World’s Oldest Sophisticated Eye Fossil Discovered in Australia

Sophisticated Compound Eye with 3,000 Individual Lenses in 515 Million Year Old Fossil

Trilobites may have had some of the earliest recorded eyes in the fossil record, but 515 million years ago, there was a sharp-eyed predator that probably preyed on Trilobites and its eyes were the most complex and sophisticated known from the Cambrian Period.

The eyes of Trilobites are compound eyes, as seen in other Arthropods today such as flies and other insects.  Each eye had many lenses and each lens provided an image of the world, the more lenses the better the impression of the surroundings. The Trilobite lens was made of calcite and the preservation potential of these lenses were as good as the rest of the exoskeleton, which was also made of calcite.  However, the eyes of Trilobites from 515 million years ago are not a patch on the fossil eyes of as yet unknown Arthropod that have been discovered on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

Mike Lee, an evolutionary biologist who is leading the joint South Australian Museum and Adelaide University fossil study commented that the researchers were unsure at this stage what sort of creature had these advanced eyes, but they speculate it was a predator.

Dr. Lee stated:

“This particular animal had by far the most powerful vision of its time.  These fossils are absolutely unique because no other fossil site in the world has produced eyes of this complexity.”

As details of the research are published in the scientific journal “Nature” other scientists can learn a little more about the Australian team’s studies of the fauna of a Cambrian marine environment.  A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur agreed with the initial findings that the eye fossils probably belonged to a predator.

“It is a fair assumption that these eyes belonged to a predatory Arthropod of some sort, perhaps some kind of large shrimp-like creature.  Firstly the eyes are very sophisticated and good vision would have been extremely useful for an animal that hunted.  In addition, at over 1 cm in diameter, the eyes are big so they probably belonged to a big animal and in the Late Cambrian predators were generally larger than prey.”

Could the fossil eyes belong to an Arthropod similar to an Anomalocaris, a fearsome predator of the Mid Cambrian, whose kith and kin survived into the Ordovician.

Perhaps the World’s First Complex Super-Predator – Anomalocaris

Picture Credit: BBC Worldwide/Framestore

To read about giant Anomalocarids of the Ordovician: Anomalocarids – Bigger than Previously Thought

Dr. Lee said other specimens from the Emu Bay site (Kangaroo Island) had vision equivalent to about 100 pixels, allowing them to differentiate between light and dark and perhaps pick out shapes and movement.  However, these particular eyes had the equivalent of more than 3,000 pixels, or about 3,000 individual calcite lenses, making this vision system as sophisticated as that of modern prawns.

Dr. Lee went on to add:

“With 3000 pixels, you can start to tell friend from foe.”

The strata in which these fossils were found dates to around 515 million years ago (Late Cambrian).  Around 545 million years ago, one of the most significant events in the history of life on our planet occurred.  There was a sudden burst of evolution, resulting in the rapid expansion and diversification of organisms (as recorded in the fossil record).  A wide variety of creatures, especially those with hard, mineralised shells and other body parts suddenly appeared. Within a few million years, most of the animal Phyla that are in existence today had evolved.  Quite why there was this sudden burst of evolution referred to as the “Cambrian Explosion” remains unknown.  However, scientists have suggested that the evolution of an “arms race” between predator and prey may have led to this considerable advance in life on planet Earth.  Certainly, whatever sort of creature had eyes with 3,000 pixels is a testament to speed of evolution in the Cambrian Period.

Staring Back at You the Ancient Calcite Lenses of an Unknown Arthropod

Staring Back at You

Picture Credit: John Paterson (University of New England)

The picture shows a beautifully preserved compound eye, the individual lenses can just be made out in the photograph.

The new fossils reveal that some of the earliest known Arthropods had already acquired visual systems similar to those of living forms, underscoring the speed and magnitude of the evolutionary innovation that occurred during the Cambrian Explosion, the researchers conclude.  As the eyes were found isolated, researchers can’t say with certainty what sort of animal had them.   But the fossils were found in the same rock as an array of ancient marine animals, providing the scientists with an impression of what the environment and ecosystem was like for this particularly advanced animal.

With 3,000 pixels, the newly discovered ancient animals would have seen three times better than the modern horseshoe crab.  But its eyesight would have paled in comparison to the modern dragonfly, a few of which have been emerging from our office pond over the last weeks.  Extant dragonflies have over 28,000 lenses in each eye.

