Palaeontology Predictions in 2012 – How did we do?

Predictions for 2012 – A Review 

Twelve months ago team members at Everything Dinosaur, bravely stuck their heads above the parapet and tried to predict some of the news stories and articles that would feature on the Everything Dinosaur blog over the coming year.  At the beginning of each year since our web log began we have had a go at predicting news stories, just for a bit of fun.  Last year we came up with eight predictions between us, so now it is time to see how we fared.

Prediction 1 – A New Tyrannosaurid to be Discovered in China

Amongst a number of dinosaur discoveries in China this year, back in April we reported on the scientific description of a new species of dinosaur that was to be called Yutyrannus huali.  A number of individuals had been recovered from fossil bearing strata in the Liaoning Province of China.  Described as a basal member of the Tyrannosaur family Yutyrannus may may have reached lengths in excess of nine metres and weighed more than one tonne.  The fossils showed evidence of feathers, making this Early Cretaceous member of the Tyrannosaur family one of the largest feathered dinosaurs discovered to date.

To read more about the discovery of Yutyrannus:  One Tonne Basal Tyrannosaurid Discovered in China

 Prediction 2 -  Fossil Found in an Unusual Place

No Iguanodon fossils found in Sunderland this year, but a new species of horned dinosaur known as Xenoceratops was described from fossil material kept in a Canadian museum’s storeroom.  A road construction crew got a big surprise when a local fossil hunter took a closer look at their spoil heap and found fossils that turned out to be a new genus of German Ichthyosaur.  A dinosaur fossilised footprint was found in the grounds of a NASA complex in Maryland (United States), a sort of dinosaur discovery meets the space race, which we reported on back in August.   One of the strangest discoveries made was that of a series of Late Miocene elephant tracks meandering their way across what is today the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Although the fossils tracks were known to nearby inhabitants, the discovery was new to western science and the footprints show elephant herding behaviour as well as tracks made by solitary animals.

To read about the Late Miocene trace fossils from the UAE: Ichnologists Study Ancient Elephant Footprints

Prediction 3 – Dinosaurs and the Olympics

The summer of 2012 saw the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games come to London and Everything Dinosaur team members predicted that just about every school, museum and educational body in the United Kingdom would piggy-back on the games by sending out some press releases with an “Olympic” angle.  The games were widely perceived to be a huge success, staff at Everything Dinosaur enjoyed reading some of the press releases from Natural History museums and other establishments as the enthusiasm for the Games got under way.  We even contributed ourselves with a short piece about how dinosaurs would have fared in Olympic events.  This light-hearted piece was put up on the Everything Dinosaur blog at the end of July:

To read this article: Dinosaurs at the Olympics

Olympic Dinosaurs

Everything Dinosaur gets into the Olympic spirit.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Prediction 4 –  A High Profile Trial and Conviction for Damage to a SSSI

There were a number of incidents reported of fossil thefts this year, acts of vandalism, damage to fossil sites and such like.  However, team members at Everything Dinosaur are not aware of any prosecutions arising from damage to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  In Canada,  a number of dinosaur digs were looted including a Hadrosaur specimen that had been intended to make a centrepiece for a regional natural history museum.  Nearer to home, we reported on the theft of some rare and exceptionally well preserved dinosaur foot prints from the coastline of south Wales.

To read more about the theft of dinosaur footprints: Dinosaur Tracks Stolen from the Vale of Glamorgan

No prosecutions directly rated to vandalism of a SSSI though, guess our team members were wide of the mark on this one.

Prediction 5 –  Landslip at Lyme

This is one prediction that desperately hoped would not prove accurate, sadly there were a number of landslips on the Dorset coast this year.   The prolonged heavy rain saturated already unstable cliffs and there were several large landslides in the summer.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur, sent out several press releases urging visitors to the Jurassic coast to take extra care and to avoid straying too close to the dangerous cliffs.   Sadly, a young woman was killed by a landslide that took place at Hive Beach (Bridport, Dorset coast), on July 24th.  Local officials had closed a number of cliff top walks and signs had been put up warning visitors of the dangers, but tragically there were a number of fatalities reported in the south-west of England as the terrible weather led to a number of rockslides and landslips.

