A Mention for Nessie

The Loch Ness Monster a Good subject for a Quiz Question

We hear that in a recent Radio Four quiz programme broadcast by the BBC there was a question about the famous Loch Ness Monster, or should we use Nessie’s proper scientific name – N. rhombopteryx.  It is always a pleasure to hear that this elusive creature can still attract media interest.

The quiz master asked the contestants to link the following incidents together:

“The Surgeon’s” 1934, “Dinsdale” 1960 and the “Rines study” in 1972.  These are all linked to sightings, film or other evidence of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.

Naturally, although there have been a number of sightings, pictures and perhaps most intriguing of all, sonar echoes, we don’t believe in Nessie as a member of the Plesiosauria.

After all, the scientific name Nessitera rhombopteryx announced by British naturalist in 1975 (the name means “The Ness monster with diamond-shaped fins”) was pointed out to be an anagram for “monster hoax by Sir Peter S”

New Website from Everything Dinosaur is Up and Running

Everything Dinosaur Launches New Website

Everything Dinosaur, the UK based company staffed by parents, teachers and real dinosaur experts has launched its latest version of its website: Visit Everything Dinosaur

The new site is bigger and better than ever with more products, more dinosaur models, more features more free downloads and with easier product browsing.  A spokes person for the Cheshire based company stated that the new site had been designed to make the browsing of the online shop much easier and its layout meant that new pages and products could be added much more quickly than with the old site.

One of the Screen Shots of the New Everything Dinosaur Website

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With many hundreds of dinosaur toys, games, models and items of clothing all with a prehistoric animal theme, Everything Dinosaur’s website is the place to visit for all your dinosaur product needs.

Updating Herrerasaurus

Powerful, Triassic Predator Herrerasaurus

Just reviewing the data we hold on Herrerasaurus (H. ischigualastensis), a powerful, Triassic predator whose fossils have been found in Argentina.  We received an email last night from a young dinosaur fan, who wanted to know all about this Theropod as it features on our Dinosaur duvet set, along with other dinosaurs such as Protoceratops and Apatosaurus.  This dinosaur lived approximately 228 million years ago and weighing in at a quarter of a tonne it was one of the biggest predators on Earth at the time.

Herrerasaurus had a combination of primitive and advanced features for a Theropod, primitive hands with long claws, a box-like skull but a sophisticated lower jaw joint that allowed this dinosaur to take big bites.

An Illustration of Herrerasaurus

Herrerasaurus Illustration

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We wanted to feature a Triassic dinosaur on our duvet and dinosaur themed curtains range and we thought it was time we moved this particular dinosaur into the spotlight.  After all, as far as we know there has only been a handful of Herrersaurus dinosaur models made to date.

To view the Everything Dinosaur bedroom range: Dinosaur Bedding and Bedroom Accessories

We know that these dinosaurs lived tough lives.  A skull discovered in 1988 has tooth marks on the dentary (lower jaw) indicating that this dinosaur was bitten to the bone by another predator, perhaps a Herrerasaurus or maybe an unknown Theropod yet to be discovered – ouch!  There is also a dinosaur model of Herrerasaurus, part of the Collecta dinosaur model series.

Ancient Birds Behaved the Same Way as Modern Birds – Fossils Reveal

Ancient Shorebirds Pecked and Scratched just like their Modern Counterparts

A trace fossil discovered in South Korea indicates that Cretaceous shorebirds pecked and scratched at the ground just like their modern counterparts.  University of Kansas researchers, studying the fossil have suggested that ancient birds shuffled along muddy flats and pecked at the ground, behaviour seen in today’s shorebirds.  The marks and scratches found in the fossil are very similar to the marks left behind as shorebirds scratch and peck at the mud looking for invertebrates to eat.

Commenting on the paper which describes the research, due to be presented at the meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver at the end of this month, palaeontologist Amanda Falk (University of Kansas) stated:

“These tell us what animals were doing.  The behaviours are pretty much identical to modern plovers and sandpipers.”

