BBC Annouces Plans for their Dinosaur Season

The Dinosaurs are Back on the BBC – this time in 3-D

The BBC have announced details of their new ground breaking television programmes combining prehistoric animals, the latest research and new media technology.  This marks the first time that the BBC has developed a palaeontology themed television series since the world famous “Walking with Dinosaurs” aired more than a decade ago.

The new documentary series, filmed in 3-D is to be entitled “Planet Dinosaur” and focuses on the research that has been carried out since the “Walking with” series.  Dinosaurs featured will include Spinosaurus and the fierce, cannabalistic Majungasaurus (also known as Majungatholus).

To see a replica of Majungatholus and dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

The television programmes will also include giant marine reptiles such as the infamous Pliosaur “predator X”, perhaps the largest carnivore ever to live on planet Earth.  The three-part series will combine 3D graphics, computer imagery and photo-realistic fight scenes to give a fresh perspective on dinosaurs.  At Everything Dinosaur, we have been contacted to help with the graphics, advising on a number of projects associated with the programmes.

To accompany the programmes BBC 4 will show three documentaries – a sort of “making the sequels to Walking..”, they will be called How to build a dinosaur, Survivors and Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters.

Agreement Reached to Let Museum Continue its Dig for Ice Age Fossils

Denver Museum Reaches Agreement with Contractors

The Denver Museum of Science and Nature has reached agreement with contractors and the state’s historical preservation office to permit palaeontologists and field workers to return to a reservoir construction site where the fossils of a number of prehistoric mammals have been discovered.

The site at Ziegler Reservoir has already yielded a number of very well preserved Ice Age mammal fossils including Woolly Mammoth specimens, one of which has been named “Snowy” by local residents as the location is near to the small town of Snowmass.

To read more about the discoveries, including the finding of the fossilised skull of a huge extinct species of bison: Huge Prehistoric Bison Skull Unearthed in Colorado.

The agreement permits the museum staff to spend seven weeks from mid May until July 1st continuing the excavation work that commenced last October, after the first fossils were found by builders extending the reservoir.  The site marks an ancient lake bed which seems to have preserved a large number of mega fauna specimens, large Ice Age mammals including Mastodon and Mammoth remains.

The agreement will allow the scientists to have the extra time they need to explore and map the site before the bulldozers move in.  Hopefully any more large specimens can be located and extracted before the reservoir extension work goes ahead.

Described as a “once in a lifetime discovery”, by museum staff, the Snowmass site can provide vital information about the local large mammal population that roamed the area more than 10,000 years ago.

The “Walking Cactus” – Transitional Fossil between Worms and Arthropods?

The Worm that Walked Tall – Diania cactiformis

Approximately 520 million years ago (Mid Cambrian), slowly stalking its way across the muddy seabed of what was to become the Yunnan province of southern China was a bizarre worm-like creature that had ten pairs of partially-jointed, armoured legs.  This bizarre animal may represent the type of transitional animal between soft-bodied, legless worms and the armoured Arthropods such as Trilobites, crabs and lobsters.

The creature has been named Diania cactiformis it may have only been six centimetres long, but this is quite a large size when compared to other animals that existed at the time or indeed when compared to older fossil organisms from the Burgess Shale locations.

Nick-named the “walking cactus”, this animal seems to have a distinctive head, or at least one end of it ended in a swollen bulbous appendage that may have been the site of sensory organs.  The creature’s remains were discovered in 2006, in Cambrian aged strata in the county of Chengjiang in southern China’s Yunnan province.  Chinese palaeontologists from the country’s Northwest University found the fossil and have ascribed it to the Lobopodia, a long-extinct group of organisms that outwardly resemble worms with legs.  Diania cactiformis differs from other members of the Lobopodia by seeming to have spiny, armoured legs.

The discovery and research into this ancient creature has been documented in the latest edition of the scientific publication “Nature”.  Dr. Liu Jianni, leader of the research team from the Northwest University expressed excitement at having had the opportunity to study what may be an extremely important fossil, helping to explain the evolution of hard-bodied animals from soft-bodied animals during the early Phanerozoic.