It is difficult to perceive the dangers and it is only when one views swollen rivers and flooded areas that one can begin to understand the dangerous conditions.  On July 9th Everything Dinosaur team members posted up a video showing the River Lym in spate running through the town centre of Lyme Regis along with pictures of recent rock falls.

To read this article and to see the video: Flooded Rivers and Dangerous Cliffs

Prediction 6 – The Discovery of  a New Pterosaur Genus

We did not see any giant Pterosaur discoveries in 2012 but there was plenty of Pterosaur research and a number of new genera were named and described.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur had hoped that 2012, the Chinese Year of the Dragon, was going to be remembered for the discovery of a new, giant Azhdarchid Pterosaur, however, there were some fascinating fossils finds.  For example, a highly manoeuvrable, very agile Pterosaur genus was named after some exciting fossil discoveries in the famous Solnhofen deposits of Germany.  This new species has been named Bellubrunnus rothaenger and an analysis of the bones that made up the creature’s wings indicate that it was a very capable flyer, twisting and turning in the air with all the grace of a stunt plane.

An Illustration of One of the New Pterosaurs to be Named and Described in 2012

Swift and very manoeuvrable.

Picture Credit: Matt Van Rooijen

Scientists from Texas Tech University did publish a fascinating paper detailing their research into how giant Pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus and Hatzegopteryx flew, to read more about this: Flight Dynamics of Giant Pterosaurs Explained

Prediction 7 – Advancing Techniques Yield New Data Concerning Dinosaur Skin

One of the most exciting aspects of palaeontology in recent years has been the application of new technologies to aid in the assessment and research into fossil material.  As far as we know, there were no major publications reflecting the research into the organic remains of dinosaur skin over the last few months, but there is a lot of on-going research into this particular field of palaeontology.  Dinosaur skin did hit the headlines in 2012 though, for instance the beautifully preserved fossil of a baby Megalosaur from Germany provided scientists with the intriguing possibility that other Theropod dinosaurs, not too closely related to birds, may also have been feathered.

Back on August 2nd, Everything Dinosaur reported that Japanese scientists had just published a scientific paper on the discovery of a skin impression.  This impression had been left by an animal that once rested on a sandbank, it could have been made by a dinosaur.  Dinosaur skin imprints are extremely rare.  If this fossil is validated as belonging to a member of the Dinosauria, then this is only the second time that an impression of a dinosaur’s skin has been found in Japan.

Potential Dinosaur Skin from Japan

Picture Credit: Goshonoura Cretaceous Museum

Only a few days ago, (December 27th) we reported upon the work of a Manchester University-based research team as they employ the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Light Source to reveal the chemical signatures of compounds not visible under normal lighting conditions.  We can expect many more such high-tech applications to be used in the study of fossils in the future.

To read about the research of the Manchester University-based team: Searching for “Ghosts” in Fossils

Prediction 8 – New Titanosaur Discovery in Gondwanaland

There were a number of exciting Titanosaur dinosaur discoveries in 2011, but this year we were getting a little worried as there had not been that many papers published on new Titanosaurs found in the southern hemisphere.  This was one of the predictions we had made that we had been most confident about.  One of the first Titanosaur bones ever to be named and described was re-discovered in India, quite a remarkable story, to read more about this:

The Re-discovering of India’s First Titanosaur: India’s First Titanosaur Fossil Re-discovered

We thought the year would end without any more significant Titanosaur research to talk about, but a giant tooth found in Argentina and reported in this web blog on gave us one last chance in 2012 to discuss gigantic Titanosaurs: Giant Tooth Hints at Even Bigger Titanosaurs

Not a bad effort all in all, considering that we specialise in studying the past not predicting the future.  We are busy writing our predictions for 2013, it only remains to review what we have predicted for 2013 in twelve months time or so, to see how right (or how wrong) we were.

Happy New Year to all our readers and contributors.

Everything Dinosaur’s Top Ten of Prehistoric Animals 2012 (Part 2)

The Top Five Compiled from Customer Feedback etc.

We are at the business end of our countdown of the ten most popular prehistoric animals of the year.  This list has been compiled by reviewing customer comments, requests for fact sheets and drawing materials, product sales and so on.  It has taken quite a while to put this list together so without further a do, here is the top five.

