new primitive duck-billed dinosaur from western New Mexico (United States).  This new Ornithopod is just one of a number of discoveries made in the state of New Mexico that is permitting scientists a glimpse into life in a Cretaceous ecosystem, that until fifteen years ago was unknown to science.

Lead author and 2008 University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate Andrew McDonald, has named this new species of dinosaur based on an incomplete skeleton found on land administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The new species, dubbed Jeyawati rugoculus, comes from rocks that preserve a swampy forest ecosystem that thrived near the shore of a vast inland sea 91 million years ago (Cenomanian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).  Jeyawati is a member of a remarkable assemblage of dinosaurs and other animals that was totally unknown 15 years ago.  Although the geology of the United States is extremely well known and has been intensively studied, these new finds will help palaeontologists piece together the varied faunas that existed on the coastal margins of the Western Interior Seaway.

Dinosaurs that co-existed with Jeyawati include Zuniceratops, one of the earliest known North American horned dinosaurs, and Nothronychus, a Therizinosaur, strange herbivorous Theropod dinosaurs belonging to a lineage that, until the discovery of Nothronychus, were known only from Asia.  Jeyawati adds another fascinating character to the story of North America’s dinosaurs.

An Illustration of Zuniceratops

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Zuniceratops (Zuniceratops christopheri), is the earliest known Ceratopsian to have sported a pair of brow horns in North America.  Known from several specimens, its presence in New Mexico suggests that Ceratopsians with brow horns evolved in North America and not in their ancestral home of Asia.

An Illustration of Nothronychus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Nothronychus (Nothronychus mckinleyi) is the first member of the Therizinosaurids to be found outside Asia.  It is also one of the most complete fossils of these bizarre Theropod dinosaurs.

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

The discovery of dinosaur fossils such as Zuniceratops, Nothronychus and Jeyawati is helping scientists to understand more about the unique fauna of the New Mexico swampland habitat.

The first part of the name Jeyawati rugoculus is pronounced “HEY-a-WHAT-ee,” essentially meaning “grinding mouth,” and is derived from two words in the language of the Zuni people, who have long inhabited western New Mexico.  The meaning of the name Jeyawati is a reference to the sophisticated chewing mechanism evolved by the herbivorous lineage of Hadrosaurs to which Jeyawati belongs.  The second part of the name, rugoculus, comes from the Latin words ruga and oculus and means “wrinkle eye,” describing a unique feature of the new species.  One of the bones that forms the eye socket exhibits a peculiar rough or wrinkly texture on its outer side; in other dinosaurs, such a texture on skull bones has been suggested to have supported enlarged scales on the top of the skull.  Thus, Jeyawati rugoculus might have sported one or more large scales above and behind its eye, giving it a strangely striking appearance.

An Illustration of Jeyawati rugoculus

Ornithopoda – new species

Picture Credit: Lukas Panzarin

The enlarged scales around the eye, may have developed in mature adults and could have been used to communicate visually with other members of the herd.  It is not known whether Jeyawati rugoculus sported these eye markings all the time once it had reached breeding age, or whether the eye markings developed purely for the breeding season each year, in the same way that stags develop their antlers for rutting.

This herbivorous dinosaur evidently endured a hard life.  Among the many bits of ribs found with the skull bones, several large pieces have a swollen, rough surface, indicating that the animal suffered broken ribs through some misfortune and that those injuries had healed by the time the animal died.

The partial skull and other fragments including vertebrae of Jeyawati were discovered in 1996 by paleontologist Douglas Wolfe, principal investigator of the Zuni Basin Palaeontological Project, his wife Hazel, and their son Christopher.  Subsequent excavation and collection was carried out with the permission of the Bureau of Land Management over the following 13 years with the aid of James Kirkland (State Palaeontologist with the Utah Geological Survey ), volunteers from the Southwest Palaeontological Society, and many other volunteers from around the country.  The fragile fossils were carefully freed from the remaining rock by preparators Harold and Phyllis Bolan and are being stored at the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa.

