All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//September
13 09, 2011

A Review of the Safari Ltd Prehistoric Crocodiles Toob

By | September 13th, 2011|Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page|0 Comments

A Toob of Prehistoric Crocodiles

Really pleased to see the Safari Ltd prehistoric crocodiles toob, a tube of ten crocodile or crocodile-related models.  It is certainly fascinating to see these replicas of prehistoric animals that represent the diverse crocodilian lineage.  There is even a marine crocodile – Dakosaurus in the range, along with a Desmatosuchus, Sarcosuchus, a Rutiodon and a Champsosaurus.

The Everything Dinosaur Product Review

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Hopefully, this five minute video will give viewers a little more information about the prehistoric animals featured in this, highly collectible set.  Most of the models represent animals from the Age of Dinosaurs (the Mesozoic), the exception is the Pristichampsus, a long-legged, hoofed carnivore whose fossils date from the Palaeogene.

Depicted by Safari as a crimson-coloured animal with black stripes along its back, scientists think that this crocodile, unlike its relatives that are alive today, lived mostly on land, pursuing and catching terrestrial mammals.   When the fossilised teeth of this animal were first studied, some scientists mistook them for the teeth of Theropod dinosaurs and as a result it was speculated that some carnivorous dinosaurs had survived the Cretaceous mass extinction event.  It is always exciting to review a prehistoric crocodiles model tube for all those fans of prehistoric crocodile models.

To view the range of prehistoric animal models available from Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

The models measure approximately nine to ten centimetres in length.  The largest model in the set is that of Sarcosuchus, which is very appropriate as this particular prehistoric crocodile that lived during the Cretaceous has been declared the largest prehistoric crocodile known in the fossil record and Sarcosuchus has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as a result.

To view articles on huge extant crocodiles: Monster Crocodile Caught in the Philippines

12 09, 2011

Update on BBC Television Programmes Featuring Dinosaurs

By | September 12th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Don’t Forget Dinosaurs Myths and Monsters This Week

With all the excitement over the start of the BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur” this week, we at Everything Dinosaur thought it might be helpful to let readers know about another television programme being shown by the BBC this week.  The hour long documentary “Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters” is being aired to accompany “Planet Dinosaur” on BBC.

Shown on BBC 4 but we think it may also be available on the BBC HD channel, “Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters”, is being shown straight after the CGI programme on BBC 1 on Wednesday 14th.  “Dinosaurs, Myths, and Monsters” starts at 9pm on the 14th, it is repeated at midnight that same night and it is also repeated late evening on Saturday 17th (10.40pm start).

Historian Tom Holland, explores the history of palaeontology and pieces together how ancient civilisations thought about fossils.  In an epic story that takes us from Greece and its Greek legends to the American Wild West, Tom goes on a journey of discovery to explore the fascinating ways in which our ancestors sought to explain the remains of dinosaurs and other giant prehistoric creatures, and how bones and fossils have shaped and affected human culture.

In the BBC press release they state that this documentary is an alternative history of dinosaurs – the neglected story of how mythic imagination and scientific enquiry have met over millennia to give meaning to the dry bones of prehistory.  Today, as our interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures continues unabated, it turns out we are not so far away from the awe and curiosity of our ancient ancestors.

11 09, 2011

Walking with Dinosaurs in 3D to have the “Avatar Touch”

By | September 11th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, TV Reviews|0 Comments

James Cameron to help on BBC 3D Dinosaur Project

Award winning film director James Cameron is to lend his expertise to the BBC in a project to bring the “Walking with Dinosaurs” franchise up to date with a 3D version of the six part series.  Oscar winner Cameron, whose portfolio of work includes Titanic and Avatar, will be bringing the Cameron/Pace Group’s film expertise working alongside BBC Earth Films, Reliance Pictures and Evergreen Films to produce what is promised to be a spectacular dinosaur series, one of the most expensive projects the BBC has ever been involved in.

