Palaeontology Predictions for 2011

What’s on the Horizon for 2011?

With the year coming to a close, this is a time for looking back and reflecting on the news stories and events of the last twelve months.  It is also an opportune moment to consider what news stories and articles we may be writing about in the year ahead.

There is certainly a great deal going on in the field of Earth sciences at the moment.  Parts of the world, not previously well explored, are being mapped with many new fossil sites discovered.  In addition, lots of new research techniques are being applied to existing fossils and a substantial amount of new data is being collected.

Just for a bit of fun, we thought it would be a good idea if we had a go at predicting some of the news stories that may break in 2011.

So in no particular order, here are seven of our best guesses:

1). New Ceratopsian Genus to be Described

A number of new horned dinosaur genera have been described in the last year and we at Everything Dinosaur, expect this trend to continue.  This year we have had Sinoceratops (China), the giant Coahuilaceratops from Mexico, plus a number of new Ceratopsian genera from the western United States and Canada, Medusaceratops for example.  We expect the trend for horned dinosaur discoveries to continue in 2011.

2). Fresh Insight into Neanderthals

With the current work on the human genome and the extensive scientific study of hominid fossils we would expect to hear more about our closest hominid relatives on the human family tree.  Further insights into Neanderthal culture and behaviour, evidence perhaps of cross-breeding plus more data on Homo heidelbergensis.  We base this assumption on the fact that improved stability in countries like Iraq will permit the further exploration of a number of important hominid fossil sites.

3).  Further Marine Reptile Discoveries from the Jurassic Coast

We would expect to report on further marine reptile finds from Dorset’s Jurassic coast over the next twelve months.  We suspect that this World Heritage status stretch of coastline (UNESCO) will yield further fossils of marine reptiles – Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs almost certainly, and perhaps one or two significant Pliosaur fossils.

4). A New Trilobite Hunt for Everything Dinosaur

We predict that 2011 will give team members at Everything Dinosaur the chance to add to their collection of British Trilobite fossils.  We intend to organise a number of Trilobite fossil hunting trips, this time in Wales as well as in the midlands of England.

5). Everything Dinosaur Web Log to Reach 150,000 page views in a Month

The Everything Dinosaur web log or blog, first published online in May 2007, is going to be four years old next year.  Something like 1500 articles on prehistoric animal discoveries, palaeontologists and all things dinosaur would have been written by the time the fourth anniversary comes around.  Readership has grown steadily since the blog’s inception.  We try to inform, write in an appropriate style and to educate.  As a result of our continuing efforts we could break the 150,000 page views per month threshold sometime in the next few months.  Quite an achievement for these “dino buffs”.  We continue to commit a lot of our time to researching and writing articles, our intention is to try to add to the web log every day.

6).  Fossil Thefts to Continue

The theft of fossils from dig sites, we predict, will continue and indeed the black market for fossils and other rare artefacts will continue to grow.  Many newly discovered fossil locations and dig sites will be raided by trophy hunters and amateur fossil collectors.  A lot of the items will find their way into the hands of private collectors, either through under the counter sales or via auction sites.  These items will not be available for study by scientists and so their value to the scientific community is likely to be lost forever.  The removal of such objects from fossil sites, also denies palaeontologists the opportunity to study specimens “in situ”, thus valuable data about context, the environment and the fossilisation process may be lost.

7).  New Dinosaur Genus from the Korean Peninsula to be Announced

As relatively unexplored parts of the world are opened up, we can expect a lot of new dinosaur and prehistoric animal discoveries in 2011.  Expect a number of new finds from China, Spain, Portugal, Canada and the United States.  New dinosaurs from South America will also be announced next year, but we will predict that some of the more out of the way places will provide some exciting, new dinosaur discoveries over the next twelve months.  We predict that at least one new type of dinosaur from the Korean peninsula will be announced.

So just for a bit of fun, a quick list of some of the things we expect to be writing about in 2011.  One of the first things we must do in January is to review our list of predictions that we made in 2010, to see how well (or not so well) we did.

Series Four of Primeval Starts on Saturday

Primeval back on the Television with a new Series

The time travelling television series Primeval is back on terrestrial television this Saturday (New Years Day) with the start of the fourth series.  Although there have been a number of cast changes, the format is still the same with our team of dedicated scientists trying to solve the riddle of time portals that open up to permit creatures from different periods in Earth’s history to visit the Holocene.