Falk and her adviser Dr. Stephen T. Hasiotis in their study suggest that the trace fossils represent two different species of birds, or perhaps a single species working at two different speeds as they patrol the mud looking for food.

Amanda and Stephen with one of the Casts made of the Trace Fossil

Picture Credit: Dr. S. T. Hasiotis/University of Kansas, Dept of Geology

These are not the first bird trace fossils to have been discovered, other fossils have been excavated in Utah and Alaska, but such ancient bird trackways are very rare.  This is the first time the behaviour of birds has been recorded from the Early Cretaceous (110 million years ago – Aptian faunal stage).  For graduate student Amanda, the fossilised trackways are helping her to understand more about the different types of bird that existed alongside the dinosaurs during this part of the Mesozoic.  Her studies of trackways is helping her to identify different types of birds, such as ground dwelling ones and those that were capable of perching, indicating an arboreal habit.

Graduate Student Amanda

Trace Bird Fossils

Picture Credit: Dr. S. T. Hasiotis/University of Kansas, Dept. of Geology

Amanda’s Masters thesis concerned a behavioural analysis of Cretaceous bird tracks from two locations in North America.  Her work is assisting scientists allowing them to distinguish different types of bird from the trackways and other trace fossils the birds have left behind.

Dr. Stephen Hasiotis

The proud tutor

Picture Credit: Dr. S. T. Hasiotis/University of Kansas, Dept. of Geology

Associate professor, Dr. Hasiotis will be presenting a paper on this study at the forthcoming meeting of the Geological Society of America with his student Amanda Falk.

The South Korean tracks say a lot about the feeding behaviour of ancient birds.  Martin Lockley of the University of Colorado in Denver, commented:

“Herons do a shuffling behaviour to stir up the substrate and find food.  These are just the sort of tracks seen in the rocks.  Then again, there are no herons known from the Cretaceous.”

He went onto to propose that the tracks plus the behavioural marks suggest two interesting possibilities.  Firstly, it could suggest that some clades of modern birds are very old, dating from the Cretaceous, making some birds seen today “living fossils”.

Secondly, that these trace fossils are examples of convergent evolution.  Organisms not related to each other develop the same solutions to a problem such as the Australian marsupial the  Echidna and a hedgehog having spines.  Early Cretaceous birds were not closely related to modern birds but evolved the same kind of feet, beaks and feeding strategies because they occupied the same type of ecological niches.

Dr. Lockley, a professor of geology added:

“All these wader and water birds have very similar feet and so there’s no reason to think they could not have evolved 110 million years ago as well.”

The Haman Formation, where the bird tracks were found, has been the focus of research into ancient birds and other Mesozoic creatures for some time, but until now most of the work on the trace fossils dealt with classifying the tracks.  It is scientists like Amanda Falk and her supervisor Stephen who are now extending the research and looking into the behavioural aspects of the trackways.

The Haman Formation of South Korea is proving a happy hunting ground for trace fossils including dinosaur trackways.  Recently, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of Dromaeosaur trackways (raptor footprints) in the Haman Formation.

To read more about this discovery: Dromaeosaur Trackway Discovered in South Korea

Fixing a Wobbly Plastic Dinosaur Model

How to Repair a Plastic Dinosaur Model

Sometimes, we encounter a problem with a dinosaur model, the model will not stand upright.  This effects mainly bipeds, models of prehistoric animals such as Carnotaurus, Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex for example.  It can be a little frustrating when this happens, however it is worth remembering that the Dinosauria were especially adapted to a cursorial lifestyle and their stance was one of the reasons for their success.

Dinosaurs walked on their toes, unlike us humans who walk on the whole of the foot.  Most reptiles sprawl with their legs at the side of the bodies, but dinosaurs carried their limbs directly underneath their bodies, just like mammals.  This is a much more efficient method of walking about when compared to the sprawling stance of lizards and crocodiles for instance.

However, having  a two-legged dinosaur model that does not stand upright is no fun, so we at Everything Dinosaur have produced a short video that explains how immersing the plastic model in very hot water for a few seconds can allow you to correct the pose and then get the dinosaur to stand up properly.