5. Velociraptor

The speedy Dromaeosaur makes it into the top-half of our list for 2012.  Velociraptors and other Dromaeosaurs such as Deinonychus are always popular, especially with young dinosaur fans, we get sent quite a lot of dinosaur drawings and Velociraptor with its sharp teeth and second toe sickle-shaped claw is a favourite subject matter.   With the release of Jurassic Park in 3-D next year we expect this turkey-sized predator to have a strong showing in next year’s list as well.

One of the Many Dromaeosaur Drawings Sent into Everything Dinosaur this Year

Deinonychus sketches by Ryan Grundy

Picture Credit: Ryan Grundy

Number 4.

Just pipping the Dromaeosaur to the number four spot in the Everything Dinosaur countdown is the Late Jurassic, armoured dinosaur Stegosaurus.  Stegosaurus is very popular with girls, this peaceful herbivore with its spiked tail is one of the most famous dinosaurs known from the Morrison Formation of the Western United States.  New model introductions by Schleich (the World of History Stegosaurus) has helped maintain the popularity of this Thyreophoran dinosaur, known as “plated or roof lizard”.

The 2012 Schleich Stegosaurus Dinosaur Model

Stegosaurus continues to be popular.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Number 3.

The top three begins with Spinosaurus, moving up into the top three for the first time in the history of our survey.  Everything Dinosaur team members wrote a number of presentations featuring this huge, African Cretaceous carnivore and this has contributed to the increasing popularity of this Theropod amongst those customers who gave us feedback.  Spinosaurus is now a mainstay of most company’s model and figure ranges (prehistoric animal series).   We have been working on a Spinosaurus soft toy as a prototype, we will see how this project pans out next year.  There has also been a trend for Spinosaurus to appear on the front cover of a number of new dinosaur books, building on the momentum from the “Planet Dinosaur” hardback that accompanied the BBC television series last year.  With some estimates from palaeontologists giving Spinosaurus a mass of twenty tonnes and a length of over sixty-two feet, this dinosaur is believed to be the largest terrestrial carnivore known to science.

Number 3 in Everything Dinosaur's list the fearsome Spinosaurus.

Picture Credit: BBC

Number 2.

The runner up in our compilation is the herbivorous, horned dinosaur Triceratops.  Once again, like Stegosaurus, this dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous proved to be immensely popular amongst girls.  It came out top when the number of requests for drawing materials was counted by Everything Dinosaur staff.  Over the last two or three years a whole range of bizarre and amazing new horned dinosaurs have been named and described.  The new dinosaur discoveries have helped to maintain horned dinosaurs and Triceratops in the spotlight.   We are working on a Triceratops soft toy and team members at Everything Dinosaur have also written a dinosaur themed lesson plan aimed at Key Stage 3 science classes which explains a little more about what we know and what we don’t actually know about this famous Ornithischian dinosaur. In this Olympic year, the silver medal goes to Triceratops.

 The Runner Up in our Survey of Prehistoric Animal Popularity – Triceratops

Triceratops takes silver (second place) in Everything Dinosaur's prehistoric animal survey.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Number 1. – The Tyrant Lizard Still Reigns Supreme

The most popular prehistoric animal for 2012, the title holder from the previous year Tyrannosaurus rex manages to retain his title, despite strong competition from other Cretaceous dinosaurs.  Although not featured in the BBC television series “Planet Dinosaur” and not part of a recent touring museum exhibit in the United Kingdom, T. rex has remained on top of the pile when it comes to prehistoric animal popularity.

New Model Introductions Aided Tyrannosaurus rex 

The Papo Baby T.rex Models from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

New model introductions from the likes of Papo, Schleich and Collecta helped to maintain this fierce carnivore’s popularity as did one of our museum events when we compared Tyrannosaurus rex to a heavy-weight boxer.  Although known to science for the best part of 140 years (Manospondylus etc), T. rex still out there as number one when it comes to our dinosaur and prehistoric animal surveys.  So in this Olympic and Diamond Jubilee year, it is the “King of the Tyrant Lizards” that still reigns supreme.

Tyrannosaurus rex Dinosaur Drawing

"King of the Tyrant Lizards"

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Well done to T.rex with Jurassic Park set to hit cinema screens in April of next year, we suspect this Tyrannosaur is going to reign supreme for a while longer.