A Computer Generated Image of Diania cactiformis

Picture Credit: Northwest University

It is thought that the bulbous appendage seen in the top left of the picture represents the head end, but scientists remain uncertain with regards to the exact anatomical structure of this strange creature.  The head reminds us at Everything Dinosaur, of the bizarre structure to be found at one end of that famous Burgess Shale animal – Hallucigenia.  Whether Hallucigenia actually had a head is open to debate, the head-like structure on the fossils found may not be related to the specimen at all, but fossils of this animal, classified as an Arthropod have been found in China.  Perhaps, this walking cactus is related to Hallucigenia in some way.

The Fossil Specimen of Diania cactiformis

A prickly specimen – Diania catciformis

Picture Credit: Northwest University

Looking like a 520 million year old pressed flower, the fossil of Diania cactiformis is very well preserved and the spiky appendages on the leg-like structures can clearly be made out.  This animal may have walked tall across the muddy sediments at the bottom of the shallow sea that covered China.  It may hold the key to the development of the Arthropoda a huge Phylum that contains something like 80% of all known living species.

The Arthropods show great diversity and morphology and includes the crustaceans, insects, millipedes, spiders, scorpions and trilobites.

Commenting on the discovery, Professor Shu Degan, head of the Northwest University’s Early Life Institute commented on the evolution of the leg-like structures:

“With these appendages, Arthropods were able to run faster, jump higher and move with more agility.  Some appendages even evolved into preying instruments.  They helped Arthropods become powerful and eventually dominant members of marine, freshwater, land and air ecosystems.”

New Papo Styracosaurus Model in Stock

The New Papo Styracosaurus Replica

Papo, that famous model and figure manufacturer based in France has launched the first of its two new dinosaur models this year.  The new interpretation of Styracosaurus measures over sixteen centimetres long and depicts this horned dinosaur from the Campanian faunal stage of North America in colourful salmon pink.  It is a super Papo dinosaur model.

The Papo Styracosaurus Dinosaur Model

Picture Credit: Papo/Everything Dinosaur

To view the Papo Dinosaurs model range: Dinosaur Toys – Papo Dinosaur Models

Of the nineteen prehistoric animal models currently marketed by Papo, three are members of the Ceratopsidae family, Styracosaurus joins Triceratops and Pachyrhinosaurus.  Indeed, if you consider the Marginocephalia (the Sub-Order to which the Ceratopsidae belong), there are four models in the current Papo range that are classified as members of the Marginocephalia – the fourth Papo dinosaurs model being the Pachycephalosaurus replica.

Discovering Dinosaurs – The Next Generation of Palaeontologists

Pupils get to Grips with Dinosaurs and Fossils

Pupils at Hugo Meynell primary school, near to the Shropshire town of Market Drayton, had the chance to travel back to the time of the dinosaurs with a visit from one of Everything Dinosaur’s palaeontologists.

Taking part in a number of experiments, in what was a dinosaur themed workshop, the students in years 3 and 4 learned about these prehistoric animals and had the chance to get grips with a number of fossils, all part of a special topic on dinosaurs that they had been studying.

As part of the day’s activities, the lucky pupils were able to help cast museum replicas of some of the dinosaur fossils that are part of Everything Dinosaur’s collection, a collection that includes very rare and special items such as Tyrannosaurus rex teeth.  For the classes involved they, and the teaching staff, were able to keep their own very special souvenir of the visit from a dinosaur expert.

Pupils with a Cast of a Large Theropod Tooth (Tyrannosaurus rex)

Picture Credit: C. Cowley

Hugo Meynell School Young Palaeontologists with Edmontosaurus Toe Bone

Everything Dinosaur’s visit to Hugo Meynell School

Picture Credit: C. Cowley

The pictures show some of the young palaeontologists from Hugo Meynell school with the cast replicas of dinosaur fossils, along with a special certificate given to them by which explained where the fossil from which the cast was made was found and from which dinosaur the fossil came from.  Dinosaurs in schools, these young palaeontologists were thrilled at the prospect of getting to handle real fossils.

Palaeontologists get a “Kick” out of New Sauropod Genus

Brontomerus mcintoshi – The Dinosaur Dubbed “Thunder Thighs”

A team of American and British scientists have named a new genus of Early Cretaceous Sauropod from Utah “Thunder Thighs” as they believe that this particular long-necked dinosaur possessed a strong and powerful kick.

Although only fragmentary remains have been found, partially due to the poor state of preservation of the fossils, but also due to the fact that the excavation site had been looted by private collectors, scientists are confident that this new genus of Sauropod had very robust, powerful limbs, strong enough to send a predatory dinosaur flying with one swift kick.