Head Butting “Bone heads” New Evidence Strikes a Blow for the Pachycephalosaurs

New Study Suggest Pachycephalosaurs may have Clashed Heads After All

The Pachycephalosaurs (the name means “thick-headed lizards”) are often referred to as the “Bone-heads” as the most striking feature about these bird-hipped dinosaurs was their incredibly thick skulls, which in many cases were adorned with bony nodules.  Related to the Ceratopsians, scientists believe that these bipeds evolved in the early Cretaceous and survived up to the very end of the Age of Reptiles.

Most of what we know about this particular group of dinosaurs comes from skull material as many genera have been named and described on the basis of the discovery of skull bones.  This is in stark contrast to other types of dinosaur, the Sauropods for example, where bones relating to the head are exceptionally rare.  The thickened skulls with their solid bone domes had excellent fossil preservation potential.  Such thick bones could withstand the stresses of the fossilisation process.  Perhaps the most famous of the Pachycephalosaurids is Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis, (from which this group of dinosaurs was named).  P. wyomingensis is known from just skull material but it has been estimated to have reached lengths in excess of 8 metres, making it the largest Pachycephalosaur dinosaur discovered to date.

An Illustration of Pachycephalosaurus (P. wyomingensis)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read more about Pachycephalosaurus: Pachycephalosaurus – The “Bone-headed” Dinosaur

Why did these dinosaurs have such thick skulls?  It was not to protect a particularly large brain, these dinosaurs had brains no bigger than any other comparable sized Ornithischian, perhaps these animals evolved well-protected heads as they engaged in head-butting contests just like some sheep and antelope do today.  The ideas of Pachycephalosaurs indulging in such behaviour was first put forward by the American palaeontologist Ed Colbert in 1954.  This theory has been debated ever since.  Perhaps the most famous challenge to the theory of intra-specific conflict amongst Pachycephalosaurs came in 2004 when the head-butting activities of these dinosaurs was examined by two American researchers, Mark Goodwin and John “Jack” Horner.  These researchers discovered that the radiating bone structure that was thought to provide strength to the dome of the skull was only present in juvenile specimens, and not in mature adults.  It was assumed, just like in extant animals the adults would have indulged in any head-butting, not young dinosaurs.

However, new research from the University of Calgary published in the online scientific journal “PloS One” suggests that these Cretaceous dinosaurs may indeed have used their thick heads for head butting contests.  The Canadian based research team compared the fossilised skulls of two types of Pachycephalosaur with the skulls of modern herbivores some of which were known to be “head-bangers”.  They concluded that previous bio-mechanical studies may have suggested that these dinosaurs butted heads, but this had been challenged by studies on how the skull bones grew and developed as the animals matured.  However, new computer analysis and modelling using advanced statistical methodologies do support the theory first put forward by Colbert, back in 1954 – that the skulls of these dinosaurs could have withstood the impact from a clash of heads.  These dinosaurs could have been head-butters after all.

The two Pachycephalosaurs involved in the study were Stegoceras validum and Prenocephale prenes.  The fossil skulls of these two dinosaurs were compared to ten skulls of artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates), known to indulge in various forms of intra-specific combat including head butting.  The team found that the bony anatomy of some Pachycephalosaur domes are better at protecting the brain than in any modern head-butter.

Co-author Dr. Eric Snively commented:

“Pachycephalosaur domes are weird structures not exactly like anything in modern animals. We wanted to test the controversial idea that the domes were good for head-butting.  Finding out brings us closer to their social lives: were Pachycephalosaurs more likely just showing off their domes like peacocks with their tails, or were they also cracking their heads together like musk oxen?”

Using CT scanning and the new statistical method for diagnosing behaviour in fossil animals, the researchers compared the bony-headed dinosaurs with modern ungulates (hoofed animals) that engage in different kinds of combat.

Dr.Snively stated:

“Our analyses are the closest we can get to observing their behaviour.  In a way, we can get inside their heads by colliding them together virtually.  We combined anatomical and engineering analyses of all these animals for a pretty thorough approach.  We looked at the actual tissue types in the skulls and heads of the animals.”

Co-author and fellow researcher Dr. Jessica Theodor (Associate Professor in the Biological Sciences Dept. at the University of Calgary said:

“Head-butting is a form of male-to-male competition for access to females.  It’s pretty clear that although the bones are arranged differently in the Stegoceras, it could easily withstand the kinds of forces that have been measured for the living animals that engage in head-butting.”