Everything Dinosaur’s Top Ten of Prehistoric Animals 2012 (Part 1)

From Number 10 to Number 6

It is that time of year when team members at Everything Dinosaur compile a list of the top ten most popular prehistoric animals over the last twelve months or so.  We have been busy logging requests for dinosaur fact sheets, drawing materials, views on website pages as well as results from surveys carried out amongst students as a result of our many school visits.  All this information has been brought together to produce a list of the ten most popular dinosaurs and other extinct creatures and this is the first part of the countdown from number ten to number six.

Number 10.

The first of the animals featured in our list is not a dinosaur, it is the strange Dolichorhynchops, a marine reptile that swam around what was to become North America in the Cretaceous geological period.  Dolichorhynchops is a short-necked Plesiosaur and it has been surprisingly popular, usurping Liopleurodon as being our most requested marine reptile for drawing materials.  Palaeontologists tend to call these stiff-limbed, reptiles – “Dollies”.

New Entry at Number 10 – “Dollies”

"Long Snout Face" in at number ten.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Number 9.

Just ahead of the marine reptile, in at number nine is the only prehistoric mammal on our list – the Woolly Mammoth.  The popularity of this prehistoric animal has been helped by the release of the fourth film in the Ice Age series, which features a number of Ice Age prehistoric creatures including one of the central characters – “Manny” the Woolly Mammoth.  This film in conjunction with the extension of the impressive Papo model range to include models of a juvenile and a baby Woolly Mammoth has helped this relative of extant elephants secure the number nine slot on our countdown.

A Woolly Mammoth Family

The introduction of new Woolly Mammoth models helped cement this Ice Age animal in our top ten.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Number 8.

The first dinosaur on our list – Diplodocus, one of the most popular of all the Jurassic, long-necked dinosaurs but not the most popular Sauropod in this compendium.  The life-size replica of Diplodocus carnegiei which can be seen at a number of Natural History Museums around the world has contributed to this dinosaur’s enduring popularity.  At something like thirty metres in length it is one of the longest dinosaurs known from the Jurassic.  This plant-eating dinosaur is often a mainstay in dinosaur documentaries and its sizeable presence in museums has enabled this Diplodocid to find itself at number eight.

Carnegie Diplodocus Dinosaur Model (Safari Ltd)

An impressive model for an impressive dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Number 7.

A flying reptile soars in at number seven, the only member of the Pterosauria within the top ten and the highest placed non-Dinosaurian prehistoric animal in this compilation.  The Pterosaur is Pteranodon, a Late Cretaceous giant that flew over the Western Interior Seaway where the marine reptile Dolichorhynchops could be found.  With a wingspan in excess of seven metres and a strange, backward-pointing head crest, Pteranodon is featured in a number of popular prehistoric animal model series.  For example, both Collecta and Papo, plus Bullyland of Germany have a Pteranodon replica in their model ranges.

A Colourful Pteranodon Drawing (Pair of Flying Reptiles)

A colourful pair of flying reptiles.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Number 6.

Just out of the top five comes the mighty Brachiosaurus, that like Diplodocus, a Sauropod and one from the Late Jurassic geological period.  By a considerable margin, this dinosaur is the heaviest to be featured on this list.  Palaeontologists have estimated the weight of this colossal plant-eater to be perhaps as much as fifty metric tonnes.  Safari Ltd of the United States introduced a new 1:50 scale model of Brachiosaurus earlier in this year and this new model, part of the company’s Carnegie Collectibles range as proved to be very popular.  In addition, in the autumn of 2012 Papo of France finally released their long awaited model of Brachiosaurus.  This too, has proved to be a must-have for dinosaur fans of all ages.  The introduction of these new sculpts have helped secure Brachiosaurus the position of the highest ranked Sauropod in this listing.  However, it is not the most popular Jurassic dinosaur, nor is it the most popular herbivorous dinosaur in this 2012 compilation.  The answers will be revealed when part two of this compendium, the countdown from number five to number one is published.

 Helping to Secure Sixth Position – Papo Brachiosaurus Dinosaur Model

In our studio - Papo Brachiosaurus.

