A Review of the Baby T. rex Models (Papo of France)

Papo Baby T. rex Dinosaur Models Reviewed

Hot on the heels of the two 2012 product releases from Papo depicting adult Tyrannosaurs (the running T. rex model and the new standing T. rex in brown with a re-sculpted head), comes the addition of two models of baby Tyrannosaurs.  There is certainly a T. rex bias in the current Papo “Dinosaures” model range, out of the twenty-five models currently available, five of them represent Tyrannosaurus rex.  The proportion of Tyrannosaurs to other replicas is certainly high, it will be reduced slightly with the introduction of the new Brachiosaurus replica (due to be with us in July, 2012, but for the time being, twenty percent of Papo’s “Dinosaures” output is dedicated to the “King of the Tyrant Lizards”.

This review focuses on the baby T. rex dinosaur models, the manufacturer’s objective; to permit dinosaur model fans to create scenes where an adult Tyrannosaurus rex can be featured with a youngster.

The fossil evidence for young Tyrannosaurus, can be described at best as being patchy.  Unfortunately, there are very few fossilised remains of baby dinosaurs, that is dinosaurs that have hatched and left the nest, preserved in the fossil record.  Their small bones are less likely to be preserved and it is probable that any small creature that died would soon have its carcase scavenged and eaten.  A controversial specimen, tentatively described as a baby Tyrannosaurus rex has helped scientists at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum exhibit three skeletons of T. rex, an adult, a teenager and a juvenile all feeding off the body of a dead Edmontosaurus.   This exhibit, part of a multi-million dollar refurbishment of the dinosaur halls at this Californian museum, depicts Tyrannosaurs showing their different growth stages.  This is the first time, that Tyrannosaurs have been depicted in a family group.  Luis Chiappe, the Director of the Museum’s Dinosaur Halls would be intrigued to see how Papo have interpreted the young T. rexes.

The growth series is a fascinating look at the ways that T. rex specimens grew, a process that included incredible growth spurts and body changes.  After hatching as a 2-foot, 6-pound baby, for example, a T. rex could reach 30 to 35 feet (10,000 to 12,000 pounds) in less than two decades – if it was lucky.

The baby in the Los Angeles exhibit measures approximately eleven feet long.  Palaeontologists have estimated that the fossils that have been used to create this part of the Tyrannosaur diorama come from a two-year old animal.  The Papo dinosaur models represent much younger dinosaurs, perhaps less than a year old.

To view the Papo Dinosaurs model range: Papo Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

The two Papo models are from the same mould.  They are identical apart from their different colourations.  There is one T. rex baby which has been coloured using the green hue which was used in the original Papo standing T.rex sculpt and in the new Running Tyrannosaur model.  The second model has been painted brown, presumably to co-ordinate with the new version of the standing T. rex dinosaur model that was introduced this year (also painted brown).

Both models are posed with the neck craned up and the head slightly to one side, as if the youngster is looking up at its parent, perhaps begging for food.  Scientists have very little fossil evidence to study which indicates the nesting behaviour of Tyrannosaurids.  Palaeontologists have proposed that the Dinosauria exhibited both altricial and precocial patterns of growth and development.  Animals which are altricial are helpless when first born, unable to feed themselves,  without down or body hair to help camouflage them or to keep them warm.  The young remain within a nest environment for some time relying on their parents to look after them.  Examples of altricial animals today include marsupial mammals, woodpeckers, most garden birds and of course, our own species.  Evidence from “Egg Mountain” in Montana suggests that the duck-billed dinosaur, Maiasaura (M. peeblesorum) may have exhibited altricial behaviour.

Baby T. rex Dinosaurs from Papo

Snappy Dinosaur Models from Papo

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Precocial animals tend to be much more independent, mobile and capable than their altricial counterparts.  They can move, defend themselves and hunt.   Examples of precocial animals today are reindeer and gnu who within minutes of being born are able to run and keep up with the rest of the grazing herd.  Crocodilians exhibit precocial behaviour.  With American Alligators for example, young animals may benefit from the protection of their mother which is nearby, but the young gators are able to hunt for themselves.  Scientists have speculated that some types of dinosaur may have exhibited precocial behaviour with other types of dinosaur exhibiting nurturing and offspring/parental behaviours between these two extremes.