Commenting on this large-limbed Sauropod Dr. Mike Taylor of the University College London, the lead author on the scientific paper on this creature stated:

“If predators came after it, it would have been able to boot them out of the way.”.

Details regarding this new dinosaur taxon have been published in the scientific journal “Acta Palaeontologica Polonica”, it will no doubt get a lot of publicity due to the genus name resembling the now defunct taxon Brontosaurus and the fact that it had very large thighs.  Hopefully, as a result of the publicity, more will be done to help protect scientific sites from looting, as little more can be found out about this dinosaur due to the limited fossil material recovered.  The name of this new taxon literally means “thunder thighs”, but just why this dinosaur had such strong legs remains open to speculation.

The Ilium (Hip-Bone) of B. mcintoshi

Picture Credit: University College London

The ilium bone of this dinosaur has a forward projecting blade, proportionally much bigger than in similarly sized Sauropods.  This suggests that large thigh muscles were anchored there.

The fossils of two specimens an adult; estimated to measure around 14 metres in length and to weigh perhaps as much as six tonnes and a pony-sized juvenile were found in close proximity.  The American and British researchers have speculated that the youngster could be the offspring of the adult, although there is little firm evidence to prove this.

However, Sauropod tracks discovered last year seem to show young animals following an adult, perhaps these huge animals did protect their offspring by staying close to them, at least until the babies were big enough to look after themselves.

To read more about the Sauropod trackways: Running with Baby Sauropods

The fossils have been dated to around 110 million years ago (Albian faunal stage of the Cretaceous), a time when fast running packs of Dromaeosaurs roamed the open plains.  Perhaps, this dinosaur evolved strong legs in order to kick out at and fend off attacks of predatory dinosaurs such as Deinonychus and Utahraptor.

The site, part of a quarry had been looted by commercial fossil-hunters but despite this enough fossil material was located in order to provide an analysis and the information required to identify a new taxon.

The evidence for the large leg muscles comes from the ilium (part of the hips).  It is unusually large in comparison with other similar sized Sauropods and the wide blade of the ilium projects forward providing a large area for the anchoring of leg muscles (femoral protraction and abductor muscles), muscles which would have helped to move the leg out and away from the body.  No actual leg bones have been recovered so at this time the reason for the big thigh muscles remains unknown, however, this dinosaur would have been capable of delivering a powerful kick, easily strong enough to send a hungry Dromaeosaur flying.

Dr. Taylor added:

“As you put the skeleton together, you can run muscles down from the hip-bone to join at the knee and that gives you a whopping thigh.  What’s interesting is that if it were a Sauropod that could move particularly fast, you would expect to see very strong muscles on the back of the legs to pull it along [retractor muscles], but we don’t.

A Restoration of B. mcintoshi

Picture Credit: F. Gaso

In the picture, a mother Brontomerus is defending a juvenile by kicking out at an attacking Dromaeosaur.

In addition to the unusual ilium, the shoulder blade (scapula) has strange bumps on it that probably mark the boundaries of muscle attachments, indicating that this dinosaur also had powerful forelimb as well.

Co-author of the study Dr. Matt Wedel, from the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California stated:

“It’s possible that Brontomerus mcintoshi was more athletic than most other Sauropods.  It is well established that far from being swamp-bound hippo-like animals, Sauropods preferred drier, upland areas; so perhaps Brontomerus lived in rough, hilly terrain and the powerful leg muscles were a sort of ‘dinosaur four-wheel drive’.”

This discovery, plus numerous other Sauropod finds dating from Lower Cretaceous strata is helping to change palaeontologist’s perception about the diversity of the Sauropoda during the Early Cretaceous.  It had been thought that the lizard-hipped Sauropods had been largely replaced by herbivorous Ornithischian dinosaurs in the food chains of the northern hemisphere by around 100 million years ago.  As more Sauropod fossils are discovered it seems that scientists may have to revise the views held regarding the diversity and abundance of long-necked dinosaurs.

Dr. Wedel commented:

“In the past twenty years, however, we are finding more Sauropods from the Early Cretaceous period, and the picture is changing.  It now seems that Sauropods may have been every bit as diverse as they were during the Jurassic, but much less abundant and so much less likely to be found.”