Neil Nightingale, Creative Director for BBC Earth Films commented:

“Cameron/Pace Group shares our vision of setting a new benchmark for immersive 3D film with Walking with Dinosaurs 3D.  It’s exciting to be joining forces with them to bring audiences a truly extraordinary experience.  We’ll be using the highest technical and creative standards in 3D photography to immerse our audience in the film, they will truly feel right in amongst the action, part of the astonishing prehistoric world of the dinosaurs.”

James Cameron, perhaps more familiar with working with Hollywood A-listers than Jurassic herbivores added:

“Walking with Dinosaurs 3D offers a fantastic opportunity to push our advances in 3D even further.  We’re inspired by the creative ambition behind the film and the opportunity to work on a feature that aims to bring audiences a real, visceral experience.”

The BBC press release whets reader’s appetites by stating that the production combines world-class factual content with captivating storytelling that will take audiences on an unprecedented journey.   The story told is one of the greatest ever to have unfolded on Earth: a story of families born and families torn apart, of growing up, of rivalry and competition and the relentless struggle to survive.  Walking with Dinosaurs 3D is all the more jaw-dropping for being grounded in fact, it will be the closest audiences can get to exploring our world 70 million years ago.

Dinosaurs in 3D in 2013 (Release Date in Two Years Time)

Picture Credit: BBC Press Release

Team members at Everything Dinosaur are excited by the news, although they had been aware of the BBC’s ambition to make a 3D project involving dinosaurs as a flagship event to showcase the technology.  The benchmark will have to be high, especially after the initial reaction to the CGI used in the forthcoming BBC documentary series “Planet Dinosaur” was lukewarm in some quarters.

The production will immerse audiences in the prehistoric age using photo-real backdrops and combining these with true-to-life animation from the Academy Award-winning animation house Animal Logic (“Happy Feet”) working with leading animation producer Jinko Gotoh (“9”, “Finding Nemo”).  The widely anticipated film is fully financed by Reliance Entertainment with worldwide rights being handled by its subsidiary IM Global.  Twentieth Century Fox holds US rights and has scheduled the film for a late 2013 release.

We will have to wait and see..

Everything Dinosaur would like to thank the BBC Press Service for their help with this article.

10 09, 2011

Activists Demand Huge Philippine Crocodile Be Released

By | September 10th, 2011|Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Mayor Stands Firm Over Monster Croc

A one tonne Saltwater Crocodile that was caught earlier this week, will not be released back into the wild, despite concerns for the animal’s welfare after it had not eaten since its capture.  An animal rights group urged the Philippine authorities to free what is thought to be the world’s largest crocodile in captivity, even though it allegedly killed two people.

The monster 6.4 metre male Saltwater crocodile was placed in a penned pond after it was caught in a remote southern creek on September 3rd, with local officials planning to use it as a tourist attraction once it had become adapted to its incarceration.  However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals senior Asia-Pacific campaigner Ashley Fruno said that despite suspicion that this reptile was a man-eater, the crocodile was better off being returned to the wild, away from human settlements.

She stated:

“The government should do the compassionate thing and order this crocodile to be returned to his natural habitat, as taking him away to be locked up in an animal prison is just plain wrong.  Penned animals are prone to psychotic behaviour and its immense size and power could prove dangerous to visitors and those caring for it.”

Expressing her concern for the creature’s welfare she added:

“While even those zoos with the best intentions can never replicate the natural environment of animals, how do they expect to come remotely close with a crocodile roughly two or three times the size of a regular adult?”

The crocodile nicknamed “Lolong” weighed 1,075 kilogrammes when it was captured earlier this week.  A number of attacks on people and livestock in the area had been reported in and around the town of Bunawan and following a programme of trapping this suspected man-eater was finally captured.  However, locals state that there are a number of very large crocodiles living in the nearby marshland.

To read more about Lolong’s capture: Monster Crocodile Captured in the Philippines

Rollie Sumiller, who led the team that trapped the animal, commented that removing from the wild a huge reptile suspected of attacking humans was the correct thing to do.

Bunawan Mayor Edwin Elorde said that the crocodile would not be released, stating that the safety of the residents of Bunawan, Agusan del Sur remains as the top priority of the local government.