It is not known how Tyrannosaurs nested, although there is some evidence to suggest that some Tyrannosaurs may have lived and hunted in small family packs.  If this is the case then the Papo models might depict a young animal that has left the nest and is now accompanying the adult animals as they travel throughout their territory, with the intention of hunting.

One of the concerns raised when these models were first being developed, was how to protect what would be tiny forelimbs.  In order to prevent the arms from being broken, either in transport or through careless handling, the arms in both models are held close in to the chest (in fact attached to the chest as a single cast).  The resulting pose  of the two models does not look unnatural.

The skull is relatively big and the eyes are large, traits seen in young animals.  The snout of the young T. rex models is rather short and blunt, allowing for a lengthening of the snout as the animal grew and matured (ontogenic changes as an animal grows into an adult).  Both models have articulated lower jaws, the the dinosaurs can be posed either mouth open, mouth closed or part way between the two.  The interface between the head and the underside of the neck on both replicas does not permit the jaws to be opened very far.  Baby Tyrannosaurs, would have been able to open their jaws much wider.

As no indication of ages is provided by Papo, and due to the lack of fossil evidence no scale can be given for these two dinosaur models, the best guess would be that these replicas represent animals under twelve months old.

Each model measures twelve centimetres long, with a head height of approximately nine centimetres.  As with all the Papo models they are well painted and show lots of nice detail.  The base of the tail is resting on the ground, this helps support the model as the feet surprisingly; are quite small.  With young animals, the legs and feet are usually out of proportion with the rest of the body (concept called distal growth), this would have had a tendency to make baby Tyrannosaurs look a little leggy and clumsy, but Papo have avoided this by using the tail to assist the model’s balance thus enabling the feet to remain relatively small.

Interesting to note the addition of these two replicas to the Papo “Dinosaures” range, which we are sure will please collectors and dinosaur enthusiasts alike.  After all, you really can’t go wrong with a Papo Tyrannosaurus rex!

T. bataar Bites Back!

Auction House to Help Trace the Origins of T. bataar Fossil Skeleton that was Sold

An almost complete, mounted skeleton of the Tyrannosaurid Tarbosaurus bataar, otherwise known as Tyrannosaurus bataar that had been probably collected from Mongolia and sold at auction has run into a legal wrangle.

The eight metre long skeleton was sold at an auction held in New York by Heritage Auctions on Sunday, May 20th.  The winning bid was approximately £630,000 GBP ($1.05 million USD), the buyer has not been disclosed.

To read more about the sale: Tyrannosaurid Fossil Up for Sale

When the auction was announced, team members at Everything Dinosaur decided to take action.  Knowing that it had been illegal to export fossils out of China and Mongolia since 1949, it was assumed that this specimen had been smuggled out of the country without the approval of the appropriate authorities.  Everything Dinosaur team members were some of the first people to raise this issue and to sign an online petition that had been organised to try and prevent the sale.

Yesterday, Heritage Auctions, the auction house responsible for the sale, agreed to help the Mongolian Government investigate the ownership and provenance of this Late Cretaceous dinosaur skeleton.

Tarbosaurus (Tarbosaurus bataar, sometimes also referred to as Tyrannosaurus bataar), was an apex predator, measuring in excess of twelve metres in length.  The name means “Alarming Reptile” and it is frequently referred to as the “Asian T. rex“, however, how closely related it was to the North American T. rex remains disputed.

Tarbosaurus was formally named and described in 1955.  The eminent Russian palaeontologist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Maleev noted how similar fossils found approximately ten years earlier were to Tyrannosaurus rex, accordingly he named this new dinosaur Tyrannosaurus bataar.  However, in the mid 1960’s a review of Tyrannosaur skull material and body fossils from Mongolia and China was undertaken and in the light of this new study the name Tarbosaurus bataar was established.