The fossilised bones of the two dinosaur specimens are currently at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman (Oklahoma).  Plans are at an early stage to re-visit the location to see if more fossil material relating to this new genus can be discovered.  If elements of the leg bones could be found then this may help solve the mystery of the dinosaur with the “thighs like a body builder”.  With more fossils to study, the team could perhaps provide a more accurate assessment of the phylogeny of this Sauropod, at the moment it has been tentatively ascribed to the Camarasaurids.

It is possible, that this dinosaur may have resembled a giraffe and the strong hind limbs could have played a role in supporting the animal’s weight as it rocked back onto its back legs so that it could crane its neck higher to reach the branches of trees that other dinosaurs could not reach.

In antelopes there are many members of this family who have adapted a basic body plan to help them feed on vegetation that other animals cannot.  The long-limbed, long-necked Gerenuk (Litocrannius walleri) of southern Africa has exceptionally strong thighs that enable it to rear up on its hind legs to feed on the branches of thorn bushes that other antelopes can’t reach – could the large thigh muscles of B. mcintoshi have helped this dinosaur to do something similar?

Sabre-Toothed Cats are not Closely Related to Tigers

Smilodon et al are not Related to Tigers

The phrase “Sabre-Tooth Tiger” is often used to describe species of the genus Smilodon.  We are not sure how this phrase entered the public’s consciousness, but we do here it quite frequently.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur have encountered this term on a number of occasions recently, as they have been talking about the launch of a new model of a Smilodon – Sabre-Toothed cat from Papo of France.

Often these animals are referred to as Sabre-Tooth Tigers, we do use this terminology in order to assist customers with queries and product searches but the name is confusing as Sabre-Tooths (genus name Smilodon), are not actually that closely related to Tigers.

The genus name – Smilodon means “knife tooth” in recognition of the large upper canines these animals possessed.  In a large Smilodon; such as Smilodon fatalis, the upper canines could be up to 18cm long. The jaws on Sabre-Tooth cats were specially adapted to open wide and could gape to 120° (an African lion can open its jaws to about 70°), this would have permitted Smilodon to close its jaws around the neck of its victim and puncture vital blood vessels to the brain and sever the windpipe leading to a quick kill. However, these teeth are quite delicate and could shatter if they bit down onto bone.

To view the Everything Dinosaur prehistoric animal models and dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

The popular name “Sabre-Tooth Tiger” is misleading.  Smilodon was not closely related to modern Tigers, although they were members of the cat family – Felidae.  The Sabre-Tooths belonged to a sub-family of the cats, called the Machairodonts which can be dated back to around 12 million years ago. None of us at Everything Dinosaur can recall when the term Sabre-Tooth Tiger came into use, but technically it is inaccurate to describe these extinct predators as “tigers”.

Call for Crocodile Hunting to be Permitted in the Northern Territories

State Government to Lobby Canberra for the Reinstatement of Crocodile Hunting

The State Government of the Northern Territories (Australia) is to lobby national Government for the return of crocodile hunting in the State, home to the fearsome and extremely dangerous Estuarine Crocodile.

Since the hunting and trapping of crocodiles was banned, these ancient creatures have bounced back from near extinction to a very healthy population.  In fact, scientists estimate that there is now one Salt Water crocodile to every two people in the Australian state of the Northern Territory.  The call to reinstate hunting of these crocodiles, capable of growing in excess of six metres in length; follows the death of a teenage boy, killed in a crocodile attack at Milingimbi Island about 250 miles east of the city of Darwin.

Currently, these crocodiles and their smaller cousin the Freshwater Crocodile are protected but Northern Territory Environment Minister Karl Hampton has called on this to be reassessed and has asked federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to visit the state to see the situation at first hand.

Mr Hampton said when speaking in favour of the return of safari style hunting:

“Talk to a lot of the indigenous groups, go and visit, see first hand what opportunities there are in terms of economic development, creating indigenous jobs.”

He went onto add:

“So I’m heartened with the response I’ve got to date from Tony and we’ll continue to talk and continue to push for that safari hunting opportunity for the Territory.”

He also acknowledged that more could be done to educate young people in remote communities about the danger of attacks from Salt Water crocs.

He expressed deep sorrow about what happened to the 14-year-old boy, and said the state government needs to continue with the education campaign making sure that DVDs, posters and the teachers are talking to the kids in the school about being what he termed as “crocodile-wise”.