In 2006, Andrew McDonald, then an undergraduate geology student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln under the supervision of Professor David Loope, began a project to describe the fossil in the university’s Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences (UCARE) programme.  McDonald and Wolfe first met when McDonald was a student at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield, Illinois and when it came time for him to look for a UCARE research project, he received permission from Wolfe to work on the specimen.

McDonald’s analysis revealed that the bones were sufficiently distinct from those of other dinosaurs to warrant the naming of a new species.  It also became clear that Jeyawati is a close relative of the duck-billed Hadrosaurs, which were immensely abundant across the Northern Hemisphere for much of the Cretaceous.  However, Jeyawati retains some primitive features of the teeth and jaws that preclude it from being a fully-fledged Hadrosaur, so it has been ascribed to basal Hadrosauridae.  McDonald, a Ph.D. the lead author on the paper featuring this new dinosaur, published in the scientific journal “Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology”, has been a student since 2008 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he works with palaeontologist Peter Dodson.  He has a more extensive project under way to determine the evolutionary relationships of Jeyawati and many of its relatives.

The above article has been sourced from media/newswire press release.

Evidence of European Ceratopsians Grows with Hungarian Discovery

Ajkaceratops kozmai - The First Ceratopsian from Europe

One of the last types of dinosaur to evolve were the horned dinosaurs. These herbivorous creatures, part of the Sub-Order Marginocephalia (shelf at the back of the head) include famous dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Protoceratops and Torosaurus.  Mystery still surrounds the origins of this particular dinosaur family.  It seems likely that Ceratopsians (or Ceratopians, as some palaeontologists prefer to call them), evolved in Asia.  Some time in the Cretaceous these animals migrated eastwards into North America.  In the northern American continent they evolved into the huge shield-necked, multi-horned forms familiar to most school children.  Ironically, the Asian forms remained relatively small and less spectacular than their North American cousins and primitive Ceratopsians also existed in North America and continued unchanged until the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

Although, scientists have been able to study considerable numbers of fossils of certain species and genera, thanks mainly to these animal’s fossils having been found in extensive bone-beds which contain thousands of individual bones representing a disastrous event having overcome a herd of these horned dinosaurs, the fossil record for these Ornithischians is, like all vertebrate fossils, extremely patchy.  For example, the evidence for these animals having inhabited the Late Cretaceous of Europe is slight.  In Sweden, some Ceratopsian-like teeth have been discovered and the re-evaluation of some dinosaur teeth found in Cretaceous sediments (Belgium) in the 19th Century have sparked a debate about whether these dinosaurs did live in what was to become Europe.

However, a discovery by a team of scientists from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences may change our perceptions about Ceratopsians.  At least one genus may have lived in Europe, a dwarf form, that lived on small islands and became adapted to surviving in an environment with limited food resources.

The paper, to be published in the scientific journal “Nature” describes the discovery of unmistakable fossil evidence indicating that at least one genus of Ceratopsian lived in what was to become Europe, living on a chain of islands as much of this continent was little more than an archipelago, surrounded by what was the remains of the once vast Tethys ocean.

Led by palaeontologist Attila Ősi of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest), a team of researchers discovered the partial jaws and elements of the beak of a horned dinosaur whilst excavating at the Iharkút bauxite mine near the Hungarian town of Ajka. This area has yielded a number of vertebrate fossils, all dating from approximately 85 million years ago (Santonian faunal stage).  This new dinosaur genus has been named Ajkaceratops kozmai, honouring the town near to where the fossil remains were found.