An Illustration of Tarbosaurus

Alarming Reptile – Mounted Skeleton sold at Auction leads to Legal Dispute

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A restraining order had been organised prior to the auction and despite the intercession of the Mongolian President, the auction went ahead ten days ago.  However, a state district judge in Texas has granted the Mongolian Government the opportunity to delay the transfer of ownership to the buyer until the provenance of the fossil material has been determined.

Jim Halperin, co-chairman of Heritage Auctions, commented:

“Heritage will enthusiastically strive to arrive at a mutually agreeable outcome, once the President of Mongolia has had a reasonable opportunity to investigate the circumstances.”

The Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia released a statement yesterday:

“I commend Heritage Auctions and its consignor for assisting with my investigation into the origin and legal ownership of this Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton.”

A team of inspectors will examine the fossil, which is being stored at a secret location in New York, next month.  They will attempt to trace how this fossil came to be at auction, Everything Dinosaur has been led to believe that the fossil was put up for sale by a Dorset based (southern England), private collector.  It is likely that this fossil did originate from the Gobi Desert region of Asia.  This desert covers northern China and southern Mongolia, although Heritage Auction officials stated that it had not been determined from which country the fossil actually came from.

Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History (New York) and a leading palaeontologist stated:

Since ninety percent of the Gobi Desert is in Mongolia, it was likely found there.  Either way, Mongolia and China have the same laws regarding the sovereign ownership of dinosaur skeletons and other artifacts.”

Since both Mongolia and China have prohibited the export of fossil material since 1949, it is likely that this specimen was collected illegally and moved out of the country without permission.

The Tyrannnosaurid Skeleton at the Centre of the Dispute

Was this specimen collected illegally?

Picture Credit: Heritage Auctions

We at Everything Dinosaur hope that this matter is resolved quickly and if any punitive action is taken, let us hope that it acts as a deterrent to help prevent other rare prehistoric animal specimens from being collected illegally.

Aves – The “Peter Pans” of the Dinosauria

New Study Suggests Birds are Dinosaurs that Never “Grew Up”

A new research paper, published in the scientific journal “Nature” suggests that modern birds (Neornithines) are essentially dinosaurs; as their skulls resemble the skulls found of juvenile dinosaurs in the fossil record.  Descendants resembling the juveniles of their ancestors is not unknown amongst vertebrates, this process, known as paedomorphosis has been identified as having an involvement in a number of evolutionary transitions amongst animals with back-bones.

Birds, (Aves) are very closely related to the dinosaurs.  Birds are the closest living relatives of the Order known as the Dinosauria and in this new study by Harvard scientists,  the development of large brain size and the huge variety in beaks which has led to such a radiation in bird species has been traced back to paedomorphic tendencies that led to adult birds having similar shaped heads as their reptilian ancestors – Theropod dinosaurs.  One of the two fundamental aspects of paedomorphosis is the acceleration of sexual maturity relative to the rest of an organism’s development.  This is termed progenesis and in the northern hemisphere spring, right now, thousands of bird species are proving this point by raising young that rapidly grow up.  Some modern birds can reach sexual maturation in under three months, thus our feathered friends are able to retain the features of a juvenile dinosaur into their adulthood.

The Cenozoic may be regarded as the “Age of Mammals” due to the large amount of Mammalian mega-fauna found in eco-systems but there are more species of birds on our planet today than species of mammals, thousands more.  The success of the Aves, it could be argued could be related to their rapid development from a hatchling to a mature bird.  To put it another way, birds grow up so fast that they retain in their adult forms the skull characteristics of the Dinosaurian ancestors – they are akin to the  ”Peter Pans” of the Archosaurs, as one commentator put it.

Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, Fernando Racimo and other colleagues from Harvard University, in conjunction with other scientific institutions including palaeontologists from the American Museum of Natural History (New York), compared three dimensional images of skulls of extant and extinct birds with fossilised skulls of dinosaurs.  The team discovered that compared to their Dinosaurian ancestors, the faces of birds became flattened and the brain cavity grew larger.  A larger brain cavity was a pre-requisite for developing a bigger brain enabling birds to exploit a variety of ecological niches.  In short, the skulls of Neornithines resemble those of baby dinosaurs.