Describing the skulls of animals known to crack heads as “like a good motorcycle helmet”, the team stated that the skull of a typical head-butter was hard on the outside with a sort of spongy impact absorbing material just beneath the outer surface and then a stiff, really dense coat of hardened material to protect the brain.

Computer Generated Image Comparing the Skull of S. validum with Extant Ungulates

Don’t Bump Heads with this Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Snively/Theodor

The picture shows sections through the skulls of the dinosaur Stegoceras validum, the small African antelope known as a Duiker (Cephalophus leucogaster), regarded as morphologically close to this type of Pachycephalosaur and a Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis).  The CT scans reveal similar dome structure. A. In the Stegoceras specimen, compact bone (z1 and z3: zones 1 and 3), occurs deep and superficial to a cancellous region (z2: zone 2:). Moderately dense compact bone shows as a green band at the base of zone 3 (white line); note cancellous bone (blue) above the line in the anterior portion of this zone. B. Cephalophus. C. Similar stratification is evident in the sectioned Ovis cranium, with nearly identical zones of cancellous and compact bone broken by a ventral sinus.

The Stegoceras had an extra layer of dense bone in the middle.  Stegoceras was a small Pachycephalosaur approximately three metres long, that lived in north America during the Late Cretaceous.

The researchers concluded that Llamas would crack their skulls if they indulged in head-butting.  Giraffes would not be very good at head-banging contests – their skulls could not withstand the force of too many collisions.  Musk ox and Big Horn Sheep have the sort of adaptations to help them cope with bouts of head-butting.  In this way they have similar skulls to Stegoceras, so this could be evidence to support head-banging Pachycephalosaurs.

Perhaps, Colbert was onto something after all.

My Favourite Prehistoric Mammal – Woolly Rhinoceros

Woolly Rhino – Proves to be Very Popular

At Everything Dinosaur, we get lots of letters, drawings, emails and other sorts of correspondence from young fans of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.  Our team members read every one and we try to respond as quickly as we can to all those that require a reply.

We received one letter recently from a young boy who wanted to know more about the Woolly Rhino.  He had received as a gift one of our prehistoric mammal soft toys (the Woolly Rhino) and he wanted to ask some questions about these strange prehistoric beasts.

Woolly Rhino Soft Toy (Mum and Baby Woolly Rhinos)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Everything Dinosaur range of prehistoric mammal and dinosaur soft toys:

Dinosaur and Ice Age Soft Toys

We were able to pass on the information and we ourselves find these soft toys rather cute, much more cute than the real animals would have been that’s for sure.

Woolly Rhinos were widespread during the Pleistocene Epoch, fossils have been found in China (they are believed to have originated in Asia), and as far west as Spain.  The Woolly Rhino soft toy depicts an animal called Coelodonta antiquitatis, the genus name is pronounced see-la-dont-ta, its means “old hollow teeth”.

The last Woolly Rhinos are believed to have lived in Western Siberia, but this species finally went extinct approximately 10,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch.   The reason for their decline and eventual extinction is not known but it is likely that these two-tonne grazers were unable to adapt to the rapidly changing climate at the end of the last ice age.

We are delighted to hear that the Woolly Rhino still has many fans, sales of Ice Age soft toys are almost as high as sales of our dinosaur soft toys, especially when prehistoric animals such as the Woolly Rhino are featured in television programmes.

Newcastle the “Bahamas” of the North

Borehole Provides Evidence of Newcastle’s Tropical Past

Newcastle upon Tyne may not be regarded as a tropical paradise today, but in the past this part of northern England looked very different.  In fact geologists working on a project to find hot water underground to heat city centre buildings have found evidence that the area was once part of a warm shallow sea that teemed with life.

In a £900,000 project funded by the Newcastle Science City Partnership and Department of Energy and Climate Change, Newcastle and Durham University geologists have been involved in the drilling of a 2,000 metre deep bore hole at a site just a free kick away from St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United.  The team aim to tap into a reservoir of hot water heated to temperatures in excess of 80 Celsius that is being forced up through faults in a bed of granite rock.  The water could then be used to provide clean energy to heat a number of city centre buildings.

The drilling was expected to end this month, but fossils found in core samples taken from the drill site, provide a glimpse into the ancient past of this part of the world.  The cores show that in the past this part of northern England was once a shallow tropical sea, as fossils of crinoids (sea-lilies) and corals have been discovered embedded in the limestone portions of the geologist’s core samples.