How to Fix a Wobbly Plastic Dinosaur Model

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Fixing a wobbly dinosaur by immersing the model in hot water, is quick and easy to do.  You will find that the plastic model becomes much more malleable and you can manipulate the legs so that the model can stand upright.  By fixing a model in this way, you will become very popular with the young dinosaur fans in your household and you won’t have to make the toy dinosaur extinct.

1,200 New Species Discovered in the Amazon since 1999

1,200  New Species Discovered in the Amazon in the Last Decade

In a report published on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), highlighting the need to conserve the Amazon rain forest and the diversity of life within it, it is estimated that 1,200 new species of animals and plants have been discovered between 1999 and 2009.

In the report, presented to delegates at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, a conference taking place in Nagoya, Japan, a total of 1,200 new species discovered between 1999 and 2009 are listed – highlighting the importance of the rain forest ecosystem.

Making up the 1,200 new species are 637 new species of plants, 257 fish, 216 amphibians, 55 new species of reptile, 16 birds and 39 new species of mammal.  Meg Symington, speaking on behalf of the WWF commented that the actual number of new species discovered would have been much higher:

“Because we didn’t include insects.”

The report is entitled “Amazon Alive: A Decade of Discoveries 1999-2009, it highlights the need to protect the Amazon rain forest and other habitats.  Scientists have estimated that something like 17% of the Amazon rain forest has already been destroyed, lost forever as land is converted to settlement, farming or for logging.

Speaking about the urgent need to conserve the Amazonian rain forest Meg went onto state that about an acre per minute is being deforested and with that rate of destruction, the species that lived there lose ground and come closer to extinction.

At this speed, an area the size of our home county (Cheshire) is being lost in a little under a week!

Meg Symington, WWF’s Managing Director for the Amazon added:

“You lose millions of years of evolutionary development in an instant, that includes the medical and scientific possibilities each of those species represent.”

Some of the species recently discovered include a blue-fanged tarantula, a bald-headed parrot, a new species of river dolphin and a new species of anaconda.

The anaconda, is the first new anaconda species identified since 1936, it grows to an estimated 4 metres in length and is native to Bolivia. It has been named Eunectes beniensis, it is also known as the Bolivian Anaconda.

Eunectes beniensis – The First New Species of Anaconda Discovered for over Seventy Years

Picture Credit: José Maria Fernández Díaz-Formentí

This new species of South American constrictor, appears to be smiling in the picture, as if it was quite proud of being discovered.  The smile effect is due to the snake’s large mouth, some species Anacondas are capable of growing to lengths in excess of 7 metres and they are the world’s heaviest snake.

Deforestation in the Amazon basin remains “alarmingly high” according to a recent Food and Agriculture Organisation (United Nations) report.  It has been estimated that something like 13 million hectares of forest had been converted to other forms of land use over the last ten years or so.

The People Behind Prehistoric Animal Animatronics and Puppetry

Crawley Creatures Ltd – Bringing Prehistoric Animals Back to Life

Have you ever wondered how some of the amazing animals seen in television programmes and films about prehistoric animals are brought to life on the screen?  It’s not all CGI, especially when close up shots are required and the prehistoric animals, be they a Sabre Tooth Cat, a huge Pterosaur or a fearsome meat-eating dinosaur have to be filmed interacting with their environment.

Team members at Everything Dinosaur, in the course of their work, got the chance to put a few questions to Jez Gibson Harris, the Director of UK based Crawley Creatures Ltd, a company that specialises in producing animatronic creatures, prosthetic make-ups, action props and models for feature films, television programmes and commercials.

It was the dedicated team of skilled craftsmen and artists at Crawley Creatures that produced the amazing creatures seen in the ground breaking “Walking with Dinosaurs” television series and the subsequent programmes “Walking with Beasts” as well as specials such as “The Ballard of Big Al”, the story of one particular Allosaurus fragilis close to our hearts as well as “The Giant Claw” and “Sea Monsters”.