9 09, 2011

New Fossils may Help Define Human Ancestry

By | September 9th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Australopithecus sediba May be the Ancestor of Modern Humans

Two fossils, one of a female, one of a young male discovered in South Africa in 2008, may provide scientists with clues to our species origins – H. sapiens.  Although the brain may have been not much bigger than a chimpanzees, the fossilised bones indicate an upright walking gait, and the ability to grip and hold tools.

The fossilised remains of two human-like creatures who probably fell to their deaths, found in South Africa could redraw the map of human evolution and provide scientists with vital information regarding the origins of our own species.  The 1.9 million-year-old specimens were formally described last year and given the species name Australopithecus sediba, the name means “southern ape from the natural spring” a reference to the geological formation in South Africa were the fossils were found amongst many other prehistoric animal bones.  The international research team including scientists from the University of Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) and the University of Zurich have carried out a much more thorough analysis of the specimens and have published a number of papers detailing their research, suggesting that A.sediba may represent an important link in the ape to human evolutionary tree.

Co-author of the scientific papers, Professor Lee Berger (University of Witwatersrand) stated:

“We have examined the critical areas of anatomy that have been used consistently for identifying the uniqueness of human beings.  Any one of these features could have evolved separately, but it is highly unlikely that all of them would have evolved together if A. sediba was not related to our lineage.”

Professor Lee Berger with the Cranium of A. sediba

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University

A national competition was launched to find a suitable nickname for the fossilised juvenile.  This competition helped raise awareness of the importance of this South African discovery.  To read about the competition and to discover the winner: Ancient Hominid Fossil From “Human Cradle” Named

The research team are making a very big claim.  A number of scientists have proposed fossil specimens as being transitional between the Australopithecines and the ancestral line that led to fossil humans.

The current, most widely accepted hypothesis holds that modern humans can trace their ancestry back to a creature known as Homo erectus which lived more than a million years ago. This animal, according to many palaeoanthropologists, may in turn have had its origins in more primitive hominins, as they are known, such as Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis.

The contention now made for A. sediba is that, although older than its “rivals”, some of its anatomy and capabilities were more advanced than these younger forms.  Put simply, it is a more credible ancestor for H. erectus, the research team propose.

Although very different to ourselves, modern humans, the importance of determining an ancestor of H.erectus cannot be underestimated.  This particular hominid probably evolved in Africa from an African ancestor, H. erectus was the first “human-like” creature to become widespread.  The best fossils of H. erectus have come from Asia and it may have been the “longest lived” human species with some scientists suggesting that may have been on planet Earth from around 1.8 million years ago to just fifty thousand years ago.

The A. sediba specimens were unearthed at Malapa in the famous Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, just to the north-west of Johannesburg.  The fossils were found in a pit, a depression left in the ground after the roof of a cave had collapsed.  These pits are common in the area, which is dominated by dolomitic limestone and a number of caves and cave complexes are known.

The fossil layers accumulated at the base of these shafts which may have operated as death traps.  The sediments were cemented by lime-saturated water and were sealed with flowstones.  The excellent preservation of the fossils implies a fast deposition and only minor transportation of the bodies of the animals including the remains of these two specimens of A. sediba.

Professor Berger with the Partial Remains of One Specimen Laid Out

Ancient fossils

Picture Credit: Brett Eloff (Witwatersrand University)

One hypothesis put forward by the research team is that in the search for water, animals might have fallen into the cave.  Predators could have been attracted to the smell of decomposing bodies and suffered the same fate. Subsequent rainfalls washed the intact bodies more deeply into the cave where they were submerged in an underground lake.  It is these conditions that enabled the preservation of the fragile fossil bones.

Identified as an adult female and a juvenile male, the two individuals were quite possibly mother and son.  What seems certain is that they died together in some tragic accident that saw them either fall into the cave complex or become stuck in it.  After death, their bodies were washed into the underground lake and cemented in time along with the remains of many other animals that got trapped in the same way; including some creatures that were probable predators of A. sediba – large hyenas and big cats.