European Ceratopsian Evidence – Ajkaceratops kozmai

Picture Credit: Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The picture shows the fossils of Ajkaceratops kozmai.  Top left is a side view of the rostrum and partial pre-maxilla – the definitive “beak” of a horned dinosaur.  There is a ventral view (viewed from underneath) in the top right of the picture.  The three pictures underneath show bones of the lower jaw.  The Hungarian scientists have uncovered very strong evidence to indicate that Asian forms migrated to the archipelago of eastern European islands, sometime in the Cretaceous.  A. kozmai is the first Ceratopsian genus to be named and described from the European continent.  The dinosaur was small, no bigger than a sheep, a possible adaptation to living on small islands where food resources were relatively scarce.  Island animals evolving dwarf forms compared to their continental cousins is seen frequently in the fossil record and can be observed amongst extant species today.  Adapting to limited resources is referred to as “island dwarfism”, a number of diminutive dinosaur genera are known from the eastern European Tethys island archipelago.

To read more about dwarfism in dinosaurs: Dwarfism on Dinosaur Island

The discovery of these Ceratopsian fossils raises an intriguing question.  This dinosaur resembles Ceratopsian forms that lived in Mongolia, animals such as Bagaceratops (Bagaceratops rozhdestvenskyi). If this dinosaur lived on islands that we now know as western Hungary, how did it get there?

This opens up a whole new debate on the possible migration routes of the Dinosauria.  Ősi and his colleagues speculate that Ajkaceratops might have island-hopped its way from Asia.  According to this scenario, Ősi stated:

“Our Ceratopsian was able to swim short distances between islands and so reached newer and newer areas westwards.”

The pictures shows the skull of Ajkaceratops (known material in black) compared to the skull of Bagaceratops.  The arrows indicate where fossils of these Ceratopsians have been found and the world map shows the estimated geography during the Santonian faunal stage of the Cretaceous.  How did Ceratopsians migrate from central Asia to the European margins?  Were these animals aided by the formation of land bridges during two million year climatic circles that led to intermittent falls in sea level?

Indeed, in a commentary that accompanies the paper, palaeontologist Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing suggests that such island-hopping might explain why Ajkaceratops was so small compared with giant Ceratopsians such as Triceratops and Torosaurus.  He postulates that island dwarfism did occur.

Commenting on the Hungarian discovery, Peter Dodson, a palaeontologist at the University of Pennsylvania stated:

“The new specimen is absolutely and utterly convincing”. 

With no fossil evidence of European Ceratopsians having been found in 200 years of searching, Dodson commentated:

“and so we thought they weren’t there.”

The Ceratopsian Migration Hypothesis

Ajkaceratops

Picture Credit: Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Dodson says that the island-hopping scenario makes sense given what scientist know about other Ceratopsians, many of whom were apparently good swimmers.

He added:

“It is a safe bet that any animal that could traverse a distance of some 6000 miles from Asia to Europe is not going to be afraid to get its feet wet.”

As to what this sheep-sized, horned dinosaur looked like, this is a little hard to say, after all, only fragmentary fossils have been found to date.  However, using the Neoceratopsian Bagaceratops as a template, this new Ceratopsian may have looked something like the illustration below:

Scale Illustration of Ajkaceratops kozmai

Ajakaceratops

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Practical Pictures

Ichthyosaur Turns up in School Vegetable Patch

Ichthyosaur Fossils Found in School Vegetable Patch

Many schools have set aside a small area of their grounds to act as a vegetable garden so that the pupils can have a go at growing their own fruit and vegetables.  Such a plot of land can permit teachers and teaching assistants to carry out all sorts of lesson extensions and these activities could inspire and encourage the next generation of gardeners.  However, for one school in Queensland (Australia), the digging of some post holes in their vegetable patch revealed the bones of an ancient marine reptile, not the sort of thing that schools encounter everyday.

Year 10 student Raymond Hodgson and groundsman Ben Smith were digging corner posts for a vegetable garden at the Richmond State School, in western Queensland, when they made the find.  This part of Queensland is known as the “dinosaur trail” as a number of important dinosaur and marine reptile fossil discoveries have been found in this area in recent years.  During the middle part of the Cretaceous, this part of what was to become Australia was covered by a warm, tropical sea that teemed with life including giant marine reptiles such as Ichthyosaurs (fish lizards) and Pliosaurs such as the giant predator Kronosaurus.