Skull Morphology in Birds – Gives Hint of Dinosaurian Ancestry

Dinosaurs the original “Bird Brains”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The team used advanced computerised tomography (CT scans) to build up an inventory of Archosaur skull shapes and characteristics and compared this data to the scanned skulls of extinct birds from the fossil record along with scans from animals around to day – modern birds and those rather more distant relatives of the Dinosauria, the crocodiles.

Associate Professor of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Arkhat Abzhanov, one of the research paper’s authors commented:

“We examined skulls from the entire lineage that gave rise to modern birds.  We looked back approximately 250 million years, to the Archosaurs, the group which gave rise to crocodiles and alligators as well as modern birds.  Our goal was to look at these skulls to see how they changed, and try to understand what actually happened during the evolution of the bird skull.”

The scientists examined such animals as Confuciusornithids (primitive Birds from the Liaoning Formation of China), modern emus, alligators and the basal Archosaur from the Early Triassic – Euparkeria; as well as the skull of Scipionyx (Early Cretaceous dinosaur, fossils of which have been found in Italy).

What the team found was intriguing.  Dinosaurs, even those very closely related to Aves, undergo vast morphological changes as they grow and mature, however, the skulls of juvenile and adult birds remain remarkably similar.

Associate Harvard professor, Arkhat went onto add:

“By changing the developmental biology in early species, nature has produced the modern bird – an entirely new creature – and one that, with approximately 10,000 species, is today the most successful group of land vertebrates on the planet.”

Some major evolutionary changes rely on changes to development, because it’s relatively easy to change the pace of an animal’s development, producing adults that may look very different to their ancestors.  For the modern birds, having baby-dinosaur shaped skulls may have contributed to the development of their relatively larger brains, when compared to reptiles of the same body size.  This in turn, may go some way to explaining the success of the bird clade.

A Review of the Schleich “World of History” Spinosaurus Dinosaur Model

Spinosaurus Reviewed

Amongst the twelve models in the new Schleich “World of History” prehistoric animal range, there is a Spinosaurus replica. Based on the “Saurus” Spinosaurus, this is a not-to-scale dinosaur model and we at Everything Dinosaur have produced a brief five minute video review.  It is interesting to note the choice of colour for this dinosaur.  Spinosaurus fossils are associated with lush, tropical, estuarine environments, however, the designers at Schleich have decided to give their replica a sandy-brown colour, camouflage more suited to arid, desert environments.

Everything Dinosaur’s Video Review of Spinosaurus

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In this short video, team members at Everything Dinosaur describe the model and show how Spinosaurid fossils have been studied to provide this replica with some nice detail.

To view the full range of “World of History”  models from Schleich: Schleich Dinosaur Models

In common with the other Theropod dinosaurs featured in this range – T. rex, Giganotosaurus, Velociraptor and Allosaurus, this Spinosaurus replica has an articulated lower jaw.  The model can be posed either mouth open or mouth closed.

Wild Safari Dinos Ceratosaurus Dinosaur Model Reviewed

Ceratosaurus Dinosaur Model Under the Spotlight

A lithe and graceful looking model of the Late Jurassic dinosaur known as Ceratosaurus has been added to the Wild Dinos, not-to-scale model range made by Safari Ltd of the United States.  This is the second Theropod dinosaur model to be added to this series in 2012, the first being a model of the much larger and later dinosaur known as Acrocanthosaurus.  It is good to see this contemporary of Allosaurus (Ceratosaurus nasicornis) being added to a mainstream model range.

Fossils of Ceratosaurus were discovered in the late 19th Century by a local farmer hired by an American palaeontologist to look for dinosaur fossils in the countryside of the state of Colorado (United States).  Fossils of this particular meat-eating dinosaur have been found in Upper Jurassic aged strata and the fossils have been found in association with another, much larger predatory dinosaur known as Allosaurus.  When scientists first examined, what turned out to be a nearly complete skeleton of this dinosaur, they noticed that the animal had a proportionately longer tail than the Allosaurus.  Using this information and comparing the dinosaurs with crocodiles alive today, the scientists speculated that Ceratosaurus lived in water and that the long tail would have helped this animal to swim.  Palaeontologists today, depict Ceratosaurus as a fully terrestrial, lithe and active hunter.