Tarbosaurus bataar Case – Florida Man Pleads Guilty

Guilty Plea in Dinosaur Smuggling Case

A Florida resident, at the centre of a dinosaur skeleton row has pleaded guilty to charges regarding the making of false statements on customs forms.  He is due to face sentencing in the spring of 2013.

The federal court case centred around the auction of an eight metre long, mounted skeleton exhibit of a Theropod dinosaur known as Tarbosaurus (Tarbosaurus bataar).  The auction took place at Heritage Auctions in New York on Sunday May 20th of this year, despite a number of palaeontologists and other lobby groups attempting to block the sale. The lot was sold for approximately £630,000 GBP (over $1 million USD), a little more than the estimated value.  The skeleton, which represents a sub-adult dinosaur and is believed to be around seventy-five percent complete was purchased by an unnamed individual.

To read an article about the seizure of the dinosaur fossil: The Seizing of a Tyrannosaur

Tarbosaurus is a member of the Tyrannosaurid dinosaur family.  It was a large, apex predator that roamed Mongolia around seventy million years ago in the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian faunal stage).  First named and described back in 1955 by the Russian palaeontologist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Maleev.  Tarbosaurus is closely related to the most famous dinosaur of all – Tyrannosaurus rex.  Maleev did not that the Mongolian dinosaur was very similar to the North American T. rex, they shared a number of common anatomical features (autopomorphies).  For a time, this dinosaur was known as Tyrannosaurus bataar, but in the mid 1960s following a review of the fossil material from both Tyrannosaurid species, the name Tarbosaurus was established for this genus.   The name Tarbosaurus means “alarming reptile” and with a maximum length in excess of twelve metres and weighing perhaps as much as five tonnes, this Theropod dinosaur was a formidable predator.

An Illustration of Tarbosaurus (Tarbosaurus bataar)

Florida man pleading guilty.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For the New York auction, the mounted specimen was described as Tyrannosaurus bataar.  Cynics might state that this term was used to help make the lot more valuable and to fetch a higher prices as Tyrannosaurus would have had a wider commercial appeal than the relatively less known Tarbosaurus.  However, the specimen, if it did come from Mongolia would pose a problem for the seller as it has been illegal to remove from Mongolia fossils or any other artefacts of “cultural significance” for more than fifty years.  This law had been in place even before the formal scientific description and review of the fossil material associated with of Tarbosaurus.

A number of interested parties tried to intervene, either to stop the auction or to have the lot impounded until the provenance of the fossil could be established.   The Mongolian President, Elbegdorj Tsakhia became involved, insisting that this fossil was the property of the Mongolian people and that it had been illegally smuggled out of his country.

At a federal court hearing yesterday, thirty-eight year old Eric Prokopi from the town of Gainesville, Florida (United States), pleaded guilty to making “vague and misleading” statements concerning the importing of the crates containing the dinosaur fossils into America.  The plea covers the statements made on the U.S. customs paperwork provided in connection with the import of the Tarbosaurus fossil material, allegedly smuggled out of Mongolia.

The Tarbosaurus exhibit was examined by leading palaeontologists after the auction, when the lot had been seized by federal agents.  They declared that the fossil material had, most likely, originated in Mongolia and therefore the fossils had been obtained illegally.  Mr Prokopi, had tried to claim back the Tarbosaurus skeleton in October.  He claimed that he imported a set of jumbled bones and it was his skill at preparing the fossils and making them into a single specimen that had added the value to the dinosaur exhibit.

In what is believed to be a plea bargain, Mr Prokopi pleaded guilty to the charges of conspiracy to make false statements on customs forms, misrepresenting imported goods and the interstate transport of stolen property.  The plea bargain may have been part of an agreement reached between the parties involved as Mr Prokopi had been accused of importing (allegedly,  a number of other dinosaur fossils from Mongolia, including fossils of the duck-billed dinosaur Saurolophus and an Oviraptorid.  The Tarbosaurus specimen may have been just one of a number of illegal transactions concerning dinosaur fossils carried out.

People pleading guilty to such charges can find themselves facing up to ten years in prison.  Sentencing is set for 25th April, just under a year after the Tarbosaurus auction in New York.