At first the student and the groundsman thought the hard lumps in the dirt were rocks but luckily Ben recognised them as bits of fossilised bone.

Paul Stumkat, the curator of local fossil museum Kronosaurus Korner, named after the huge Pliosaur whose fossils have been found in this part of Queensland, commented that the vegetable plot diggers had unearthed the fossilised vertebrae from an Ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that looked like a cross between a dolphin and a shark.

A Scale Drawing of the Marine Reptile Ichthyosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view more details of a model Ichthyosaurus and dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Mr Stumkat said both men were pretty excited about the discovery.  He added:

“You never think about finding something like that when you’re digging your vegie garden do you?”

Mr Stumkat said the giant reptiles once ruled the inland sea that covered Richmond and were present in such prolific numbers they could be compared to the bison which dotted the grass plains of North America.

“They were just everywhere.  They were an incredibly successful group of marine reptiles that existed from the end of the Jurassic through to the early Cretaceous [periods].”

Raymond Hodgson and Groundsman Ben Smith Holding Fossil Vertebrae of the Ichthyosaur

Ichthyosaur fossils found

Picture Credit: Kronosaurus Korner: Paul Stumkat

The vertebrae of Ichthyosaurs are the backbones and tail bones of this marine reptile.  Ichthyosaur vertebrae are typically circular and dished in the centre (on both sides).

Mr Stumkat said Ichthyosaurs ate other sea creatures such as squid and fish.  He commented:

“We have amazing fossils up here that show teeth marks probably from Ichthyosaurs as well.  We’ve got a lovely fish head here on display that has a big bite mark on the side of its head which seems to line up with something like the teeth of an Ichthyosaur.”

Situated in what was the Cretaceous Inland Sea, the outback town is now the site of many significant fossil finds, including dinosaurs and giant marine reptiles.

The latest specimen is currently being prepared by Mr Stumkat and will eventually go on display at the school.  However, Mr Stumkat says the find has not stopped work on the school’s new vegetable garden, although the school children and staff have altered the way in which they work on the plot.

“They’re digging much more carefully now just in case they hit any more interesting rocks,” added Paul.

“Clumped Isotopes” May Answer Question of Whether or Not Dinosaurs were Endothermic

Warm-blooded or Cold-Blooded Dinosaurs – “Clumped Isotopes” May Reveal the Answer

One of the key questions regarding Dinosauria and other extinct reptiles of the Mesozoic puzzled over by scientists almost since the first dinosaur fossils were scientifically studied; is whether or not these ancient creatures were warm-blooded (endothermic).  A team of US based researchers have come up with a new technique that could help scientists answer this question once and for all.  The researchers have introduced the first scientific procedure to directly measure the body temperatures of extinct vertebrates and help establish the temperatures of prehistoric environments.

The study, a combined effort by researchers from five institutions including the University of Florida, has been published in the online scientific journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.

The published report explains how the team have developed a method of using carbon and oxygen isotopes from fossils to more accurately determine whether extinct animals were endothermic (warm-blooded) or ectothermic (cold-blooded).  This new procedure will also help researchers to better estimate the temperature ranges in the environment when these animals lived.

Co-study author Richard Hulbert, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus explained:

“Without a time machine, it has previously been impossible to directly take the temperature of extinct animals such as dinosaurs and megalodon sharks.  The method described in the study has been shown to work with 12-million-year-old fossils from Florida and the next step is to look at even older fossils.  For example, we have no teeth of Titanoboa, the largest snake ever discovered, but we could use 60-million-year-old crocodylian teeth from the same deposit to find out more about the snake’s environment.”

Titanoboa is the largest known snake in the fossil record.  With an estimated length in excess of 15 metres this constrictor type snake of the Palaeocene would have been at least 1.5 times the size of the largest extant species known today.