The Rock Layers that the Drill Team have to Penetrate

Picture Credit: Newcastle Institute for Research and Sustainability

Managers at the nearby Eldon Square Shopping Centre are excited about the project, General Manager Phil Steele stated:

“We can now look forward optimistically to using deep geothermal energy to supply part or all of our future energy needs and we look forward to working with Newcastle University to develop this major scientific enterprise for the city.”

Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability director Professor Paul Younger said:

“Our aim is to rise to the challenge of putting a novel form of deep geothermal energy at the very heart of city centre regeneration.  It’s an incredibly exciting project.  If we’re right and we pump up water at such elevated temperatures, it would mean a fully renewable energy supply for a large part of the city centre.  The Newcastle project is similar to one already operating in Southampton, where underground hot water is used along with oil and natural gas for a combined heat and power network.”

It seems that as well as tapping into geothermal resources the geologists and engineers responsible for the project have tapped into some interesting fossil bearing strata, revealing that once upon a time Newcastle resembled the Caribbean.

Typical Limestone Coral Fossils

Coral Fossils (Carboniferous)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Team members at Everything Dinosaur think that the limestone would date from the Carboniferous Period.

Female Cuban Crocodiles Endangering their Own Species

New Research shows that Cuban Crocs are Hybridising with American Crocodiles

It is always refreshing to see representatives of Cuba getting on with Americans but for the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) things may be going too far as new research suggests the rare Cuban crocodiles are cross-breeding with American crocodiles and this could have stark consequences for both species.

A new genetic study by a team of Cuban and American researchers confirms that American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) are hybridising with wild populations of critically endangered Cuban crocodiles, which may cause a population decline of this species found only in the Cuban Archipelago.

Cuban crocodiles and American crocodiles have been confirmed to interbreed in captivity and were suspected to hybridise in the wild, but until this new study, there had been no scientific proof that this was happening.  This is the first genetic study that confirms wild hybridisation., between these two species of crocodile.

The study, which appears in the spring issue of the scientific publication “The Journal of Experimental Zoology”, provides definitive genetic evidence that interbreeding is taking place in the wild and that these two types of crocodile are very closely related.

A Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)

Picture Credit: Steve Zack/Wildlife Conservation Society

Known for their leaping ability and aggressive disposition, Cuban crocs are a charismatic and culturally significant species to Cuba.  Exact population estimates for the species remain unknown, though scientists believe that a minimum of 3,000 individuals remain in the Zapata swamp.  A smaller population exists in the Lanier Swamp on the Island of Youth.  The species was extensively hunted from the middle of the 19th Century through to the 1960s resulting in drastic population declines.

The team collected and analysed DNA from 89 wild-caught Cuban and American crocodiles and compared this genetic material with two samples from crocodiles kept in captivity.

The genetic data produced an unsuspected result,  American crocodiles in Cuba are more closely related to Cuban crocodiles than other American crocodile populations found along mainland Central America.  The study found just a 1 percent genetic sequence divergence between Cuban crocodiles and American crocodiles in Cuba yet an 8 percent divergence between American crocodiles in Cuba and other American crocodile populations living in mainland Central America.

This finding indicates that Cuban crocodiles and American crocodiles in Cuba may represent two evolutionary significant units (ESU’s), populations considered distinct for conservation purposes and represent an important component of the evolutionary legacy of the species.

The researchers say that hybridisation may be one of the most important threats to Cuban crocodiles, along with illegal hunting and habitat modification.  Hybridisation can result in both replacement and genetic mixing, and one lineage may cause the extinction of another.  The authors of the paper, whilst commenting on the significance of their discovery have expressed grave concerns over their findings for the preservation of the Cuban crocodile.  They have called upon Government agencies to take steps to avoid interbreeding in the wild and to ensure that the physical separation and segregation of these two species be considered in future conservation programmes.

The crocodiles of Central America have been in the news recently, as there have been moves to take away the protected status of the rare Mexican crocodile.

To read an article about this: Crocodile to Lose its Protected Status

Although rare in the United States, the American crocodile has a much wider distribution than the Cuban crocodile and is therefore under less threat of extinction.

Everything Dinosaur Helps Out Open University

Discover a New Age of Learning with the Open University

At Everything Dinosaur, we take very seriously our Open University (OU) studies, over the years a number of team members have taken courses with the OU and without the business qualifications team members have gained through their OU studies, we would not have the business we have today.  Recently, Everything Dinosaur was contacted by the Open University with a request to help them promote their work as part of a national advertising campaign for the university.