The Wild Dinosaurs Ceratosaurus Model

“Horned Lizard” Dinosaur Model

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Wild Dinos replica by Safari Ltd measures a little over twenty centimetres in length.  It does indeed have a long, graceful tail, so the design team have taken note of the actual fossil evidence.  Although, this particular dinosaur genus is known from quite extensive fossil material, scientists are unsure as to how big this dinosaur was.  Conservative estimates depict this dinosaur at  about four metres in length.  Based on this assumption, the model is approximately in 1:20 scale.

This dinosaur was named after the prominent horn located on the top of its snout and the model does have a single horn, painted a dark brown colour.   The crests over the eye sockets are also very prominent and painted the same colour.  The eye itself is relatively small, surprising really when the size of the orbit in the fossil skull is considered.  The body is painted a dusky brown colour with a lighter, pale underside, reflecting the current trend in dinosaur model painting of giving replicas a contrasting colour under the body.  The long tail shows lots of detail and the narrow jaws, so typical of Ceratosaurs are very well sculpted.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s extensive range of dinosaur models: Models of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals

This is an impressive dinosaur model, it is a treat to see a Jurassic Theropod dinosaur model introduced that is not an Allosaurus.  The size of this Wild Safari Dinos Ceratosaurus model permits it to work well and in scale with Allosaurus models created by other figure manufacturers.

Helping to Make an Unusual Graduation Card

Providing Assistance to the Parents of a Graduate – Quetzalcoatlus

Our team members tend to get a lot of emails and letters, we try our best to respond to all those that require a reply.  One of the more unusual requests for assistance received by Everything Dinosaur involved a graduate, geologists and Azhdarchid Pterosaurs.

Genny Marcus Haskins has just graduated with a degree in Wildlife Conservation – our congratulations to her.  Her parents, Sue and Roger are both geologists.  When Genny was born, instead of a stork being depicted on cards announcing the birth of their daughter, Sue and Roger decided that it would be more appropriate to illustrate Genny’s arrival with a Pterosaur carrying their little bundle of joy in its jaws, rather than the traditional stork.

When Genny graduated from high school, a geologist/artist friend revised the non-stork/Pterosaur image providing an updated picture of a flying reptile.  As Genny aged, so Pterosaurs evolved – that was the general idea.  So when Genny graduated with her degree, it was necessary to find a picture of another, later type of flying reptile and the Quetzalcoatlus, one of the last of the Pterosaurs (Maastrichtian faunal stage), and one of the largest known was selected.

Genny’s Unique Graduation Card

Keeping up with the Evolution of Pterosaurs

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Sue Marcus and Roger Haskins

The picture above shows the graduation card that team members at Everything Dinosaur helped design.  We were happy to help out these geologists from overseas, although we are not sure how we managed to have a Velociraptor photographed lurking behind the card, with all the dinosaur toys and games we have, we suppose that this was always going to happen.  Still Genny is in no danger, she can always escape by taking to the air.

Glad to have helped out, from all of us at Everything Dinosaur, good luck with the job hunt Genny.

Schleich “World of History” Velociraptor Dinosaur Model Reviewed

Video Review of New Schleich Velociraptor Model

Slowly but surely we are getting the promised video reviews of some of the new prehistoric animal models that have been released this year completed.  Below is Everything Dinosaur’s review of the new Velociraptor replica produced by Schleich as part of their “World of History” model series.

Like the other Theropods in this range, Velociraptor has an articulated lower jaw.  It is intriguing to see a new replica of this Asian predator from the Late Cretaceous without any feathery covering.

The Everything Dinosaur Video Review of Velociraptor

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

There are a number of Velociraptor replicas on the market at the moment, most of the newly released ones have a covering of shaggy proto-feathers.   This model, made by Schleich of Germany bucks this trend, but there are hints of feathers on this replica – this five minute video explains.