One important area of study has involved a more accurate dating of the strata within which the fossils were found. The latest dating technologies were applied to the sediments encasing the fossils.  Whereas original estimates had put the age of the remains at somewhere between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old, the new analysis has narrowed this window of uncertainty to just 3,000 years.  The new age is now between 1.977 and 1.98 million years old.  The refined dating is important, says the team, because it puts A. sediba deep enough in time to be a realistic ancestor to H. erectus.

Dr Robyn Pickering, from the University of Melbourne, Australia, who led the dating team and one of a number of Australian based scientists who worked on this project, commented:

“This is a very interesting time in human evolution because it is when we think we should be seeing the beginnings of our genus, Homo.  Previously, we’ve had very few fossils from this time period, so the sediba fossils are remarkable in that they are so complete.”

One of the characteristics that distinguishes modern humans from other primates is the size and structure of our brains.  Fossils of H.erectus show a significant increase in brain size when compared to older primate fossils such as H. rudolfensis.  Estimates for the cranial capacity of H. erectus vary but a brain size of around 1,000 cubic centimetres in volume has been stated.  A high-resolution X-ray scan of the male specimen’s skull has produced a virtual cast of its braincase.  This was carried out at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble.  From this, the researchers estimate an adult A. sediba’s brain to have been about 440 cubic centimetres in volume, about the size of a medium grapefruit.  This is smaller than much older fossils in the record such as the famous “Lucy” specimen, Australopithecus afarensis (3.2 million years), but, intriguingly, the shape is more human-like, especially at the front.  This may hint at the start of the re-organisation of the brain that would be necessary to make us what we are today with our large neocortex.

The Complicated Human Evolutionary Tree

Plotting the family history

Picture Credit: Peter Schmid (University of Zurich)

Due to the paucity of the fossil record, determining the origins of our species and our direct ancestors is extremely difficult, but these new fossils from South Africa may shed further light on this aspect of evolution.

The pelvic area also indicates very human-like characteristics.  The pelvis is short and broad just like a human pelvis. A more ancient creature like Lucy has a flatter and more flaring pelvis, very ape-like in shape.  A popular idea has been that the modern human pelvis evolved in tandem with the gradual growth in brain volume, facilitating the birth of babies with bigger heads.  A. sediba gives the lie to this theory, says the team, because it had a modern-looking pelvis while possessing a small brain.

The right-hand of the female is very nearly complete.  It is looks far more like a modern human hand than an ape hand.  Its fingers are shorter relative to the thumb than in a chimpanzee.  Yet, it appears to have possessed powerful muscles for grasping, suggesting A. sediba spent a lot of time clambering through the branches of trees, indicating an arboreal habit.  The research team also argues that the dexterity would have been there to make simple tools.  Hand axes and other stone tools have been found in association with H. erectus fossil remains.

The lower foot bones also reveal some intriguing information about these creatures.  The ankle joint is mostly human-like in form and there is some evidence for a human-like arch and Achilles tendon.  However, A. sediba possessed an ape-like heel and lower tibia, or shin bone (not as elongated as in more modern human species).  The scientists think this combination may have led to a distinctive type of walk when the creature was not climbing in trees.  This could suggest a transition between an entirely arboreal existence and a move towards spending more time out of the trees.

Whatever the correctness of the analysis, the creature certainly has a fascinating mix of features – some archaic, some modern, a mix of evolutionary traits.  A number of scientists have described these fossils as fascinating and very well preserved.

Dr William Harcourt-Smith from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, commented:

“One lineage of Australopithecus almost certainly led into the first member of our own genus called Homo, and from them eventually emerged modern humans.  But some of them are side branches, and we’re trying to work out which ones are and which ones aren’t – and that’s why this finding is so important.  In many ways, these fossils are the ‘smoking gun’ just before the emergence of our own genus.”

Professor Chris Stringer, from London’s Natural History Museum, a world renowned expert on the origins of our own species stated:

“This isn’t the end of the story.  What may be happening is that there were several Australopithecine forms all evolving human-like features in parallel as they turned to meat-eating and tool-making and moving greater distances.”

He went onto add:

“The question now is to pull out of this mess which one is really the ancestor of the genus Homo.  We know there are more remains to come from this incredible site.  Let’s see if other individuals also show this mix of features.”