Prior to Primeval being broadcast on ITV1, the second ITV channel is showing a behind the scenes documentary with interviews with cast members, production crew and the special effects designers.  We can be fairly certain the dinosaurs will feature heavily in series four, expect a Spinosaurus and a baby “Spino” to be just two of the prehistoric animals the ARC team encounter.

Review of New Horned Dinosaurs Book – “New Perspectives”

Review of “New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs”

New Perspectives”, or to give the book its full title – “New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs – The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium” is a comprehensive review of virtually all the recently published papers and journal articles on the Ceratopsians.  It is everything and anything to do with that great family of Ornithischian dinosaurs, the horned dinos, from Psittacosaurus to the enormous Triceratops.

Over the last three years or so, there have been a number of spectacular new discoveries and a lot of exciting research carried out on the Ceratopsians and this volume, sets out to update readers on the latest interpretation of their fossil record.  The book is split into thirty-six chapters and it is edited by Dr. Michael J. Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Dr. Brenda J. Chinnery-Allgeier of the University of Texas and Dr. David Eberth of the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Alberta, Canada).

The list of contributors reads like a “who’s who” of modern palaeontology with contributions from the likes of esteemed scientists such as Phil Currie, Peter Dodson, Scott Sampson and Peter Larson.  More than five hundred pages dedicated to all things Ceratopsian, including descriptions of ten new types, which have recently been discovered.

Although, the book focuses mainly on North American discoveries there are some fascinating chapters dedicated to horned dinosaurs from farther afield.   For example, there is a chapter dedicated to the research on Archaeoceratops (China), as well as a new look at Psittacosaurus and a paper on insect trace fossils associated with the rotting remains of Protoceratops.

This really is a comprehensive guide and ideal for the undergraduate student, or enthusiastic amateur.  The book is very technical and is therefore not suitable for children.

Neanderthals Ate Their Greens

New Study Indicates much more Varied Diet for Neanderthals

The image of a brutish Neanderthal, armed with a primitive club and barely able to string together a series of grunts as a form of language has largely been dispelled.  Recent studies have changed dramatically our understanding and the subsequent image of the Neanderthal.  These people were sophisticated and very well adapted to the harsh climate of Europe back in the Pleistocene.  Their brains may actually have been bigger than our own (certainly in cubic volume terms).  However, one of the main differences between H. neanderthalensis and our own species, H. sapiens was thought to concern diet.  It had been suggested that Neanderthals consumed a lot more meat than us.  They were portrayed as being almost totally carnivorous.  Their dependence on large animals to hunt, creatures such as the Woolly Mammoth was thought to have made this particular species of human more vulnerable to extinction.  Once the large mammals died out, the Neanderthals would have gone too.

A new study, published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, shows that Neanderthal diet was far more sophisticated than previously thought, and on a par with our own species.

Fond of his Greens?

Picture Credit: Action Press/Rex Features

There have been a number of papers published this year demonstrating how closely the Neanderthals were to our species.  A scientific paper, released this spring, investigated the origin of what we call “human emotions”, to read more about this:

The Origin of Human Empathy

The revision of Neanderthal dietary habits has come about after an extensive study of their fossilised teeth.  Analysis of microscopic food particles trapped in Neanderthal teeth reveal evidence of a rich and varied diet, indicating that Neanderthals were able to exploit a variety of food resources.

The study reveals that Neanderthals ate a wide range of vegetables and pulses, such as wild grasses, beans, roots, tubers and date palms.  Much of the material studied confirms that Neanderthals cooked their food.  Cooking allows foods to be digested more easily and permits more nutrients to be extracted – perhaps each family group had their own favourite recipes.

The evidence, collated from a number of Neanderthal fossil sites, including cave sites in Iraq and Belgium suggest that Neanderthals controlled fire and ate a variety of food stuffs.

Commenting on the study, a spokesperson for the researchers stated:

 ”Our results… suggest an overall sophistication in Neanderthal dietary regimes.”

Amateur Palaeontologist Claims “World’s First Pterosaur Embryo”

CT Scan reveals Prehistoric Animal Embryos in Fossilised Eggs

Amateur palaeontologist and dinosaur enthusiast Dr. Neal Naranjo was given quite a surprise when he had part of his extensive fossil collection subjected to CT scans, an egg from his collection, may contain the fossilised remains of a Pterosaur embryo.  If this turns out to be true, then this would be the first evidence of a flying reptile embryo discovered to date.

Pterosaurs are an extinct group of flying reptiles.  Their wings were formed out of skin that stretched from the body over the forelimbs and along an elongated fourth finger of each hand.  These creatures evolved in the Triassic and survived until the end of the Cretaceous Period, some sixty-five million years ago.