Schleich “World of History” Dinosaurs: Schleich Dinosaur Models

A Review of the Safari Ltd Wild Dinos Dracorex Dinosaur Model

Dracorex Dinosaur Model Reviewed

A model of a dinosaur associated with wizards and magic has been added to the Wild Dinosaurs replica series manufactured by Safari Ltd.  This model is one of four new additions to this prehistoric animal figure range this year.  The other new dinosaurs featured are Ceratosaurus, Acrocanthosaurus (both predators) and the horned dinosaur Vagaceratops.

Dracorex is a member of the Pachycephalosaur family, a group of dinosaurs that are also known as “bone-heads”, as in some types of Pachycephalosaur the brain cases of these dinosaurs were thickened and reinforced.  Fossils of Pachycephalosaurs are extremely rare, only one fossil specimen of Dracorex has been discovered to date, the fossil remains consist of a very well preserved skull, some cervical vertebrae (neck bones) and a single tooth.   The fossils of this dinosaur were found in the famous Hell Creek formation, Dracorex was named and described by the American palaeontologist Bob Bakker in 2006.  Although, not large by dinosaur standards, this animal measured something like three metres in length and would have weighed perhaps as much as ninety kilograms.

The New Dracorex Dinosaur Model (Safari Ltd Wild Dinos)

New Dracorex Dinosaur Model Available

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The species name Dracorex hogwartsia honours the author J. K. Rowling, the writer of the Harry Potter books.  The scientists thought that the skull of this dinosaur resembled the skull of a dragon and with its strange lumps and bumps it looked quite magical.  This coupled with the reaction of young visitors to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where the skull was first put on display, convinced the scientists to name this dinosaur after dragons and the fictional school – Hogwarts from the Harry Potter books.  This dinosaur with its fearsome appearance may have inspired its name of “Dragon King of Hogwarts School” but it was  in fact a herbivore.

The Safari Ltd model depicts this particular dinosaur as a facultative quadruped, an animal that may have walked on all fours, but was capable, when it wanted to, of being able to run on its hind legs only – adopting a bipedal stance.  The model measures twenty centimetres long approximately and based on the actual animal being around three metres in length, we estimate that this dinosaur model is in 1:15 scale.

Just for a bit of fun, our dinosaur experts, at Everything Dinosaur, played around with the Dracorex images and tried to create an impression of what a juvenile member of this species might have looked like.

Dracorex Adult and Juvenile as Depicted by Everything Dinosaur

Mum and Baby Dragons

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To create the juvenile we toned down the cheek colour, reduced the amount of dermal armour shown in the hide and scaled down the illustration.  No fossils of juveniles have ever been found, but this illustration was made using fossil material examples from immature dinosaurs and sub-adults preserved in the fossil record.

The dinosaur replica is beautifully painted with a combination of bright green, mustard yellow and black.  The cheek areas (this dinosaur could chew its food and so possessed cheeks to help it process plant material in its mouth most probably), are painted a vivid, striking orange.  The various knobs, bumps and horns on the skull are nicely depicted and the design team have given Dracorex a rough skin texture with small pieces of dermal armour embedded in its back.

To view dinosaur models: dinosaur models and dinosaur toys

It is good to see such an unusual member of the Dinosauria added to a quality dinosaur model range such as the Wild Dinos series.  This highly detailed replica will no doubt, prove popular with dinosaur model collectors as well as fans of science and fantasy novels.

Giant Freshwater Turtle Fossil from Colombian Coal Mine

Giant Palaeogene Turtle – Predator of Crocodiles

Today, is World Turtle Day, a day to that is marked by a number of conservation organisations worldwide to increase our knowledge of, and respect for all things Chelonian.  These ancient creatures evolved before the dinosaurs and there are something like 250 species alive today.  Most are threatened and vulnerable to extinction.  One of the aims of World Turtle Day is to raise awareness about these reptiles and to highlight the ways in which mankind and our activity is affecting these creature’s and their chances of survival.