A Fossilised Backbone of Titanoboa compared to an Extant Anaconda

Picture Credit: Nature

The fossils of this colossal snake were found in an open cast mine in north eastern Columbia.  To read more about the discovery of Titanoboa fossils: Titanoboa – Giant Snake of the Palaeocene

The new “clumped-isotope” paleothermometer method used in the study analyses two rare heavy isotopes, carbon-13 and oxygen-18, found in tooth enamel, bones and eggshells.  Lead author and California Institute of Technology postdoctoral scholar Robert Eagle, commented:

“Clumping is temperature dependent, so at low temperatures you get more clumping together in a mineral while high temperatures mean less clumping.  If you can measure the clumping accurately enough, you can work out the temperature at which a mineral formed.  In the case of teeth and bone, this will be the body temperature of the organism.”

The use of oxygen isotopes (or at least the ratio of isotopes present) to establish ancient climatic conditions is not new.  The measurement of oxygen-16 isotope and its relationship to the heavier oxygen-18 isotope has been used by researchers to calculate temperature differences between glacial and interglacial periods.  However, this is the first time such a methodology has been used to calculate temperatures of long extinct animals such as dinosaurs.

An isotope is an atom of an element whose nucleus contains the same number of positively charged particles (called protons) as the “parent” element, but a different number of neutral particles (called neutrons).  Oxygen is present in water molecules as two isotopes – oxygen-16 and oxygen-18.  Oxygen-16 is the lighter of these two isotopes and evaporates more quickly.  During an Ice Age or glacial period, oxygen-16 enriched water vapour falls as ice and snow, depleting the ocean of this isotope and enriching it with a higher concentration of oxygen-18.  Some marine organisms such as microscopic, single-celled, commonly occurring organisms called foraminiferans secrete calcium carbonate exoskeletons derived from sea water.  The oxygen content of these shells reflects the ratio of oxygen-16 to oxygen-18 isotopes in the water at the time the shell was constructed.  This ratio can also provide scientists with an indication of the sea temperature at the time.  Once a scientist has calculated the ratio of the two oxygen isotopes found in a fossilised foraminiferans, he (or she), will be able to estimate the oxygen composition of the sea water and deduce the likely climatic conditions at the time the shell was formed.

The researchers first tested the method on modern species: the white rhinoceros, Indian elephant, Nile crocodile, American alligator and sand tiger shark.  The study confirmed the rhinoceros and elephant, like all mammals, are warm-blooded, and their tooth enamel forms at about 37 degrees Celsius.  Researchers confirmed the accuracy within 2 degrees Celsius by measuring teeth of modern sharks from temperature-controlled aquariums.

In the next stage of the study, researchers tested fossils of mammoths and older extinct Florida alligator and rhinoceros species.

Robert Eagle added:“The method we present is a big advance because it allows a direct measurement of the body temperature of extinct species, free from the assumptions required with other approaches.”

Eagle said further testing of different-sized dinosaurs and other extinct vertebrates will provide more evidence about whether they were warm or cold-blooded.

Fact sheets, Fact sheets and more Fact sheets

Compiling Prehistoric Animal Model Fact Sheets to Accompany New Models

After a busy weekend involved in dinosaur related activities, (joys of fossil hunting).  We are all back in the office today, in lots of meetings, on what may prove to be one of the hottest days of the year.

For us, the office thermometer is registering 26 degrees Celsius so it is a little warm for us to be all sat around the meeting room discussing the new range of Everything Dinosaur prehistoric animal fact sheets in preparation for the arrival of new models into the on-line shop.  There are twenty new fact sheets to go over, factual information must be checked and re-checked, scale drawings measured to ensure they give an appropriate and reasonably accurate illustration of the animal concerned.  The animals involved in this new batch of fact sheets are an eclectic group, we have a Pterosaur (genus Rhamphorhynchus), plus three prehistoric mammals all heralding from the Cenozoic and at least one marine reptile, (Plesiosaurus).  The Plesiosaurus fact sheet is for the new Papo model of a Plesiosaur, an addition to the Everything Dinosaur range that we are particularly pleased about, what with our connections at Lyme Regis and such like.