The Head of an Allosaurus (for “The Lost World”)

Picture Credit: Crawley Creatures

The superb head of the fierce Mesozoic predator Allosaurus (A. fragilis).

To view Crawley Creature’s website: Crawley Creatures Ltd

With a huge variety of television work, as well as special projects for museums, galleries and other institutions, not to mention nearly 30 feature film credits, the team at Crawley Creatures are very busy people, but Director Jez, took time out of his busy schedule to answer a couple of questions we at Everything Dinosaur asked:

What was the most challenging work you and your team had to do for the “Walking with Dinosaurs” TV series?

“Our greatest challenge is always working against time.  For WwD  & WwB [Walking with Dinosaurs and Walking with Beasts] we would only have six weeks between location shoots to make a whole host of creatures, animatronic heads of dinosaurs or creature elements for the next episode (for WwD we made just over 80 different items altogether).

Frequently the paint would be wet as the last of the creatures were placed into a huge packing crate with the transport truck waiting outside the workshop to take the shipment to the aircraft.

Logistics were a huge challenge.  When we filmed on location there were only a team of eight people and most of the locations were very remote.  Each location lasted about four weeks and would provide the footage predominantly for one episode of the series.

Sometimes our creations had to be dropped in by helicopter or crammed into small jet boats to reach the remote locations and then so would we.  During a three week filming trip to south Island New Zealand it rained in torrents every day, but when at intervals the rain stopped we filmed like crazy but the continuity of the river we were filming around was hard to match as everyday the river got wider and wider.”

Commenting on the particular difficulties the locations for the six part series “Walking with Dinosaurs”, Director Jez added:

Episode one [New Blood] was shot mostly in French Caledonia, lots of red soil and fantastic primitive trees to represent the Triassic.  At the time the French army were doing manoeuvres on the island and the crew kept bumping into tanks and being questioned by the two opposing sides as to whether we had seen the other side and how many tanks etc. we had seen.

Episode six [Death of a Dynasty] was filmed in a fantastic volcano park with active volcanoes and vast black lava and ash fields and a big Araucaria tree (Monkey Puzzle tree) forest in Chile (I thought this was the best location of all and would highly recommend Chile as an exciting place to visit, absolutely stunning!)

Given Crawley Creatures involvement in other prehistoric animal documentaries and programmes, what has been the most difficult animal to model?

For WwDinos I think Ornithocheirus [flying reptile] was the most challenging.  This huge Pterosaur had a wingspan of up to 10 metres, (33 feet), and our challenge was how to make the head, which was over a metre long, extremely light weight so that it could be puppeteered effectively.  The complete model of the Pterosaur had to work as a sitting creature in its roosting site and as a stretched out dead creature lying on a beach.  Trying to create the realistic looking flexible wing membranes was tricky.  But we ended up finding a roll of automotive skin textured leatherette which we used to cast the latex rubber wing membranes onto, which proved to work exceptionally well.

For the third series, Walking with Monsters, we had to make a Lystrosaur a quadruped (a tusked, pig-like creature) and a Proterosuchus a type of hook-nosed early crocodile, the two creatures had to be swimming and the Proterosuchus attacks the Lystrosaur in the water, this was filmed in a lake in the Canary Islands and involved the Lystrosaur being on a track and co-ordinating a team of people puppeteering the movements whilst underwater.  The end result worked very well.

The Beautiful Head of A Smilodon (Walking with Beasts)

Beautiful Smilodon replica

Picture Credit: Crawley Creatures

If Crawley Creatures Ltd were given a free hand, what animal from the fossil record would you like to make a model of?

I guess it would have to be a full-sized Tyrannosaurus rex, every-ones favourite.  We have made a head before, but the full-sized beast would be fabulous!

Finally, what other projects are you working on?

“At the moment we are working on a large project for a new museum, currently under construction in Athens, Greece, for which we are making about 60 items.  These range from large Carboniferous insects and trees to small Jurassic Pterosaurs to huge Dinosaurs.  We are currently in the early stages of working on a full-sized 16 metre long Apatosaurus and a 10 metre Allosaurus which is very exciting.”