Texas resident, Dr. Naranjo whose ambition is to open a natural history museum, took six eggs from his collection, all thought to be dating from the Cretaceous; but from a variety of different reptiles, to a local medical centre to have them scanned by a CT scanner so that their contents could be seen.  To his surprise, five of the eggs showed signs of containing the preserved remains of a baby prehistoric animal.

A CT (stands for computerised tomography) scanner sends out a series of powerful X-rays and enables researchers to build up a three-dimensional picture of the internal structure of an object.  Normally, such machines are located in hospitals or universities and provide information to doctors and other practitioners with regards to medical matters, but the strong X-rays can also penetrate rock and enable palaeontologists to see inside a fossil without having to dissect it.

CT scanners are used quite frequently by palaeontologists, for example, the giant Dorset Pliosaur fossil is currently being scanned to build up a more complete picture of the internal structure of this huge predator’s jaws and skull.

To read more about the Dorset Pliosaur: Giant Pliosaur Fossil goes for a CT Scan

When asked why, he sent the eggs for scanning, Dr. Neal stated:

“I had these eggs, and I was always curious and wondering if something was inside.”

Although the Pterosaur embryo has still to be formerly examined by museum specialists, if this specimen does prove to be the fossil of a baby Pterosaur still within its egg, it will be the first such find known to science.

Pterosaur fossils are exceptionally rare, their pneumatised bones, although strong, are rarely preserved and we at Everything Dinosaur are only aware of a handful of Pterosaur eggs being known from the fossil record.

A Model of a Late Cretaceous Pterosaur (P. longiceps)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture shows a model of a fossilised skeleton of a Late Cretaceous flying reptile.  The kit is available to purchase online from Everything Dinosaur.

To view the Pterosaur skeleton model kit and other dinosaur crafts: Dinosaur Crafts for Kids

Some scientists believe that Pterosaur eggs were pliable, like extant turtle eggs and as they were more leathery then they would only survive the fossilisaton process in very rare instances.  Also, many Pterosaur species are associated with marine sediments and like seabirds today, they may have chosen out of the way, rocky islands and cliff tops on which to nest, so material from such sights would be very unlikely to have been preserved as fossils.

Describing the moment when the images of the baby Pterosaur first became apparent, Dr. Naranjo said:

“When we saw it, we started yelling and screaming and jumping up and down and going ‘it’s a baby, it’s a baby’”.

Dr. Naranjo has already received enquiries from a number of palaeontologists from the USA and Europe requesting that they be given the opportunity to examine the fossil in more detail.  He intends to take this specimen to the animal Tuscon Mineral and Fossil Show, so that experts can view it.

Although, most of the eggs scanned had been purchased, Dr. Naranjo had found one specimen himself and this particular fossil egg contained the preserved embryo of a bizarre Theropod called a Therizinosaur (Scythe Lizard).

Commenting on the successful use of the Medical Centre’s CT scanner, Radiology Director Rebecca Petty said:

“We were all excited, for us to get to help in something like this was amazing.”

In addition to the eggs, Dr. Naranjo brought in fossils from a Hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) he had found in Montana.  The dinosaur had been bitten in the leg during its lifetime, and the doctor was curious to see what they could learn from the bite wound (the study of infections and wounds in fossils is referred to as pathology).  The CT scan revealed that the dinosaur had suffered from an infection that went all the way to the bone marrow.  Despite the infection, the dinosaur survived.

Dr. Naranjo’s extensive fossil collection, including the eggs, will help form part of the collection for the Naranjo Natural History Museum, due to be sited in the town of Lufkin (Texas).  It has long been an ambition of Dr. Naranjo to help establish a natural history museum in the area, and a few weeks ago his plans were given the go ahead.

Review of “New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs”

Book Review – “New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs”

“New Perspectives”, or to give the book its full title – “New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs – The Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium” is a comprehensive review of virtually all the recently published papers and journal articles on the Ceratopsians.  It is everything and anything to do with that great family of Ornithischian dinosaurs, the horned dinos, from Psittacosaurus to the enormous Triceratops.

Over the last three years or so, there have been a number of spectacular new discoveries and a lot of exciting research carried out on the Ceratopsians and this volume, sets out to update readers on the latest interpretation of their fossil record.  The book is split into thirty-six chapters and it is edited by Dr. Michael J. Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Dr. Brenda J. Chinnery-Allgeier of the University of Texas and Dr. David Eberth of the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Alberta, Canada).

