All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//April
20 04, 2011

World’s Oldest Evidence of Toothache

By | April 20th, 2011|Animal News Stories, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|1 Comment

Dentists Had Not Evolved in the Palaeozoic

A team of North American palaeontologists have discovered the world’s oldest case of toothache in the fossilised jaws of an ancient reptile that lived in the Permian geological period.  Computerised tomography has revealed the tell-tale signs of an extensive abscess on the lower jaw of this unfortunate creature, the infection probably led to this reptile loosing a lot of its teeth.  The fossil provides evidence of dental caries in an omnivore and reminds our species (also omnivores) to look after our teeth.

The fossil is from a reptile known as Labidosaurus hamatus (lipped lizard), from the Lower Permian of the United States (holotype material for this species found in the Arroyo Formation of Baylor County, Texas), this one metre long reptile, was formally named and described in 1896 by that eminent American palaeontologist Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897).

When the research team, led by Robert Reisz (Chair of the Dept. of Biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga) undertook a CT scan of the fossilised lower jaw of this anapsid reptile, they discovered evidence of a substantial infection that has caused the loss of several teeth.  The upper jaw (premaxilla) of these primitive reptiles was hooked, it had a distinct kink in it, the scientists discovered that once the jaw bones in question were studied, a sorry tale of tooth decay and tooth loss was revealed.

The Jawbones of Labidosaurus hamatus from the Study

Picture Credit: Robert Reisz

The diagram shows several views and scans of the fossilised jawbone revealing substantial tooth loss and the site of a nasty infection (abscess) in the bone.

The team’s analysis, which is written up in the scientific journal “Naturwissenschaften” shows the advantages and disadvantages of various evolved solutions when it comes to dentition (teeth).  These reptiles had adapted to life on land, and in doing so had given up the more primitive dental pattern of having teeth that were loosely attached to the jaw and continuously replaced, as is seen today in sharks for example.

Scientists believe that these types of reptiles were predominantly plant-eaters, but also partial to the occasional insect or small creature that they could catch – essentially omnivores.  The change to a more vegetarian diet led to the evolution of stronger teeth more firmly attached to the jaws.  Better, stronger, teeth led to more efficient biting and some grinding of plant matter in the mouth prior to swallowing.  These processes would have helped these creatures extract more nutrition from the food they ate.  However, a drawback to this was that infections and tooth decay in more semi-permanent teeth was likely to occur.

Dr. Reisz and his team suggest that as these teeth were worn, dental nerves would have been exposed to bacterial infection and tooth loss was more likely, than in those animals such as many diapsid reptiles (including dinosaurs) that shed worn teeth and rapidly replaced them with new ones erupting from the jaw bones.

These findings may have a parallel with the evolution of mammals, including our own species.  Mammalian jaws are relatively simple, when compared to the jaws of many reptiles.  The mammal lower jaw is made up of one single bone the dentary, they are synapsids, named after an opening in the skull bones behind the orbit (eye).  This synapsid hole may have evolved to provide new attachment sites for jaw muscles as these creatures evolved a more effective and powerful bite.  Reptiles such as L. hamatus are members of the anapsid type.  They have no skull openings behind the eye socket.  The earliest reptiles were anapsid forms, they are represented today by the Chelonians (turtles and tortoises etc).  With a more simple jawbone, complex teeth evolved to enable synapsids to process food efficiently.  Such an evolutionary investment in tooth design, probably meant a trade off – they could not be so easily shed and replaced, as in diapsid reptiles for instance.

Dr. Reisz commented:

“Our findings suggest that our own human system of having just two sets of teeth, baby and permanent, although of obvious advantage because of its ability to chew and process many different types of food, is more susceptible to infection than that of our distant ancestors that had a continuous cycle of tooth replacement.”

Different evolutionary solutions to handling tough land plants as food may have had an impact on reptile diversity, this would have affected those descendants of reptiles, the birds, who incidentally lost all their teeth in an adaptation to powered flight, and the mammals including us humans.

If you don’t want to end up with dental caries and an infected mouth best to take the advice of your dentist, after all, there were no dentists around in the Palaeozoic to assist poor Labidosaurus.