8 09, 2011

A New Desmatosuchus (Safari Ltd Prehistoric Crocodiles)

By | September 8th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Desmatosuchus – Tube of Crocodiles

In the new tube (toob) of crocodiles created by Safari Ltd, (prehistoric crocodiles toob), there is an Aetosaur (eagle lizard) featured.  This is an unusual inclusion in this particular set, but it does show how diverse the Archosaurs were.

Desmatosuchus does mean “link crocodile”, unlike most members of the crocodile family it was a herbivore.  Like most of the Aetosaurs known to date, Desmatosuchus had heavy body armour consisting of large, four-sided plates running along the back, encasing the tail and the underbelly.  The huge shoulder horns in larger specimens were up to fifty centimetres long.

The Safari Desmatosuchus in the Prehistoric Crocodile Tube

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The model measures the best part of ten centimetres in length, we have used one of our magnifying glasses and a ruler to show the scale.  A  nicely painted replica of this Late Triassic reptile.  This model joins the other nine models in the new tube of prehistoric crocodiles from Safari Ltd.  Always fun to photograph prehistoric animal models.

To view Safari models and other dinosaurs available from Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls

7 09, 2011

Allosaurus Attacks

By | September 7th, 2011|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Allosaurus Attacks – Popular Dinosaur Model

When it comes to the most popular meat-eating dinosaur models, favourites of ours at Everything Dinosaur are models of the Late Jurassic member of the Tetanurae group of Theropods – Allosaurus.  There are a number of Allosaurus species represented in this genus, it is perhaps one of the most specious of all the Theropod genera and despite having been around since being formally described back in 1877 this dinosaur remains very popular today.

Allosaurus Attacks – Model of an Allosaurus

Allosaurus attacks

Allosaurus attacks

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the typical aggressive posture of an Allosaurus dinosaur model, we wonder why these dinosaur models are more often than not depicted with their mouths open?

To view dinosaur models at Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Models including Allosaurus

7 09, 2011

Bird Crops in the Cretaceous

By | September 7th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Study Suggests that Cretaceous Birds had a Modern Digestive System

Birds that flew over the heads of dinosaurs, may have had a seed-eating organ very similar to that found in modern extant species such as the humble pigeon.  Scientists have published a paper detailing evidence that ancient Avians may have had a very sophisticated digestive system, almost identical to those of seed-eating birds around today.

According to a study published this week in the scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, some ancient bird fossils appear to have had what is effectively a crop.  In a bird’s digestive system, that of a pigeon or a budgerigar for example, the crop is an expanded, muscular pouch near the gullet.  Part of the digestive tract it is essentially an enlarged part of the oesophagus.  It is used to store food for a short time and whilst in the crop, seeds can be softened by mucus which makes them easier to grind in the gizzard before being passed onto the true stomach.

Dr. Zhonghe Zhou, of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, (IVPP) and colleagues examined hundreds of Early Cretaceous fossils from China and found evidence for the presence of a crop in a number of specimens.

The ancient crops were identified as a roughly spherical mass of seeds outside the ribcage, in about the same anatomical location as in modern birds.  The researchers identified crops in two out of nearly one hundred Sapeornis chaoyangensis specimens and in one out of more than two dozen Hongshanornis longicresta specimens, and suggest the crop’s apparent rarity may reflect the difficulty of preserving the organ.  Soft tissue such as a crop would not be readily preserved during the fossilisation process.

The authors also identified a muscular gizzard in Hongshanornis, giving it essentially a modern avian digestive system. Sapeornis and Hongshanornis are two evolutionarily distant lineages, indicating that their crops evolved independently as a specialised seed-eating adaptation, the authors conclude.  Both species also had largely reduced or completely lost teeth, indicating that seed eating may have factored into the reduction of teeth in birds.  Although, since both these creatures were capable flyers, the loss of teeth may have been an evolutionary adaptation to lose weight to permit a lighter body-weight, thus making flight easier.