There have been a number of attacks reported in recent years, in 2009 a young boy was killed by a three metre crocodile whilst swimming with friends in a swampy area on the outskirts of Darwin.  However, environmentalists and herpetologists will most likely object to the return of safari style hunting of crocodiles, pointing out that such hunting is banned in Florida where the resident Alligators regularly come into contact with people.

The increasing number of Estuarine (otherwise known as Salt water) crocodiles on the Northeast coast of Australia is causing concern amongst local residents and the surfing community.

The Estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) can be found over a large area of Southeast Asia.  It ranges from Sri Lanka to the Fiji islands, with a resurgent population in northern Australia as hunting them has been banned.  These animals are the largest living reptiles.  The Salt Water Crocodile is capable of living in a number of habitats but prefers the mouths of rivers and other tidal areas.  Estuarine crocodiles are quite happy swimming out to sea and many have been spotted tens of miles off shore.  This may explain why they are so widely spread in Southeastern Asia.

Unfortunately, their numbers in Northern Australia have grown substantially over the last twenty years and many crocodiles are beginning to be seen on popular surfing beaches and basking close to areas frequented by swimmers.  It is very likely that as crocodile numbers increase so there will be more attacks on people.

Review of David Attenborough’ s Life Stories

David Attenborough’s Life Stories – Given a big Thumbs Up!

One of the United Kingdom’s most popular presenters and incidentally, one of the people that we would invite over to dinner when we play our “who would you like to invite to your fantasy dinner party game”, when things are quiet in the office – David Attenborough; has just started a new series of “Life Stories” on radio 4.

Episode one of the series of twenty short programmes had David Attenborough explaining a little of what it was like to try and film in the rain-forest canopy.  His engaging and enthusiastic style of narration shone through.  These monologues allow Sir David to draw on his many years of natural history broadcasting, examining marvels of the natural world and we all agreed as we listened to the repeated programme this morning how fascinating a life this gentleman has led.  His ability to convey the wonders of the natural world is second to none in our opinion and these short ten minute radio programmes are going to be compulsive listening for us over the next few weeks.

A great radio programme from a truly great broadcaster and who involved deserve our heartfelt congratulations.  We are already looking forward to next week’s broadcast, all about that most enigmatic member of the Aves – the Kiwi.

What was Marrella?

The Marrella Mystery

The 520 million year old Burgess Shale in British Columbia (Canada), is one of the world’s most important fossil sites as it contains the remains of soft-bodied organisms that thrived in a shallow sea in the Cambrian Period.  It also documents the marine ecosystem that existed in the mid Cambrian, including the first evidence of hard-shelled organisms.

Although, the location is now thought not to be unique, other sites in Canada that seem to have been subjected to very special geological conditions that permitted the fine fossilisation of a marine community have been found, the Burgess Shale remains exceptionally important.

To read more about similar locations to the Burgess Shale: Putting the Burgess Shales in the Shade

One of the most abundant of all the fossils found at the site is Marrella splendens with something like over 15,000 known specimens.  However, this Canadian site is the only location known in the world where fossils of this strange creature have been found.

A Fossil of Marrella

Picture Credit: BCPA

So despite the large number of fossils of Marrella found in British Columbia, these fossils have not been discovered elsewhere in the world.  Does this mean that Marrella sp. were localised to the Canadian province?  Or does this indicate that Marrella sp. had such a low fossilisation potential that only under exceptional conditions could fossils of this animal be formed?

There is another mystery surrounding this creature, it does not resemble any extant animal (animals living today).  Scientists debate how best to classify this bizarre creature.  Informally regarded as a “lace crab” by the American palaeontologist Charles Walcott, this strange creature may not be closely related to lace crabs.  Marrella had two distinct pairs of large, backward facing appendages, these grew out of a head-shield but rather than being hard like the calcium carbonate exoskeletons of Arthropods, the head-shield seems to have been soft.  The body was composed of approximately twenty segments, each segment had pairs of jointed limbs and gill branches.  The antennae (two pairs) faced forward of the body, one pair was short and spiky with the second outer pair, much longer and thinner.

This thumb-sized animal may have been a member of the Order Arthropoda, but whether it was an ancient ancestor of crabs, trilobites or spiders remains open to intense scientific debate.

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