19 04, 2011

Mystery Object Time – What is This?

By | April 19th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Do we need a Cryptozoologist?

Lots of different jobs today, plenty of variety when you work for Everything Dinosaur.  The usual book keeping, order packing, product testing and such like, but a couple of staff members got the chance to spend part of the day out of the office and warehouse out and about running a few chores.  With the wonderful weather that the majority of the UK is enjoying at the moment, it was a very pleasant afternoon.  However, one of the jobs that had to be done was to get a vehicle repaired – nothing too serious just a tear in the decal/vinyl covering made by school children and their inquisitive fingers prodding things that they should not prod.

To get a patch of vinyl created from the original artwork of the vehicle livery was a quite complicated and time consuming process.  We had to send pictures of the damaged area to the signage company so that they could try to get as close a match as possible.  This resulted in some very unusual jpeg attachments going back and to with emails throughout the day, strange orange pictures, close up shots of the livery of the van in question.  The tear was first covered in clear vinyl, in a bid to help keep moisture out of the rip, this section was then photographed so that the artwork team could get an idea of the size of the repair and the colour artwork needed.

An example is reproduced below:

Unidentified Dinosaur Object (UDO) at Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A bizarre looking object, definitely dinosaur related but which dinosaur and which part?

The answer is revealed when we include the entire artwork piece in a picture, the tear had occurred in the mouth of the T. rex on the back doors of our van.

Everything Dinosaur – Mystery Object Revealed

The back doors of our “dino van”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

So the mystery object was a close up of the business end of a Tyrannosaurus rex.  Look out for further puzzles and updates on the Everything Dinosaur Blog.

18 04, 2011

March of the Dinosaurs on ITV 1

By | April 18th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, TV Reviews|0 Comments

Great Dinosaur Animation Coming to UK Terrestrial Television

March of the Dinosaurs, a two hour long documentary that tells the story of how some Cretaceous dinosaurs migrated hundreds of miles to exploit the rich feeding grounds of the far north, whilst other dinosaurs made the north and its freezing, dark winters their permanent home, is making its premiere on terrestrial television on Easter Saturday.

The programme will be shown at 5pm on Saturday, April 23rd, clashing with the new series of Doctor Who (a deliberate ploy we think). The programmes is based on real scientific evidence that some types of dinosaurs migrated vast distances to exploit food reserves whilst others made the far north of America their permanent residence.

The story of the migration (an Edmontosaurus herd) is narrated by Stephen Fry.  It is a feature length animation that shows how dinosaurs lived more than seventy million years ago in the Arctic Circle.  To read about the research work that the programme is based upon: Dinosaurs of the Arctic

Although the Arctic was warmer than it is today, much warmer in fact (during the Cretaceous there was no permanent ice at either the North or South poles), as winter sets in the high latitude means that the days become very short and in the middle of winter the land is in total darkness.  Plants die back, temperatures fall dramatically and the dinosaurs face a choice stay put or migrate south.

The programme follows the story of two young dinosaurs – Scar, a young vegetarian Edmontosaurus who hatched in the spring, and Patch, a young male feathered, raptor-like Troodon.  As a carnivore, Patch has fed all summer on baby Edmontosaurus.  Unfortunately for him his favourite food is shortly going to be heading south.

Troodon like Patch are equipped to cope through the winter and the film follows his stay in the harsh North. It will be survival of the fittest as they fight for the remaining food in the permanent darkness.  Everyone and everything is fair game.  Such scenarios are scene with extant animals today, such as the Arctic Fox which enjoys a time of plenty when the migrating birds arrive and nest, but the foxes face leaner times when the birds leave.

For Scar, his summer playground becomes a winter killing field as enemies patrol the darkness. The Gorgosaurus, a nine metre long relative of Tyrannosaurus rex, is the apex predator and the programme speculates on whether this Theropod was a nocturnal hunter.  A new research paper has just been published that examined the orbits of dinosaur skulls for clues as to whether some meat-eating dinosaurs were nocturnal or diurnal, Dromaeosaurs such as the Troodontids may have been nocturnal hunters according to this new study.