We wish Director Jez and his team every success with this project and all the very best for the future.

Meteor Blast Led to Explosion of Palaeozoic Lifeforms Claim Scientists

Ordovician Meteor Blast Led to Explosion of Life

Many people may be aware of the impact of an extraterrestrial object on the destruction of many forms of life on Earth, such as the huge asteroid collision that aided and abetted the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  However, asteroids and meteor collisions may have had a deeper impact on life on Earth than previously thought.  Indeed, such natural catastrophes could have helped “spur on” evolution and led to an increase in diversity of organisms.

Scientists have found evidence to suggest that an increase in Ordovician life forms may be due to a bombardment of extraterrestrial objects about 470 million years ago.  The researchers have hypothesised that the disintegration of a huge asteroid meant that planet Earth was repeatedly struck by fragments of rock at a vital stage in the evolution of life on Earth.

The theory that such impacts may have kick-started evolution and led to an acceleration  in the evolution of animal families is set out in a new book – “Incoming” by Ted Nield, editor of Geoscientist, the journal of the Geological Society of London.

Dr. Nield, a geologist by training stated:

“The picture emerging from new research is that around 470 million years ago a stupendous collision in the asteroid belt [between Mars and Jupiter] bombarded the Earth with meteorites and this may have been responsible for the single greatest increase in biological diversity since the origin of complex life.”

The book “Incoming” or “Why we should stop worrying and learn to love the meteorite”, is based on the extensive studies carried out by Professor Birger Schmitz of the University of Lund (Sweden).  He analysed rock samples taken from five Swedish quarries, finding that in strata dating from around 470 million years ago there was a massive concentration of fossilised meteorites.  The concentration was over 100 times what would have been expected under “normal” meteorite bombardment conditions.

Professor Schmitz commented:

“The original asteroid that broke up was perhaps a few hundred kilometres in diameter so there were a lot of fragments.  The size would have been up to 10 kilometres across, roughly the same diameter as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.”

The professor added:

“We think that there were quite a few really big impactors and these would have had the power to change life on Earth.”

Could a Meteor Blast have Changed Life on Earth?

Picture Credit: astro-virginia.edu

Professor Schmitz has travelled to other parts of the world, testing his theory regarding the increased concentration of fossilised meteorites in Ordovician strata.  He has recorded similar increases in meteorite fragment concentrations, reaffirming the results of his work in Sweden.

There may be a body of evidence to suggest that our planet was bombarded by space debris around 470 million years ago, planet Earth has been hit by such bodies on numerous occasions in its 4.7 billion year history.  Indeed, some scientists consider such impacts inevitable describing near space around our planet as a “cosmic shooting gallery”.  The point to consider is this – did these impacts in the Ordovician result in the sudden increase in life forms seen in the fossil record of Ordovician strata?

On this point, Professor Schmitz is more cautious, stating:

“The theory is controversial because most scientists believe that meteorite impacts cause extinction.  This is true, but 470 million years ago diversity was pretty low – so there were far fewer species to wipe out.  Our theory is that the impacts changed the climate and geology of the Earth and that species had to adapt rapidly to big changes or go extinct.”

To read another article on how extraterrestrial impacts could have affected life on Earth: Jurassic explosion could have led to the demise of the Dinosaurs

During the Ordovician Period (lasting from around 488 million years ago to 443 million years ago), the nature of marine faunas changed dramatically.  Cambrian faunas were replaced with a more diverse assemblage in the mid-Ordovician and the first animals began to colonise the land (Arthropods).  The end of the Ordovician is marked by the first major extinction event recorded in the fossil record.  Many types of Arthropod, notably Trilobites and other forms of marine life such as the Brachiopods, Graptolites and Corals became extinct.

Following the “Cambrian explosion” – a rapid diversification of marine life that occurred some 80 million years before the Ordovician meteorite bombardment, the fossil record shows a relative lull in the speed of evolution.  However, from the Dapingian faunal age (at around 471 million years ago) there is evidence to suggest a burst of evolution.  This has been recorded in the fossil record.  This increase in diversity coincides with the meteor impacts – could the impacts have acted as a catalyst to speed up evolutionary development?