An Artists Reconstruction of the Cretaceous Bird – Sapeornis (S. chaoyangensis)

Picture Credit: Lida Xing and Yi Liu

Fossils showing a crop full of seeds, indicates that early birds had a crop and digestive system similar to those of modern birds that can be found in your garden or at the park.  The propensity for seed eating, seen in these Chinese fossils shows how quickly animals began to adapt to the new food source available with the evolution and expansion of the flowering plants – Angiosperms.

The authors concluded that seed-eating was an important factor in early Avian evolution, however, the presence of a crop and its ability to store food may also have had an fundamental impact on the success of the bird family.  If these ancient birds could store food in their crops they would have been able to gather seed efficiently for their young.  Being able to feed their babies very efficiently would have improved the survival rate of broods and as a result this may have helped bird populations increase.  Perhaps helping them to edge out the Pterosaurs.

6 09, 2011

Monster Crocodile Caught in the Philippines

By | September 6th, 2011|Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Villagers Catch Huge Saltwater Crocodile after Three Week Hunt

An enormous crocodile that measures 6.4 metres in length and weighing more than a tonne has been caught by villagers in marshes surrounding a remote part of the southern Philippines.  The hunt was organised after a series of attacks on livestock and people say officials and this particular crocodile is the biggest caught alive in the Philippines in living memory.

Local officials are also claiming that this giant reptile may be the biggest specimen ever captured.  Recently, giant crocodiles hit the headlines when a “Saltie” known as “Cassius” which resides in a marine park in northern Queensland was officially declared the largest crocodile in captivity by the Guinness Book of Records.  However, if plans to put this Philippine croc into a marine park come to fruition then this new specimen will be the new world record holder.

The Captured Crocodile in the Philippines

Picture Credit: Reuters

The picture shows the captured crocodile on a trolley surrounded by curious villagers.

Josefina de Leon, wildlife division chief of the environment ministry’s protected areas and wildlife bureau, said it was likely to be the biggest crocodile ever captured.

She went onto state:

“This is the biggest animal that I’ve handled in 20 years of trapping.”

The hunt for the crocodile in the village of Bunawan began in mid-August and it took dozens of local men to secure its capture on Saturday.  There had been a number of crocodile attacks on livestock and at least one fatal attack on a fisherman.  However, crocodile hunter Rollie Sumiller, who led the hunt, said this reptile may not be the killer they have been looking for as the local marshes in the province of Agusan del Sur are a wildlife sanctuary and the home to a number of super-sized crocodiles.  Several traps had been set to catch the monster, these proved too weak to contain the powerful animal but eventually a stronger trap was built and this example of a super predator captured.

Rollie commented:

“We’re not really sure if this is the man-eater, because there have been other sightings of other crocodiles in the area.”

There are plans to build a tourist attraction eco-park in the area, the super-sized crocodile will become one of the star attractions, permitting visitors to get up close to a truly gigantic reptile.  Saltwater crocodile attacks are all too frequent, last month we reported on a fatal crocodile attack on a teenage boy on the Salafem river.

To read this article: Crocodile Kills Fourteen-Year-Old Boy

5 09, 2011

The Origins of the Woolly Rhino

By | September 5th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Ancient Fossil From Tibet may Indicate Origin of Coelodonta

The Woolly Rhino, with its long shaggy coat and huge horn, or indeed two horns, is often depicted alongside Woolly Mammoths in Ice Age tableau.  Certainly, there were a number of species that roamed the northern hemisphere during the Pleistocene Epoch, but scientists have remained uncertain as to where such beasts originated.  Palaeontologists had speculated that Asia was most likely their original home and now the discovery of a 3.6 million year old Rhinoceros fossil suggests that Tibet may have been where these huge, prehistoric mammals originated from.  Indeed, the geographic diversity of Woolly Rhinos is most puzzling.  For example, fossils of Woolly Rhinos have been found all over Europe, even its most southern parts, but never in Ireland and surprisingly the fossil record suggest that these Ice Age creatures never migrated into North America.