The herd of Edmontosaurs must march south to avoid the worst of the winter weather, with little to eat their only option is to migrate in search of food.

An Illustration of an Edmontosaurus (Duck-billed dinosaur)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

After one week the migrating herds have reached the edge of the Arctic forest but the open landscape is a hostile new world and Scar faces the new challenge of being exposed to snow.

After the Edmontosaurus have been moving south for almost a month, starvation and exhaustion are taking their toll. To Scar the herd has always meant safety, but the weaker ones begin to collapse and die around him, ending their lives as meat on the open plains.

Sounds like a fascinating documentary, one that is being shown on Easter Saturday at 5pm in the United Kingdom (London may be an hour later), but probably repeated over the next few days, a great treat for the Easter holidays.

17 04, 2011

Not all Tadpoles are the Same

By | April 17th, 2011|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

Differences in Tadpoles – Trying not to get Caught Out by Anthropomorphism

The weekend has brought a number of staff members into the Everything Dinosaur offices, to do the various chores that we have been assigned.  However, we still get plenty of time to sit outside in the sun during our coffee breaks and to observe the many hundreds of tadpoles in the office pond.    As Sir David Attenborough observed in his latest episode of the excellent Radio 4 series “Life Stories”, some animals are easier to distinguish from others of their species.  Humpback whales for example, when they dive, their large, crescent shaped tail flukes often rise clear of the water.  The undersides of these tails are white with black markings.  Each whale has distinct tail markings and when these are photographed they can be used to help identify that individual whale if it is spotted in the future.  From these simple observations scientists have been able to build up a comprehensive picture of the voyages made by individual whales of different species.

Looking for differences in our tadpole population is somewhat more tricky, but not impossible.  Although the animals were hatched within just a few days of each other their variation is remarkable and in only a few minutes, a number of identifying characteristics can be determined.  For example, at first glance the tadpoles all seem to be the same colour, but this is not so, some are darker than others, some are black, some are more a shade of brown.

Picking an Individual Tadpole out from a Crowd

Picture Credit: COL/SPJ

The tadpoles are all the same species – The Common Frog (Rana temporaria), but even after two weeks differences can be observed in the population.  Identifying individuals without intruding too much (by marking them for example), is complicated by these animal’s rapid growth rate, after all, those that survive will undergo a dramatic metamorphosis in a few weeks.  But certainly, differences between individuals in terms of their size, growth rate, colouration, body length, degree of fluking on the tail can all be made out.

Genetically, all these tadpoles will be slightly different – this is a result of the way in which they were produced – with two parents providing genetic material to the offspring.  Although, we wish to try to avoid being accused of anthropomorphism individuals may have different behaviours.  It might be too much to regard these as different personalities and to label tadpoles as introverts and extroverts as individuals may behave in contrasting ways to others of their kind.  For instance, those tadpoles that are the strongest swimmers have been observed swimming across open stretches of water, perhaps seeking food resources that they can exploit.  Other tadpoles, not as well developed as their siblings remain in the same part of the pond for long periods.  Their growth may be restricted as they are less mobile and therefore less able to find food than some of their counterparts.

Interestingly, mobility in tadpoles residing in our office pond was in previous years we suspect, likely to lead to those tadpoles actively swimming in open water to be predated upon.  There used to be a population of water boatman in the pond.  These aggressive invertebrates would attack and eat any tadpoles that they could catch.  As the water boatman were nektonic (swimming actively in the water column), they were more likely to predate those tadpoles that ventured into open water without cover.  This year, however, we have not observed a single water boatman in the pond.  We suspect that the cold winter killed off our population.  There is now an absence of nektonic predators of tadpoles in the pond. The removal of a predator may enable more tadpoles to metamorphosise and make it to the froglet stage and this environmental change could favour those “bolder” nektonic individuals who venture out into open water.  This subtle change in the predator/prey balance could have an effect on tadpole numbers surviving and influence the type of tadpole “personality” likely to survive into the summer.

We shall continue to observe with fascination.