Turtles are classed as Parareptiles, they are not closely related to the dinosaurs, or indeed marine reptiles such as Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs.  The shell, an armoured covering that protects the body of these creatures is a highly modified ribcage covered by armour plating.  Palaeontologists believe that the first turtles and tortoises evolved around 220 million years ago (Triassic), a time when the dinosaurs themselves were evolving into a myriad of different forms.  The exact ancestry of the Chelonia is disputed, some scientists have postulated that they evolved from a group of Permian reptiles known as the Pareiasaurs, these animals also possessed body armour and some Pareiasaurs grew into giant forms like the car-sized Scutosaurus.  It had been thought that the largest members of the Chelonia lived during the Cretaceous period, giant marine reptiles like the four metre long Archelon, but researchers and field workers exploring a remarkable Palaeogene-aged deposit have uncovered the fossilised remains of giant freshwater turtle – the largest freshwater member of the turtle family discovered so far.

Scientists from North Carolina State University have been exploring a remarkable sixty-million-year-old, highly fossiliferous deposit in Colombia that has given palaeontologists a remarkable insight into a world recovering from the Cretaceous mass extinction event.  The vertebrates that survived the events that saw the demise of the dinosaurs were able to slowly recover and to diversify.  In a world with few large animals and in a very warm, global climate the reptiles once again began to thrive and the fossil record in a Colombian coal mine has revealed giant crocodiles, huge snakes and now the fossils of a freshwater turtle that was the size of a dining table.

After the Cretaceous extinction, global temperatures soared and for many millions of years, certainly for the majority of the geological period known as the Palaeogene, these high temperatures led to the development of widespread, tropical rainforests.  It has been estimated that the average global temperatures were around two times as high as they are today.  Rainforests covered most of North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.  Reptiles thrived in these conditions and the coal measures in the Colombian mine are providing scientists with evidence of some of the giant forms of reptiles that evolved to fill the ecological niches left by the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The new genus of giant freshwater turtle has been formally named Carbonemys cofrinii.  The name means “coal turtle”.  It belongs to a group of turtles that are still around today, although none of C. cofrinii’s modern counterparts are as big.  Details of this new reptile discovery have just been published in the highly respected scientific publication “The Journal of Systematic Palaeontology”.

An Artist’s Impression of the Crocodile-Eating Turtle

Giant Freshwater Turtle

Picture Credit: Liz Bradford

This giant, freshwater turtle has been classified as member of the Sub-Order Pleurodira, a group of turtles that pull their necks into their shells side-ways. Until this new discovery, another member of this Sub-Order, species known as Stupendemys geographicus was believed to be the largest freshwater turtle that ever existed.  In fact, some scientists have estimated that based on the fossil evidence found so far, S. geographicus is larger than the Colombian fossil find.

Carbonemys cofrinii had a skull over ten inches long.  The first fossil evidence of this creature was found at the coal mine site back in 2005, elements of the carapace was found in close proximity to the fossilised bones.  The shell measures 172 centimetres in length, about the size of a family dining table.

All extant turtles and tortoises have a highly adaptable beak.  Although modern forms eat a variety of foods – from plants to jellyfish, the palaeontologists have suggested that the strong beak of Carbonemys cofrinii indicate that this creature was a carnivore – capable of catching fish, crushing shellfish in its beak and even preying on crocodiles that shared its freshwater environment.

The Colombian deposits have revealed a remarkable Palaeogene ecosystem that was dominated by giant reptiles.  The apex predator may well have been Titanoboa – at over fifty feet in length the largest snake known in the fossil record.  C. cofrinii may have evolved large size and a super strong shell to protect itself from attacks from other giant reptiles such as Titanoboa (Titanoboa cerrejonensis).

To read more about the discovery of Titanoboa: Titanoboa – Huge Prehistoric Snake

The fossils were first found by North Carolina PhD student Edwin Cadena who commented:

“We had recovered smaller turtle specimens from the site.  But after spending about four days working on uncovering the shell, I realized that this particular turtle was the biggest anyone had found in this area for this time period – and it gave us the first evidence of gigantism in freshwater turtles.”