To read an article about the fauna of southern Europe during the Ice Age: Cold Climate Fauna from Spain

The Woolly Rhino (Coelodonta antiquitatis) was named and described by the German naturalist and anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1807.  Some species had just one large horn, whilst C. antiquitatis had two horns on its snout, the front horn being larger than the second horn located between the eyes. Woolly Rhinos were stocky, covered in long, shaggy hair with short legs, small ears and a dumpy tail – all adaptations for living in cold climates.

An Illustration of a Typical Woolly Rhino

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

But where do they originate from?  Perhaps this Tibetan discovery can provide the answer.

Ice Age megafauna have long been known to be associated with global cooling during the Pleistocene Epoch, and their adaptations to cold environments, such as large body size, long hair, and snow-sweeping structures, (horns and tusks for example), are best exemplified by the Woolly Mammoths and Woolly Rhinos.  These traits were assumed to have evolved as a response to the ice sheet expansion.  However, the research team have uncovered a large number of Pliocene Epoch aged mammal fossils from a high-altitude basin in the western Himalayas.  Their discovery includes the remains of a primitive Woolly Rhino.  These new Tibetan fossils suggest that some megaherbivores first evolved in Tibet before the beginning of the Ice Age.  The cold winters in high Tibet served as a habituation ground for the megaherbivores, which became pre-adapted for the Ice Age, successfully expanding to the Eurasian mammoth steppe.  Living in a cold and frosty environment led to these creatures being pre-adapted to the Ice Age when ice sheets expanded.  The high Tibetan plateau may have been the evolutionary cradle for these prehistoric beasts.

Xiaoming Wang from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County commented on the newly discovered fossil stating:

“It is the oldest specimen discovered so far.  It is at least a million years older, or more, than any other Woolly Rhinos we have known.  It’s quite well preserved – just a little crushed, so not quite in the original shape; but the complete skull and lower jaw are preserved.”

The fossil was found in Tibet’s Zanda Basin, an area that is still largely unexplored, rich in Pliocene fossils and along with this primitive Woolly Rhino the team unearthed examples of extinct horses, antelope, plus snow leopard, badger and numerous other types of mammal fossils.

Dr. Wang, one of the research paper’s authors along with scientists from China, USA and Finland thinks that this new type of Rhinoceros merits a new species name: Coelodonta thibetana.  The name means (old hollow tooth from Tibet).

The Prepared Fossil Skull and Jaws of C. thibetana

Picture Credit: Dr. Xiaoming Wang

The researchers state that C. thibetana displays some very primitive features compared with its counterparts that lived through the later great glaciations of the Pleistocene Epoch.  Judging from marks on the skull, the creature’s horn, which has not survived, would likely have been quite flat in construction and leaning forward.  This might have allowed the animal more easily to sweep snow out of the way to get at vegetation, a useful behaviour for survival in the harsh Tibetan climate, the team says.  A number of Woolly Rhinos had flattened, paddle like horns, suggesting their primary role was not defence but to help these beasts sweep away snow so that they could feed on the exposed vegetation.

The scientists present their case for these beasts becoming pre-adapted to the Ice Age climate by evolving on the high Tibetan plateau in the scientific journal “Science”.

Dr. Wang explained:

“When this Rhino existed, the global climate was much warmer and the northern continents were free of the massive ice sheets seen in the later ice ages.  Then, about a million years later, when the Ice Age did hit the world, these Tibetan Woolly Rhinos were basically pre-adapted to this harsh, cold environment because they had this ability to sweep snows.

An Illustration of the New Woolly Rhino Species

The origins of Woolly Rhinos?

Picture Credit: Science/AAAS

Although Dr. Wang admits much more field work is required to confirm the Tibetan plateau hypothesis, however, if the research team are correct these megaherbivores moved to lower latitudes as the world grew colder and they became geographically widespread across Eurasia, even to the United Kingdom.

We at Everything Dinosaur, have worked on a number of Woolly Rhino replicas and models, to view a selection of our prehistoric mammal model range and dinosaurs: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

The condition of the fossil is exceptional, this is a big bonus for the palaeontologists, as numerous Rhino fossils are very incomplete and show signs of having been scavenged by the many large predators that roamed Europe and Asia during this time in prehistory.

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