16 04, 2011

Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre being Filmed Once Again

By | April 16th, 2011|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre gets ready for “Reign of the Dinosaurs”

The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre is preparing to host a film crew from the Discovery Channel again, for the second time in less than a year.  On Monday, April 18th a Discovery Channel crew will arrive at the centre (CFDC) to film content for an upcoming TV series titled “Reign of the Dinosaurs.”

The purpose behind the visit of the Discovery Channel is to build the scientific components behind what is primarily an animated story on ancient mosasaurs and sharks.  This is the first time that the CFDC is being sought by a major media network to solidify the scientific components behind its wonderfully imaginative stories.  An expert in fossil videography is being brought in from the United States specifically for this project.

“Typically what’s occurred in these instances is that the Hollywood story tellers have referenced the marine reptile fossil collection that is present in the Kansas area” explains curator Anita Janzic.  “It is a great honour to be sought by the international media & scientific community as a valuable and noteworthy fossil resource centre.  This is further recognition of the high quality scientific work taking place at the CFDC!”

The “Reign of the Dinosaurs” series has been described by the network as “Avatar meets Jurassic Park”.  This presentation is slated to be a follow-up to their wildly successful Walking with Dinosaurs series and
combines the latest paleontological research with Hollywood storytelling and the talent of the world’s best dinosaur illustrators, animators and scientists.

Watch the Birdie! – Fieldworkers being Filmed

Picture Credit: CFDC

The previous visit by the Discovery Channel was coordinated by its Daily Planet news show.  The film crew was present in the early summer of 2010 to film the preliminary excavation of what soon became a major Xiphactinus fish fossil discovery.  This segment involving the CFDC is set to air during the spring offering of the Daily Planet programme.

“The great thing about this scenario is that we’re able to offer a Discovery Channel type of experience to our average visitor.  Our Fossil Dig Adventure Tour programs have a 100% success rate in finding fossils since 2008.  The fossil resource in the Morden area is vast and exciting.  Our website contains great information on this unique adventure program.  We invite you to find out for yourself why we have the Discovery Channel returning year after year!” states general manager Tyler Schroeder.

Almost every CFDC story has a strong local connection and that remains true with this story.  World famous dinosaur animator, David Krentz has connections with the Phil Enns family from Winkler.  Mr. Krentz was a key component in having the CFDC included in this Hollywood production and is a huge fan of Canada’s largest marine reptile fossil collection in Morden, Manitoba (Canada).

15 04, 2011

Ranavirus – Office Pond Looking OK

By | April 15th, 2011|Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

No Signs of Ranavirus

Last week staff at Everything Dinosaur became concerned over the behaviour of some of the frogs that had spawned in the office pond.  At least three seemed lethargic and almost in a stupor.  Their movements were slow and we were concerned that the concentration of amphibians in the pond as they started their breeding season had led to an outbreak of the deadly virus Ranavirus.

This virus had first entered the UK sometime in the early 1980s and has spread up from the south.  Something like 80% of the frog population of the UK has been affected and the Common Frog population (Rana temporaria) has plummeted as a result.  Small ponds, even garden ponds are now extremely important to amphibians, we were concerned that the odd behaviour of the frogs after spawning may have been as a result of a virus outbreak.

No dead frogs have been found in and around the pond area and the tadpoles seem to be thriving.  We suspect that we had observed females who were exhausted after the stressful spawning time.  However, we will continue to maintain a “watching brief” on the pond and if we do find positive signs of a Ranavirus outbreak, we will report it to Froglife – the organisation formed to protect UK amphibian populations – straight away.

Fingers crossed.

14 04, 2011

The Origin of Birds not something to Sniff At

By | April 14th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Sniffing out the Origin of Birds

A new study published in the scientific journal, the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology) shows that the sense of smell of small Theropod dinosaurs may have improved over time and this would have had important implications for their evolutionary descendants – the birds.

Although having a good sense of smell is only part of the story, some scientists have speculated that the ancestors of modern birds might have survived the end Cretaceous extinction event that wiped out the Theropods and all other Dinosauria for that matter, by having a better sense of smell.