Turtles and tortoises co-existed with the dinosaurs for millions of  years, but when the dinosaurs became extinct a whole range of new ecological niches were opened up and some of these niches were filled by the likes of Carbonemys cofrinii.

Scientists have put forward a number of explanations as to why giant reptiles evolved in this part of South America.  Firstly, the environment was warm and wet, ideal for reptiles.  There were few large predators, plenty of food and a relatively stable climate that permitted these giant genera to evolve and thrive.

So far, only one fossil specimen of this huge size has been discovered.  Research Associate at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the State’s palaeontologist Dr. Dan Ksepka believes that this type of creature, an apex predator would have been relatively rare.  Creatures this size would need a large territory to sustain them, even though their cold-blooded metabolism meant that they would not have needed to consume as much food as a warm-blooded mammal of similar size.

Dr. Ksepka, co-author of the paper that describes this discovery, stated:

“It’s like having one big snapping turtle living in the middle of a lake.  That turtle survives because it has eaten all of the major competitors for resources.  We found many bite-marked shells at this site that show crocodilians preyed on side-necked turtles.  None would have bothered an adult Carbonemys, though – in fact smaller crocodiles would have been easy prey for this behemoth.”

The Colombian coal mine may not be a viable source of fossil fuel any more but it is provided scientists with a remarkable insight into life on Earth shortly after the dinosaurs became extinct.

Safari Wild Dinos Vagaceratops Reviewed

A Review of the Wild Safari Dinos Vagaceratops Dinosaur Model

Part the 2012 additions to the Safari Ltd “Wild Dinos” model series, this model of the Vagaceratops is bound to be of interest to dinosaur model collectors. Although the fossil material relating to this dinosaur was first studied more than ten years ago, it was only in 2010 that the genus of Vagaceratops was established (following a review of the fossils and the discovery of Kosmoceratops).

This model represents one of four new models in the Wild Dinos series made by Safari Ltd.  Ironically, the Marginocephalia (bird-hipped dinosaurs with a bony shelf at the back of their heads), represent fifty percent of the new additions, with this Vagaceratops being joined by the Pachycephalosaur Dracorex.

The Vagaceratops Dinosaur Model (Wild Dinos Series)

“Wandering Horned Dinosaur” – Vagaceratops

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Known from a few isolated pieces of skull and the one distorted skeleton found in the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of Alberta, Canada, Vagaceratops had a large neck frill that was about one metre wide at the top. The frill was not solid bone.  It had a pair of large holes within it, these were very probably covered in skin.  These holes (the scientific term is  fenestrae), served to lighten the skull.  This dinosaur had a single, broad horn located on the top of its snout.  Although a horned dinosaur associated with northern latitudes, it seems that it shared its environment with another horned dinosaur, as fossils of Styracosaurus have been found in the same aged strata.

The model measures a little under twenty centimetres in length from the tip of its horny beak at the front of its jaws down to the tip of the tail.  As palaeontologists have estimated this Ceratopsian to have been around four and a half metres in length we estimate that this dinosaur model is in approximately 1:20 scale.

To view dinosaur models, including Vagaceratops available from Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Models

The model is well painted.  It being coloured in a predominately sandy/brown hue.  This is an interesting choice by the designers at Safari Ltd, as the fossils of this particular horned dinosaur have been found in strata laid down in a lush, wet, floodplain environment.   The colour choice on this dinosaur model, seems more suited to a dinosaur that may have lived in dry, arid, desert environments.

The skin on the model shows lots of texture and fine detail, the face and the open mouth have been carefully painted and the characteristic curled over bony, lumps on the top of the animal’s neck frill can be clearly made out on the model.  The design team have obviously paid attention to the fossil material ascribed to this genus.

The dinosaur’s tail has a set of stripes on it and it is pleasing to note that this horned dinosaur has the correct number of toes on each foot, an error in some horned dinosaur models of lesser quality.

In all in, an exciting edition to the Wild Dinos range and one that will impress dinosaur enthusiasts and model collectors.

The Everything Dinosaur Banner Showing Some new Safari Ltd Models

Dinosaur Models on Display a banner by Everything Dinosaur

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