A number of governments and other national authorities have promised to clamp down on the huge, black market for fossils, especially dinosaur fossils.  Individual specimens, such as this Tarbosaurus can sell for enormous sums of money and although no official figures are available, customs officials state the smuggling and illegal sale of such items is very widespread.

Manchester University Scientists Searching for “Ghosts”in Fossils

Advanced Synchrotron Light Rays – Shed “Light” on Long Dead Lizards

A joint Anglo/American team of researchers led by scientists from the University of Manchester are using an extremely powerful light source to pick up tiny traces of chemical signatures and by doing so they are “shedding light” on fossils and  making some exciting new discoveries.

Many of the fossils held in museum and university collections were found in the 19th and 20th Centuries, these fossils may have been scientifically described and carefully studied, but scientists are now able to use technologies beyond the imaginations of their academic predecessors to explore fossil material and tease out new information from the ancient rocks.  A team of scientists from the Palaeontology Research Group at Manchester University were able to collaborate with the engineers based at the Stanford University  Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (based in California, United States), and reveal new information on the fifty million year old fossil of a lizard.

The Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource is one of the most sophisticated and powerful synchrotrons in the western world.  The technology, enabling strong beams of electromagnetic radiation, produced by particle accelerators to bombard an object with intense light has been around for fifty years or so.  This technology has a wide range of applications, from providing engineers with an ability to assess structural issues in new materials, to being used in medicine, physics and now to scan fossils looking for tiny traces of otherwise invisible elements.

This non-invasive and non-destructive technique has been used on a Palaeogene fossil of a lizard, which was originally thought to be just a moulted skin.  However, the electromagnetic radiation scans found tiny traces of phosphorous where the teeth in the miniature jaws would have been.  This proved that teeth had been present in the fossil and since no member of the Squamata (lizards and snakes) sheds their teeth as well as their skin when they moult, the fossil was re-described as a more complete specimen.

Fifty Million Year Old Lizard Fossil Used in the Study

Shedding light onto Ancient Creatures.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/Applied Physics

The Manchester University team of scientists, a collaboration from various faculties includes Dr. Roy Wogelius and Dr. Phil Manning, who has recently been in the United States working on the excavation of a number of Triceratops (dinosaur fossils).  One application of this new technology could be the analysis of dinosaur fossils, preserved in coarse sandstone to detect the chemical signatures of feathers which otherwise would not have shown up under more conventional light studies and X-rays.  This could help palaeontologists to understand more about the evolution of feathers and ultimately the relationship between Aves (birds) and the Dinosauria.

Not only was the powerful synchrotron able to detect the presence of chemicals related to the teeth of the tiny lizard, but their chemical signatures and placement in the jaw corresponding to other general features such as the lizard’s relatively elongated snout enabled the scientists to establish more information about the family and genus this fifty million year old specimen might be related to.  Based on this study, the team have concluded that the fossil specimen has a close resemblance to Shinisaurids (Chinese Crocodile Lizards), these are small, semi-aquatic lizards that can be found today in south-east Asia.   The fossil specimen has been proposed as being an example of Bahndwivici ammoskius an extinct Shinisaurid that lived in Wyoming during the Eocene Epoch.

Commenting on the research work carried out by the team, palaeontologist Dr. Phil Manning stated that the finding of teeth residues changed almost everything that the palaeontologist’s thought they knew about this particular specimen.  Thanks to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, the species could be identified, the technology allows scientists to see the “ghosts” of original biological structures that only remain in association with the fossil as minute chemical concentrations.  The results of this study have been published in the academic journal “Applied Physics”.

Dr Manning and his team hope to be able to use this technology to study more fossils, including dinosaur fossils.  The scientists are excited about the prospect of discovering more about previously very well studied fossil specimens using the Stanford-based synchrotron.  The electromagnetic radiation will truly be shedding new light on long extinct creatures.

Our thanks to Manchester University for helping to compile this article.

The Strongest Bite of All – not T. rex but Piranhas

Black Piranha and Extinct Relative Had Strongest Bites of All

The debate about which of all the predators known to science was the most ferocious is a subject area often visited by nature documentary programme makers.  We seem to be obsessed with dangerous animals whether it is the extinct Tyrannosaurus rex of the Jurassic Park movies or indeed the Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias).  However, one when it comes to which animal had the strongest bite there is one small fish found throughout the Amazon basin that could give these two film icons a run for their money.  As a proportion of its body size, the extant Black Piranha is believed to have one of the strongest bites of any animal. So fish of the genus Serrasalmus can lay claim to the title of having the most powerful bite pound for pound of their body weight.