Prior to this new study, a view held by a number of scientists was that as birds evolved from small, cursorial Theropods, their olfactory sense (smell) became less prominent at the expense of the need to evolve better vision, better balance and improved co-ordination for active flight.

Commenting on the study, researcher, Darla Zelenitsky, a palaeontologist with the University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada) stated:

“Scientists thought that parts of the brain were being dedicated to these latter senses, while the region of the brain associated with olfaction deteriorated through evolution.”

However, by examining the braincases and skull proportions of species, an estimate of the brain size can be deduced and from this information, with a little further work, the size of the region of the brain dedicated to smell can be calculated.  In humans, the olfactory bulb, that portion of our brains dedicated to analysing smells, is very small, making up a tiny proportion of our overall brain mass.  In dogs, an animal known for its keen sense of smell, the olfactory bulb is many times larger than our own and it makes up a much larger proportion of the dogs overall brain mass.  In the famous Theropod Tyrannosaurus rex, nearly 50% of its brain mass is dedicated to the sense of smell, this proportion of brain mass/smelling sense is only exceeded by the extant Turkey Vulture, (Cathartes aura) which relies on its remarkable sense of smell to detect rotting meat hidden under the canopy of jungle trees.

The research team examined the skulls of a number of extinct and extant creatures including the skull material associated with the first bird known to science (Archaeopteryx lithographica).  The team discovered that this Jurassic bird/reptile probably had as good a sense of smell as its dinosaur relatives.

Small Theropods such as Bambiraptor Had a Good Sense of Smell

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The illustration shows a typical Dromaeosaur (Bambiraptor), a fast running, cursorial predator.  Skull analysis suggests these little dinosaurs had an acute sense of smell.

A lot of work has been done on Archaeopteryx by scientists at the Natural History Museum, working closely on the “London specimen”.  The aim of this research led by the distinguished Dr. Angela Milner was to determine this ancient creature’s flight capabilities and in particular examine evidence for its sense of balance and hearing.

To read more about this research: Lets Hear It for Archaeopteryx

To see how the sense of smell might have changed as birds evolved, researchers studied 130 species of living birds, seven species of fossil birds and 20 species of nonavian Theropod dinosaurs, which include carnivores such as Velociraptors and the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex.  The team concentrated on the dimensions of the animals’ olfactory bulbs, measuring them and working on the assumption that “larger bulbs meant a better developed sense of smell”.

The researchers found the sense of smell improved overall during the evolution of small Theropods to modern birds, apparently only decreasing much later on in some lineages of birds less dependent on scent.  The earliest bird-like creatures such as Archaeopteryx, had a sense of smell comparable to pigeons, while some Dromaeosaurs had a sense of smell perhaps as acute of that of the Turkey Vulture.

A Sense of Smell as Good as a Turkey Vultures?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This improved sense of smell, as well as larger brains overall, might have provided an edge that could explain why modern birds are still around and their dinosaur and archaic bird relatives are not.

Darla Zelenitsky added:

“Since some modern-day birds are known to use their sense of smell for foraging and for navigation, perhaps the combination of flight and larger brains — including larger olfactory bulbs — gave modern birds a competitive edge over archaic birds and other dinosaurs to survive this mass extinction.”

13 04, 2011

Little “Demon” from Dawn of the Dinosaurs

By | April 13th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

New Dinosaur Discovery Helps Explain Diversity of Theropods

The Ghost Ranch location in New Mexico (United States) is famous for its amazing vertebrate fossils that date from the Late Triassic.  Perhaps most famously of all, this fossil rich location has provided palaeontologists with many specimens of the small, agile Theropod Coelophysis.  Now a new type of meat-eating dinosaur has been discovered, one which might provide evidence as to how the Theropods diversified during the remainder of the Mesozoic.

In a paper published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology)”, researchers describe a small, predatory dinosaur, whose fossil remains may indicate how larger, later Theropods evolved.  The dinosaur has been formally named as Daemonosaurus chauliodus, the name means “buck-toothed evil spirit”.

Co-author of the scientific paper, palaeontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. (United States), Hans-Dieter Sues, explained why this dinosaur fossil was so significant.