The list of contributors reads like a “who’s who” of modern palaeontology with contributions from the likes of esteemed scientists such as Phil Currie, Peter Dodson, Scott Sampson and Peter Larson.  More than five hundred pages dedicated to all things Ceratopsian, including descriptions of ten new types, which have recently been discovered.

Front Cover of “New Perspectives”

Picture Credit: Donna Sloan

The book can be further divided into five distinct sections.  Part one sets the scene and provides an overview of the research carried out on Ceratopsids since the 1970s.  Part two, updates the reader on the latest research, highlights new discoveries and introduces the recently discovered new taxa.  The third part of the book, describes the latest research on Ceratopsian behaviour, anatomy, ontogeny and functional biology.

The penultimate part of the book, entitled “Horned Dinosaurs in Time and Space”, sets out to establish how these dinosaurs became so diverse and radiated out into a myriad of different environments and ecosystems.  This section also provides some remarkable insights into Ceratopsid trace fossils and bone beds.

The final part of the book provides a history of horned dinosaur fossil collections, and this section works well with the excellent CD-rom that accompanies the volume.  The CD-rom lists Ceratopsian discoveries and focuses on the work on Ceratopsids in Canada.

The book is very technical and not really suitable for the casual reader and there are very few colour plates (hence the CD-rom), however, it is a “must have” for any budding undergraduate studying related Earth Sciences and for the enthusiastic amateur.

Merry Christmas from all at Everything Dinosaur

Merry Christmas!

Seasons greetings to all our customers and readers of the Everything Dinosaur web log.  It has been a very busy year with lots of new research, exciting discoveries and some amazing fossil finds.  The compliments of the season to all our readers.

We at Everything Dinosaur, are already looking forward to 2011 and to all the new dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed articles that we will be writing.  Our aim is to write a new article for every single day, so there will be plenty of work ahead of us.

Merry Christmas from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Wishing all our customers and readers a lovely Christmas and a happy New Year.

Scanning a Pliosaur CT Scan to see if Dorset Giant is a New Species

Giant Dorset Pliosaur Fossil gets CT Scan

The fossilised remains of the skull and jaws of a giant sea monster of the Late Jurassic are to be scanned by one of the country’s most powerful CT scanners in a bid to learn more about the huge animal.  The analysis of thousands of X-ray images all helping to build up a 3-D image of the beast, may lead scientists to conclude that this is a new species of marine reptile.

Last year we reported on the discovery of huge 2.4 metre long fossil jaws that had been discovered on the Dorset coast.  The jaws and part of the skull that was also found belonged to a giant Pliosaur, a marine reptile that would have been one of the top predators in the sea during the Late Jurassic, an animal capable of attacking and killing any other animal in its environment.  At the time of the discovery, local palaeontologist and Plesiosaur expert Richard Forrest stated that this Pliosaur would have made T. rex “look like a kitten”.

To read the article on the discovery: Giant Dorset Pliosaur Discovery

The X-rays will help to build up a three dimensional image of the skull, jaws and teeth providing scientists with an opportunity to look inside the fossil without actually having to dissect the fossilised bones.  The scans could establish if the giant fossil represents a new species, perhaps one of the largest carnivores known to science.

The most famous of all the Pliosaurs, certainly one popular with young dinosaur fans who have watched the BBC documentary series “Walking with Dinosaurs” is Liopleurodon.  In the television series, Liopleurodon was depicted as being a ferocious hunter that measured over 25 metres in length and weighed a colossal 150 tonnes.  In reality the evidence of Pliosaurs this big is not that convincing, Liopleurodon ferox for example, a species of Liopleurodon which has a number of fossil specimens ascribed to it, was perhaps as long as ten metres or so.  The Dorset giant, was probably bigger but without more body fossils it is hard to accurately determine just how large this animal was.

A Model of the Pliosaur Liopleurodon

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

At the moment, palaeontologists have estimated that the “Dorset Giant” may have measured between 10 and 16 metres in length and weighed between 7 and 12 tonnes.

The skull, which was unearthed by a local fossil collector and then purchased by Dorset Country Council using Heritage Lottery Funds, is currently being removed from its matrix by expert fossil preparator Scott Moore-Fay.  Scott estimates that to prepare the fossil completely it is going to take more than 1,000 hours.