The impacts would have brought about local, widespread devastation, altering environments and effecting the climate.  These exogenous forces would have led to the demise of some types of animal but created opportunities for others.  The break up of the asteroid and the resulting collisions with Earth could have given evolution a kick start.  At this time in Earth’s history, the most advanced vertebrate creatures on the planet were primitive, jawless fishes.  Eight groups of these fossil fish have been identified in the fossil record (Agnathans), these types of vertebrate diversified and could have benefited from the meteor impacts, thus spurring on vertebrate evolution.  Invertebrates may also have perversely benefited from the extraterrestrial interventions with more advanced Cephalopods and Arthropods evolving, perhaps even the motivation to colonise the land was in part dictated by conditions that arose as a result of the meteorite bombardments.

Attenborough’s Journey

David Attenborough’s Journey a Prelude to the new BBC Documentary Series

On Sunday at 8pm (GMT), BBC Two will show the one hour television documentary called “Attenborough’s Journey”, the prelude to the new BBC natural history series “First Life” that tells the story of how the first animals and plants evolved.  “First Life” charts the origins of life on Earth and combines visits to some of the world’s most important fossil locations with ground-breaking CGI footage to bring long extinct animals such as Trilobites and Anomalocaris back to life.

“Attenborough’s Journey” is a documentary about the making of the “First Life” series it follows Sir David Attenborough as he travels the world to film this new set of television programmes.  As Sir David (aged 84), journeys to the parts of the world that have had a special meaning to him in his fifty or so years of broadcasting.  He visits his childhood home in Leicestershire where he first collected fossils, including Ammonites and Trilobites.  He then travels onto Morocco’s arid deserts, again onward to the glaciers of Canada, before visiting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Sir David Attenborough Focusing on a Piece to Camera

Picture Credit: BBC

As an introduction to the “First Life” series of documentary programmes, “Attenborough’s Journey” provides a unique insight into the mind and character of one of the world’s most famous and well-travelled broadcasters.  This documentary combines recent footage shot on various locations with archive footage from Sir David’s five decades of television programme making.

When Sir David was asked about how he keeps going, despite being 84 years young, he commented that, although he has a few aches and pains there was no point worrying about it.

He said in an interview before his 84th birthday:

“My legs don’t work and people say, ‘You should have a knee replacement’, but when you are 83 there would be another year or 18 months of pain and stuff, and by that time you are 85, 86.  Come on!  We are mortal and you cannot make yourself a 26-year-old again.  You might as well cope with it the way it is going.”

We can’t wait for the TV programmes to be aired and I know a couple of my colleagues have already requested the book that accompanies the “First Life” series be added to their Christmas lists.

Another Request for Placerias

Placerias – Popular with Walking with Dinosaur Fans

Although it is over ten years since the ground breaking “Walking with Dinosaurs” documentary series first aired on television, we still receive lots of requests for models of the prehistoric animals featured in the six programmes.  This is because the series is frequently repeated but also we think it is a testament to the quality of the programmes made.

We get requests for models of Postosuchus and Scutosaurus, although Scutosaurus did not appear in the original “Walking with Dinosaurs”, it appeared in the later “Walking with Monsters”, that dealt with evolution up until the beginning of the Mesozoic.  It seems that the most frequently requested model is that of a Placerias – fortunately, our experts are on hand to help out.

We have a wonderful model of this Therapsid, it looks very similar to the animals seen in the television series and its size helps it to fit in with other scale models of Triassic prehistoric animals.

Everything Dinosaur’s Placerias Model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Our model of this one tonne “tusker” has been used in various museum and school displays, best of all as it is part of our range of prehistoric animal models it is extremely cheap!

To view the prehistoric animal model series: Dinosaur Presents and Gifts

Our team of specialist are always on hand to advise and make suggestions, all part of our mission statement to try to make dinosaur fans happy.

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