Having the right skills and training has never been so important, the jobs market is increasingly difficult and being able to offer an existing employer or indeed a potential employer the right skill set can help you to retain employment or indeed, move up the career ladder.  The very fact that you commit to a rigorous and demanding Open University course is proof of your willingness to work hard and to learn new skills.

Everything Dinosaur Featured in the Guardian Newspaper

Picture Permission:  OU/Guardian

OU courses are hard work, but the standard of teaching and learning materials is extremely high and our team members have found their studies immensely rewarding and helpful in their business careers.

Walking with Beasts Unleashed in Coventry

Award Winning Coventry Museum gets “Beastly” for the Summer

Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery and Museum is taking visitors back in time to meet huge prehistoric beasts such as Woolly Mammoths and fierce Sabre-Tooth Cats as the BBC “Walking with Beasts” exhibition takes up residence for the Summer.

So its back to the Ice Age and beyond at this award winning Coventry venue with the exhibition running from July 2nd to the 30th October giving visitors to chance to go on a prehistoric safari to meet some of the fearsome animals that our ancestors had to contend with.  It is hard to imagine  when looking at the huge, gaping jaws of a Smilodon or the immense bulk of an Coelodonta (that’s a Woolly Rhino), that these types of creature roamed around the east midlands – so if you fancy meeting some of Coventry’s earliest inhabitants – now’s your chance!

This family friendly exhibition includes original scale models and the life-size polyurethane heads of the prehistoric animals featured in the six part BBC documentary, as well as full-sized replicas of some of the most amazing creatures to ever walk the planet.  There are real fossils to see, plus the chance to get involved in touch screen interactive activities to build your own digital fossils, learn about animal camouflage and to get to grips with the topic of climate change.

BBC Walking with Beasts at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

Broken Tooth – Sabre-Tooth Cat

Picture Permission: Herbert Art Gallery and Museum/BBC

Everything Dinosaur team members have had the opportunity to work with these exhibits on a number of occasions, look out for the Neanderthals – a species of human that we shared planet Earth with until about 28,000 years ago and don’t forget to try out the blue screen area, it’s great fun seeing the young, enthusiastic palaeontologists of the future putting themselves in the picture amongst all these amazing prehistoric mammals.

Our feathered friends get in on the act as well, it is not just the mammals that diversified after the demise of the dinosaurs.  For a time, giant birds as tall as a man and with vicious, hatchet shaped jaws ruled the world.  Visitors to the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum will get the chance to meet them – that’s if you are feeling brave enough to go eyeball to eyeball with a “Terror Bird” (Phorusrhacids) – we promise you will never look at garden birds in the same way again.

Look out for the “Terror Birds” but Don’t get too Close to their Talons

Watch out for the talons

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The drawing above shows a typical “Terror Bird” from the Miocene Epoch, these animals were fast enough and strong enough to catch and eat horses.

This astounding exhibition lifts the lid on the technology behind the series and examines these fantastic creatures and the times in which they lived.

Exhibition Officer Dominic Bubb commented about the exhibition stating:

“As a museum we obviously showcase history but Walking with Beasts brings a whole new level to discovering the past.  With our natural history collections visitors have always had the chance explore the natural world, but now they get to see so much more thanks to this incredible exhibition.”

To learn more about the exhibition and the other exciting events taking place at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum over the next few months: Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

Sabre-Tooth Cats are Brought to Life at Walking with Beasts

Battle of the Sabre-Toothed Cats

Picture Permission: Herbert Art Gallery and Museum/BBC

A spokesperson for Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Walking with Beasts at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum provides visitors with a unique opportunity to learn about prehistoric animals and so gain an insight into how these creatures were brought back live and kicking onto our television screens.”

Tickets to the exhibition are £4.95 for adults, £3.95 for children over 5, FREE for under 5s and £14.00 for a family ticket that gives entry to either 1 adult and 3 children or 2 adults and 2 children. Concessions are available, for more information and to book tickets online visit:  The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

Pressing all the Right Buttons in Adobe CS5

Creating Buttons and Banners using Adobe Creative Suite 5

Anything that can help to improve the visual appearance of your website can be a huge asset when competing in the intensive world of cyberspace commerce.  Having invested in Adobe Creative Suite 5, the team members at Everything Dinosaur are slowly and surely finding their feet when it comes to working with this software.