He stated:

“It has a deep, short snout and these monstrous front teeth.  That’s a kind of skull structure for a predatory dinosaur that’s really unexpected for this early point in time.”

An Illustration of the New Dinosaur Species – D. chauliodus

Picture Credit: Jeffrey Martz

Scientists believe that the first dinosaurs evolved approximately 230 million  years ago in what was to become South America.  This group included early versions of two-legged, meat-eating dinosaurs known as Theropods.  One of the largest of these carnivores was Herrerasaurus (H. ischigualastensis), a fearsome four to five metre long dinosaur whose fossil remains have been found in north-western Argentina.

An Illustration of Herrerasaurus

An early Theropod Illustrated

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a range of models which includes a replica of Herrerasaurus, simply click on the link below this paragraph.

Collecta Dinosaurs and other dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys – Dinosaur Models

A substantial gap in the known fossil record in the Mid Triassic had led many palaeontologists to suggest that these early meat-eaters had become extinct.

As Hans-Dieter Sues explained:

“The idea was that there was this early diversification of dinosaurs… but then they went extinct, and more advanced predators took over during the Late Triassic and diversified later at the Triassic/Jurassic boundary, when we know that dinosaur predators greatly diversified and increased in size.”

This new dinosaur, Daemonosaurus chauliodus, known only from skull material and cervical material, helps to bridge the gap in the fossil record and link the two predatory dinosaur groups.

Dr. Sues, stated:

“Our new dinosaur, along with another one that was found a few years ago … at the same site,[Coelophysis] indicates that those basal dinosaurs already included a number of early Theropods, and that they survived all the way through the Triassic to nearly the beginning of the Jurassic Period.”

Although, only partial remains have been found, the neck vertebrae and the all important skull material show that this dinosaur had several advanced features.  For instance, the vertebrae show cavities linked to the respiratory system – bridging the evolutionary gap between the first dinosaurs and the Neotheropoda, the next group of predatory dinosaurs to evolve.  This type of respiratory system can be found in creatures alive today – the birds, the very last type of Theropod left on planet Earth.

Finding the dinosaur in New Mexico adds another interesting aspect to the discovery.

Dr. Sues said.

“We had some inkling that the earliest dinosaurs had made it into the Northern Hemisphere when the super-continent Pangaea was still in existence and animals could walk around on dry land.  But the fossil record was limited to South America.  The new find gives further evidence that the earliest radiation of dinosaurs did have a wider distribution, and it is due to the incompleteness of the fossil record that we’d found them only in Argentina and Brazil.”

12 04, 2011

Dinosaurs and Spaceflight

By | April 12th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|0 Comments

The First Dinosaurs in Space

As today, April 12th is the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight, we at Everything Dinosaur thought it best to catch the mood by discussing briefly dinosaurs in space.  Yes, dinosaurs have been into space, at least the fossils of two dinosaurs that is.

On this day in 1961 Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut, became the first human in space and the first to orbit the Earth.  His space craft, called Vostok 1 made the historic 108 minute venture into space on this day fifty years ago.  The flight took place in the morning with a launch around 9am local time. This would have meant that this epic journey, the start of the space race between the USA and the Soviet Union, began in the early hours of the morning in the United Kingdom around 6am.  We suspect that this event was not widely known until the evening.  After all, there was not the blanket news media that we have today around half a century ago.

However, dinosaurs have made it into space, but not until the mid 1980s, where as part of the United States space programme a fossil of an Ornithopod called Maiasaura (Maiasaura peeblesorum) went up into space.  Maiasaura was a large Hadrosaur (member of the Hadrosaurine group of duck-billed dinosaurs – distinguished by their lack of adornments and head crests).  It was discovered by the American palaeontologist John Horner in 1978 and officially named a year later.  The remains of this dinosaur have been found in western Montana, in the late Cretaceous rocks of the Two Medicine Formation.  Few dinosaurs left traces behind providing clues as to how these animals lived and behaved, however, Maiasaura is a definite exception to this.  Over 200 individual skeletons have been unearthed to date, from hatch-lings right up to mature adults.  Jack Horner and his team discovered a Maiasaura nesting site that has yielded a great deal of information about how this type of dinosaur raised its young.