An Illustration Showing the Scale of the Pliosaur

Pliosaur compared to Orca etc

Picture Credit: Press Source

The diagram above shows the potential size of the Dorset Pliosaur, comparing it to a Killer Whale (Orca) and a frogman.  Over the last few years a number of fragmentary Pliosaur remains have been discovered around the world, from places like Norway, Antarctica and Russia, which ones represent the largest types of Pliosaur has led to a lot of debate and discussion amongst palaeontologists.

Commenting on his work Scott said:

“It’s incredibly exciting.  Nobody has ever seen this fossil, so I get to see it as it is coming out of the rock – it is almost like magic.”

However, while preparatory work can reveal the surface of the fossil in remarkable detail, a more hi-tech solution is needed to probe deeper inside.  Once the discovery was publicised, Professor Ian Sinclair at the nearby University of Southampton contacted the fossil’s owners and offered them the opportunity to use the powerful CT scanner that was being erected in the University’s engineering sciences department.

Professor Sinclair stated:

“When we have the situation of rare samples that are precious, like the Pliosaur, we have to extract the most amount of information from them and we certainly don’t want to destroy them, so this really is the perfect tool.”

The CT scanner, which has been funded by the Engineering Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of Southampton, is one of the most powerful machines of its kind in the UK, and one of the largest.  Such a large and powerful machine is essential if the rock matrix surrounding the precious fossil is to be penetrated and the secrets inside the fossil revealed.

This super scanner works in much the same way as a hospital CT scanner, although at much higher energy and resolution, by taking thousands of X-rays to build up an image of whatever object is inside.

University of Southampton engineer Dr Mark Mavrogordato explained:

“At the end, you have a 3-D volume representing your original specimen.  And you can slice it, dice it, however you want, as if you could dissect it with a knife, but you are doing it digitally and non-destructively.”

The team has begun scanning the prepared fossil one piece at a time to reveal as complete a Pliosaur picture possible, including information about the internal bone structure and the positioning of hidden teeth.

Richard Forrest added:

“We hope that these CT scans will show the internal structure of the jaws, and how they are built to withstand such incredible forces.  By understanding this, we can learn more about its behaviour – how it hunted and attacked other creatures.”

The scans will also help to confirm whether this species is new to science.  If it is a new species it will need to be formally named and described.

Mr Forrest went on to comment:

 ”From the outside, it looks similar to other Pliosaurs found in the UK, although much, much bigger.  By looking at the inner architecture of the skull, in particular the brain-case, we should be able to establish if this is a species that we have not seen before.”

After the scientific analysis is complete and the fossil is fully prepared and mounted, it will go on display to the public in the summer 2011 at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.  It is hoped that the fossilised bones and teeth will be exhibited next to a life-size model of the animal’s huge, gaping jaws.  This would give visitors an impression as to just how terrifying this marine reptile would have been, as well as letting them gain an insight into the last view that many an Ichthyosaur or Plesiosaur would have seen before this huge leviathan gobbled them up.

Museums adviser for Dorset, David Tucker stated:

“The Pliosaur will be displayed with its mouth agape, allowing people to get the best possible understanding of what the beast would have looked like in life.  We’ll also have a massive, life-sized model of the head that will demonstrate how terrifying its teeth were.”

Window into an Ancient Post Permian Ecosystem

20,000 Fossils Provide Glimpse into Marine Ecosystem Post Mass Extinction Event

A hillside in south-west China has revealed a treasure trove of beautifully preserved fossils, capturing an almost entire ecosystem and providing scientists with an insight into how life on Earth recovered from the Permian mass extinction event.  The discovery of such a wealth of fossil material may help scientists to understand more about how ecosystems and natural communities recover from extinction events.

The mass extinction event that ended the reign of the dinosaurs may be better known, but the extinction event some 250 million years ago that ended the Permian Period was more severe with an estimated 95% of marine animal species dying out.  Scientists have calculated that approximately two-thirds of all the land vertebrate families also died out.  One of the factors involved in the mass extinction was a huge reduction in the total area of shallow continental shelf sea environments as plate movements created one, global, large land mass.  Ironically, the 16 metre thick limestone sediments that have yielded the fossils represent the deposits at the bottom of a shallow, marine environment.

A Beautifully Preserved Fossil of a Horseshoe Crab

Picture Credit: CGC

The record of this ancient marine ecosystem forms part of a hillside in Luoping County, Yunnan Province, south-west China.  Since 2007 teams of fieldworkers and researchers have been carefully examining and extracting fossils, mainly invertebrates such as molluscs, sea urchins and arthropods but also fish and marine reptiles including Ichthyosaurs.  Something like 20,000 specimens have been discovered so far, many of which have had soft body parts preserved providing palaeontologists with a huge amount of data about life in the early Triassic, post the Permian mass extinction event.