Adobe Creative Suite 5 is a very powerful tool.  It can be a little daunting trying to work out how best to use it, however, with a bit of practice and the assistance of booking onto a very informative Adobe Photoshop course at our local college, we are just beginning to get to grips with some aspects of this product.

We have just been learning how to create a stylish button/banner for adding a nice visual touch when putting up links and such like.  When we first tried to do this task, it took us nearly two hours to complete the worksheet that had been provided by our course instructor.  As with everything though, with practice you can get quicker and after a few attempts we have been able to make a new button for our website in less than fifteen minutes – cool.

Although we would certainly not claim to be experts, it is very satisfying to see us making progress, below is a button we have created that when clicked takes you to our dinosaur models section of our website, what we call “Dinosaur Toys for Boys & Girls – Dinosaur Models”.

Our Newly Created Dinosaur Models Button/Banner

Button/Banner credit: Everything Dinosaur

By clicking on this banner visitors can go through to the part of the Everything Dinosaur website that shows the dinosaur and prehistoric animal models that we have in stock.  Clicking this button is the same as clicking the text with the underline in blue which is shown below:

Dinosaur Toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaurs

These buttons can help improve the appearance of a website.

T. rex Roamed in Packs – Fact or Fiction?

Did Tyrannosaurus rex Live in Packs?

One of the most intriguing questions about Tyrannosaurs has raised its head again.  Did these large Theropods roam the Cretaceous in packs or were they solitary hunters?  That is the question that is being tackled in a new Discovery Channel documentary being shown next Sunday evening.  It is also the topic under discussion in a live web chat with Dr. Phil Currie, a famous Canadian palaeontologist, who is taking a break from his research at the Dept. of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta to talk about the study of dinosaur bone bed evidence discovered in Mongolia.

On Sunday (26th June), The Discovery Channel UK broadcasts an exciting new documentary called “Dino Gangs” which reveals new evidence from Dr Phillip J Currie which suggests that Tyrannosaurus rex and other Tyrannosaurs were not dull witted, solitary creatures but in fact deadly pack hunters.  Behaviour is an aspect of animal activity that is hard to decipher from the fossil record, but Professor Currie and his fellow researchers first postulated that Tyrannosaurs may have been pack animals after the discovery of fossils of a relative of T. rex called Albertosaurus.  Several individual Albertosaur fossil remains were found together in the same bone bed – was this evidence of a pack of these meat-eating hunters dying together?  The argument over whether Tyrannosaurids were pack animals living and hunting together has raged in palaeontological circles for many years, now the Discovery Channel is showing a documentary that brings together the latest findings, one T. rex on its own would have been formidable, but a pack of these 14 metre long giants, would have been truly awesome.

Professor Phil Currie will Discuss his Research

Pack or Solitary Hunter?

Picture Credit: University of Alberta

Today (Wednesday, 22nd June 2011) at 1pm (UK, BST), there will be a live web chat with Dr. Currie where he will talk in-depth about his findings with Discovery viewers and Dinosaur enthusiasts.  Dr Currie will also be joined by two, well respected and expert Dinosaur bloggers, Brian Switek (the WIRED Science blog Laelaps, The Guardian, The Times) and David Orr (Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs).  We at Everything Dinosaur, know these two bloggers well and we are sure it is going to be a fascinating web cast.

The chat should be particularly eye-opening as it will not only reveal more about Dr Currie’s discoveries in Mongolia but also debate whether his findings are fact, or fiction.  If Tyrannosaurs lived in packs, this has implications for their hunting behaviour, breeding activity and social interaction.  For example, if these dinosaurs were pack animals would there be a dominant breeding pair and the pack made up of different genders as with packs of wolves, or perhaps sub-adult, immature males roamed around in groups to protect themselves from attacks from the larger females.

Tyrannosaurs a Pack Animal – an Intriguing Question

Picture Credit: EPA

Dino Gangs – The Evidence

Dr Philip J Currie, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Dinosaur Palaeobiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, has long believed that Tyannosaurids were co-operative pack animals, and he now has further evidence to support the theory.   As a world-renowned palaeontologist who has been part of a five-year dig in the Gobi Desert (Mongolia), he believes that new evidence is set to prove his controversial theory that Tyrannosaurid dinosaurs lived and worked in gangs.