It seems that Maiasaura looked after its babies (the name means “Good Mother Lizard”), very apt in this dinosaur’s case.  Fossils recovered from the nesting site, show that these animals made nest mounds out of mud, and may have covered any eggs laid with vegetation to keep them warm.  Hatch-lings that have been fossilised show teeth wear but their legs are not fully formed (undeveloped legs is  feature seen in the chicks of many birds).  This indicates that the babies were fed at the nest, as they were unable to forage for themselves.   It can be surmised from this data that the parents looked after the youngsters to a degree.  The nesting site seems to have been vast, with many thousands of animals at the site, this indicates that Maiasaura lived in large herds, or at least congregated at communal nesting sites.

An Illustration of Maiasaura

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Maiasaura’s other claim to fame is that this dinosaur was the first to be taken up into space.  A piece of fossilised bone from a baby Maiasaura along with a piece of Maiasaura eggshell was taken into space by astronaut Loren Acton on a NASA mission in 1985.  Not a bad record for Maiasaura, being totally unknown just 7 years earlier, and then the first dinosaur in space.  The second dinosaur to travel in space was the skull of a Coelophysis, (Triassic Theropod).  The skull was sent into space on the US space shuttle Endeavour on 22nd January 1998.  It travelled to the Mir space station, one of a number of trips made by space shuttles to the orbiting station in the Shuttle-Mir programme.

Dinosaurs were not the first representatives of the Class Reptilia to travel in space.  Tortoises were used in some of the research programmes as manned space flight was being developed.  The first tortoise in space was launched by the Soviet Union in September 1968, as part of the research programme monitoring the potential effect of long space flight on humans.  Tortoises were ideal “guinea pigs” for such experiments, due to their ability to survive hostile conditions and to live on little food and water, characteristics recognised by early explorers on Earth, who often sailed with tortoises and turtles on board ship to provide a source of fresh meat into the journey.  We have no record of what happened to this particular tortoise after the capsule in which it had travelled returned to Earth.

As far as we can tell no adult birds have been sent up into space.  Chicken embryos were sent up into space as part of an experiment kit to test the development of chicks in zero gravity by the Americans in 1989.  This particular experiment had been scheduled to take place three years earlier but it was lost when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch on January 28th 1986.  Other fertilised bird’s eggs have been sent into space on subsequent occasions, no birds as far as our research shows.  It would be fascinating to find out how birds cope with zero gravity.  Effectively, once in motion they would not need to flap their wings, perhaps they could use their wings to stabilise themselves as they were subjected to zero G.

11 04, 2011

Dinosaur Balloon Art

By | April 11th, 2011|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Main Page|3 Comments

Dinosaur Balloon Art – Not as Easy as it Looks

Weekend took us to my niece’s birthday party (she is four today).  During the fun, festivities and games, the entertainer did some balloon art.  He made swords, teddy bears, giraffes and all sorts of animals for the children.  Not wishing to be left out, one of the Everything Dinosaur team members who attended requested a dinosaur.  Mr Dazzle (the name of the entertainer), explained that he could do dinosaur balloon art, but his repertoire would be slightly limited as he had thirty enthusiastic and very excited four-year olds to manage.

True to his word, he produced a grey, long-necked dinosaur a few minutes later (see pic).  It certainly had a long neck and legs and it was a very credible effort, not withstanding the fact that it had no tail.

Our Balloon Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Interesting that he choose to depict a Sauropod as a grey animal.  As the largest land living animal today (African elephant) is regarded as being grey by many observers, this may have “coloured” our perception as to the colour of the largest type of extinct terrestrial animal – Sauropoda.  The colour of these herbivorous dinosaurs is very much open to speculation, but most illustrators do depict these large animals as coloured grey.  Hatchlings, may have been very differently coloured from adults, perhaps camouflaged to enable them to hide in the undergrowth to avoid predation.  Nice balloon dinosaur though, although a colleague said it reminded them of some of the bizarre Cambrian life forms preserved in the Burgess Shale deposits of British Columbia.

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