The New Plesiosaurus Model from Papo (France)

Picture Credit: Papo

This model is expected to be in stock in a couple of weeks, to view our existing Papo range and other dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Interestingly, this new Papo Plesiosaurus model is marketed by Papo under their “Dinosaures” range (French for Dinosaurs).  Such indiscretions are not permitted by Everything Dinosaur team members.  Plesiosaurs were not Dinosaurs but marine reptiles.  Plesiosaurs and other marine reptiles were neodiapsids like the Archosaurs but not closely related to the Dinosauria or Pterosaurs.  We note also that Papo markets a model of Pteranodon (P. longiceps) under the brand “Dinosaures”.

One of the more unusual and challenging fact sheets is that of a Coelacanth.  This fact sheet is being produced in anticipation of the arrival of the new Coelacanth model from Safari Ltd of the United States.  Our team members are focusing on the story of the two surviving species of this ancient fish group, which are still around today.  It is a bit of a challenge having to research and write up an extant species whereas we normally focus very much on extinct forms of life.  The extant genera (Latimeria) are much larger than most of the genera of Coelacanth that have been preserved in the fossil record.  For example, females of the species found in the waters off the Comoros islands, L. chalumnae are believed to grow to a size in excess of 1.7 metres long and may weigh more than 90 kilogrammes.

The Everything Dinosaur Scale Model of a Coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae

Ancient fish model – Coelacanth

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Still, we must all keep plodding on, once the mammals, Pterosaurs and fish are out of the way we can concentrate on checking the new dinosaur data sheets.

An Alphabetical Dinosaur Puzzle (Part 2)

Which Dinosaur Genus would Top an Alphabetical List?

Having written the previous day a brief article answering the question put forward by a pupil on which dinosaur name would appear at the bottom of an alphabetical list, we now find ourselves being asked another, related question.

Which dinosaur name would appear at the top of an alphabetical list?

Again this is a tricky question, one that has led to quite a bit of debate amongst team members at Everything Dinosaur.  The current, list of non-avian dinosaur genera must be getting on for more than 900 names at the moment.  This does not include that long list of dinosaurs which are Nomen dubium - named organisms whose validity is in doubt or Nomen nudum - dinosaurs for example, that have not been formerly described with no designated holotype fossil.

The trouble is, with new discoveries all the time, the list of genera is being altered almost constantly.  However, if we were to stick our necks out, our alphabetical list would be headed (no pun intended) by a late Cretaceous meat-eater from South America – Abelisaurus (Abelisaurus comahuensis).  Abelisaurus is the dinosaur that gave its name to an entire group of Theropod dinosaurs – the Abelisaurids.  At approximately, 7 metres long it was roughly the size of the more famous Carnotaurus, another late Cretaceous Abelisaurid.  Abelisaurus was named in honour of Roberto Abel, the Director of the Argentinian Museum of Natural Science.

A Scale Drawing of Abelisaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of an Abelisaurid (Carnotaurus) and other dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

An Alphabetical Dinosaur Puzzle

Difficult Question related to the Alphabetical Order of Dinosaur Genera

Sometimes, team members at Everything Dinosaur get asked really unusual and challenging questions by school children.  For instance, on one of our many visits to schools to teach science using dinosaurs as theme, we were asked this question by a young learner.

“If you were to list all the names of dinosaurs in alphabetical order what would be the name at the bottom of your list?”

With the relative explosion of dinosaur names from discoveries made by Chinese scientists there are a number of genera that we are aware of that begin with the letter “Z”.  However, if we were to write down a list in alphabetical order, a substantial task in itself given the number of dinosaur genera known, we think that it would not be a Chinese dinosaur on the bottom.  That honour (we think), would go to Zupaysaurus a genus of Theropod dinosaur known from skull material, partial vertebrae and some limb bones.  This dinosaur lived in what was to become Argentina towards the end of the Triassic.  It was named and described in 2003 and resembles in appearance a dinosaur such as Dilophosaurus.

An Illustration of the Skull of Zupaysaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of a Dilophosaur (resembling Zupaysaurus) and other dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Children – Dinosaur Toys

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