Ever since they were discovered, humanity has thought of Tyrannosaurids as the most ferocious predators ever to walk the Earth. They’re the one group of dinosaurs that everyone knows, with the most famous, Tyrannosaurus rex, being one of the few species familiar in popular culture by its scientific name.

Philip Currie’s theory is groundbreaking because Tyrannosaurids have long been perceived as rather stupid solitary creatures.  For years, scientists concluded that they were solitary because their skeletons were found alone.  Dr Currie is convinced that Tyrannosaurids were more intelligent than previously imagined – and as complex pack animals who lived and hunted in gangs, far more dangerous predators than we thought.

The Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project has visited ninety sites where skeletons of Tarbosaurus bataar, a dinosaur related to T. rex, were found. Tarbosaurus bataar was an enormous predator – up to 12 metres long, 3 metres tall, and thought to weigh in at 5 tonnes.  While it is unlikely that all the animals lived together all year, Dr Currie believes that half a dozen of the dinosaurs, including both adult and juvenile specimens, were part of a single social group that died together.  The Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project was a five-year expedition, carrying out fieldwork at Bugin Tsav and other sites in the Gobi Desert from 2006 to 2010.

An Illustration of T. bataar (Alarming Reptile)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The idea that some carnivorous dinosaurs were pack hunters is groundbreaking because it is generally thought that pack hunting evolved with the rise of mammals, as it was thought that only mammals were capable of forming the social bonds required to live in a pack.  However, many scientists do believe that some types of dinosaurs lived in herds, the Sauropods for example.  So why not meat-eaters such as Dromaeosaurids and Tyrannosaurids living in packs?

About a dozen near complete specimens of the fast running, Theropod Deinonychus (D. antirrhopus) have been discovered, including remains of Deinonychus individuals next to a Tenontosaurus (a large, herbivorous dinosaur), a rare example of predator and prey being found together.  Did these meat-eaters get killed as a pack of them mobbed the larger Tenontosaurus?  This raises some fascinating questions with regards to the behaviour of carnivorous dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs and other animals are seldom given credit for having enough intelligence to be capable of the co-operative behaviour found in many mammals. This new research, based on the finds in the Gobi Desert and elsewhere, demonstrates that Tyrannosaurids had the build and speed for pack hunting, the highly developed senses to be effective predators, and the brain capacity for co-operative behaviour.  There is now compelling evidence to support the theory that millions of years before mammals evolved to become organised hunters, Tyrannosaurids may have been working together and hunting in teams – a very frightening prospect for any unwary herbivore around at the end of the Cretaceous.

A team of internationally renowned paleontologists will take part in a live webchat at 1pm BST today, this is a great opportunity to get involved in some new dinosaur research and to hear about some work on T. rex that has not been published in any scientific journals yet.

Winner of the Beacon Museum’s Dino Draw Competition Announced

Beacon Museum Announces the Winner of their Dinosaur Competition

The dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals from the award winning television documentary “Walking with Dinosaurs” have taken up residence at the Beacon Museum at Whitehaven.  This exciting exhibition is open throughout the summer and is already wowing dinosaur fans, old and young alike.

As part of the promotional activities surrounding this dinosaur themed tourist attraction, those clever people at the Beacon organised a dinosaur drawing competition, Cumbria’s very own “Dino Draw”, a chance for young people to get creative and to come up with their very own dinosaur design.

The winner has just been announced and it is Kian Hilton, aged six of Lowca Community School.  Kian’s picture appears on a banner outside Beacon Museum and also in the market place in Whitehaven’s town centre.  Lucky Kian also wins a free trip for his class to the BBC Walking with Dinosaurs Exhibition, a chance to get up close to the likes of Triceratops, Diplodocus and of course, the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex.

Kian’s Winning Entry

Picture Courtesy of The Beacon Museum

Kian’s drawing of a “Binosaurus” is certainly very colourful.  We at Everything Dinosaur are most impressed by his efforts, we love the enigmatic smile, perhaps not quite the way a palaeontologist would depict a dinosaur but the light coloured underside contrasting with the dark body colour, the blue flash over the eyes and the bright red dermal armour running along the back does make quite a lot of sense from a palaeontological perspective.

Well done Kian, a worthy winner – have a great day at the Beacon Museum with your class mates.

For further information about the Walking with Dinosaurs Exhibition at the Beacon Museum click on the link below:

Walking with Dinosaurs: The Beacon Museum

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