The excavation work was supervised by scientists from the Chengdu Geological Centre in China and the paper, which was co-authored by Professor Michael Benton (Bristol University) has been published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology)”.  The site preserves evidence of an entire marine ecosystem, providing scientists with an understanding of how organisms recovered from the Permian mass extinction event.

Amongst the many beautifully preserved remains are those of some of the earliest large marine reptiles known from the Triassic.  These animals would have been the apex predators, at the top of the food chain.  The biggest creature discovered so far is a Thalattosaur (name means “ocean lizards”), a type of marine reptile over 3 metres long, which would have preyed upon the larger fishes that lived in the shallows.  The exact phylogeny of the Thalattosaur group is not known, but most scientists believe that this group should be placed between the later Ichthyosaurs and more primitive Archosaurs that adopted a marine habit.

The Chinese scientists also unearthed a number of Ichthyosaurs, providing evidence of the evolutionary origins of this important group of marine predators.

One of the Ichthyosaur Specimens from the Luoping Site

Ichthyosaur Fossils Found

Picture Credit: CGC

Professor Shixue Hu of the Chengdu Geological Centre stated:

“It has taken us three years to excavate the site, and we moved tonnes of rock.  Now, with thousands of amazing fossils, we have plenty of work for the next ten years.”

Commenting on the discovery, Professor Benton (Bristol University) added:

“The fossils at Luoping have told us a lot about the recovery and development of marine ecosystems after the end-Permian mass extinction.  There is still more to be discovered there and we hope to get an even better picture of how life reasserted itself after the most catastrophic global event in the history of our planet.”

He went onto comment:

“The few hardy species that survived the ensuring scarcity of food, wild fluctuations in temperature and shortage of oxygen in the ocean served as the starting point for the recovery of life in the next geologic period, known as the Triassic.”

Until the discovery of the extensive fossil site at Luoping, very little fossil material from the Permian/Triassic boundary was known.  The strata has been dated to approximately 245 million years ago, providing an insight into the rise of life forms after a mass extinction event.

Only about half the site has been explored to date, scientists are confident that many new species will be unearthed.  The site has provided the researchers with a better understanding of how groups of organisms recovered from the extinction event.  It seems that small, marine invertebrates recovered first, with Ammonoids (cephalopods – Ammonites) reaching precataclysm levels of diversity within two million years, as did snails and other molluscs such as clams and oysters.  However, it seems that the severity of the extinction event meant that it took around ten million years for a fully established ecosystem to develop.  The site has also a number of fossils of land based organisms, including reptile teeth and plant material such as fir cones.  These items were washed into the sea by rivers that emptied into the shallow bay.

The Fossilised Tooth of an Archosaur (Reptile)

Achosaur Tooth

Picture Credit: CGC

The tooth is so well preserved that the serrated edges of the tooth can still be made out.  Archosaurs became the dominant land reptiles during the Triassic, the tooth was washed into the sea after having been shed on land.

Why are Pterosaurs sometimes called Pterodactyls?

The Confusion over Pterodactyls

As far as scientists have been able to ascertain from the fossil record, only a very few types of dinosaur evolved the ability of flight.  Of course, technically birds, of which there are something like 10,000 species today; evolved flight and these creatures could be classified as avian dinosaurs.  However, setting aside the Aves (birds) for one moment we know that the early Mesozoic skies came to be dominated by another group of reptiles – Pterosaurs.  Pterosaurs seem to have evolved sometime in the Mid Triassic.  Over the course of the next 160 million  years or so, they diversified into a myriad of different forms.  Some of these creatures were no bigger than blackbirds, others, for example a group known as the Azhdarchidae; evolved into flying reptiles the size of small aircraft.  However, all Pterosaurs had the same basic skeleton and body plan.

Pterosaurs (flying or winged lizards) are sometimes referred to as Pterodactyls (winged fingers).  Pterodactyl is the name for just one particular family of Pterosaurs, and in particular for a German flying reptile called Pterodactylus.  Fossils of Pterodactylus were found in the 19th Century and remain some of the most complete and best preserved of all Pterosaur fossils.  The name Pterodactyl became quite well known and used a lot in popular culture and as a result the name “Pterodactyl” – a term used colloquially to describe all Pterosaurs became established.

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