Piranha have been depicted in a number of movies, not as many as the dinosaurs, but just like those extinct reptiles, the piranhas reputation has been enhanced by its cinematic ability to strip flesh from people in a matter of seconds.  Black piranhas in the wild can be aggressive but they rarely attack humans.  They can grow up to about forty centimetres in length and they are an important predator of other fish species in the river channels and tributaries of the Amazon basin.

A Skeleton of the Extant Black Piranha with the Fossilised Teeth of M. paranensis (inset)

Fearsome predators with a strong bite.

Picture Credit: Grubich JR et al/Grey Taxidermy/Karen Carr

A team of researchers from George Washington University (Washington, District of Columbia, United States) visited the Amazon to study piranhas and other fish vertebrates, the bite force of the Black Piranha (Serrasalmus rhombeus) was calculated to be approximately 320 Newtons.  These fish feed by darting in and snatching bite-sized mouthfuls from other fish, attacking the bony fins and softer parts of the victim.  The data calculated by measuring the bite force was then used to assess the potential chomping power of a much larger, extinct species of piranha, fossils of which were found in Argentina.  The extinct piranha, known as Megapiranha paranensis is known from just one fragmentary fossil, part of the premaxilla (upper jaw).  M. paranensis was a freshwater predator that inhabited Argentinian river systems during the Late Miocene Epoch (approximately 8 million years ago).  Reaching lengths in excess of one metre, this ancestor of today’s Serralsalmus genus most likely had a scaled-up bite force.  The extinct super-predator shared its world with enormous crocodiles and turtles, bigger big with a very strong bite was an important adaptation for survival.

To read an article on the potential bite force of Tyrannosaurus rexNew Research into T. rex Bite Force

When body size is taken into account, the scientists working in conjunction colleagues from the Museum of La Plata (Argentina) and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, calculated that the bite forces generated by the Black Piranha and the extinct Megapiranha would have been bigger than those forces generated by Tyrannosaurus rex as well as the extinct Megalodon giant shark (Carcharodon megalodon).  Palaeontologists have used studies of extinct animal’s  jaws and teeth to try and calculate the bite forces that these creatures could generate.  It seems that a fish often kept by aquarium enthusiasts could have had the most devastating bite of all.

The bite force of M. paranensis was calculated by creating a bronze-alloy model of the jaw and using a computer programme to assess the power of the bite force generated when biting into vertebrate bone, turtle carapace or into the scales of catfish, organisms that this extinct fish could have attacked.  The strength of the fish bite was due to a combination of factors according to the scientists, the shape and size of the teeth, the amount of muscle associated with the jaws and the ability of the jawbones to conduct huge forces through them as a result of their anatomical configuration.  It seems even the jaws of the most formidable predator of the Late Cretaceous – Tyrannosaurus rex may not have been a match for these freshwater predators.

The Fossilised Premaxilla of Megapiranha paranensis

Strong bite from the Late Miocene.

Picture Credit: Mark Sabaj-Perez

The teeth of the extinct piranha are serrated and they remind team members at Everything Dinosaur of teeth from extant sharks such as the Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier).

The research team went onto compare the bite forces generated against a series of other fishy predators, not only the colossal  Megalodon but also the Devonian giant Placoderm Dunkleosteus.  Pound for pound the piranha species came out on top.

A Bite Force Comparison between Extinct and Extant Species of Fish

Piranhas come out on top.

Despite the number of cameo roles piranhas have played in films, where they have been seen to strip their victim of flesh in a matter of seconds, the research team claim that this is the first time that the actual bite force of piranha has been studied in this way.

Merry Christmas from all the Team Members at Everything Dinosaur

Seasonal Greetings to All

A brief article this morning as team members are taking a well deserved holiday but an opportunity nonetheless to wish all our readers a happy Christmas and peaceful, prosperous New Year.  2013 will no doubt, provide us with lots of exciting dinosaur and other prehistoric animal discoveries and fossil finds to talk about.  We are excited to receive news on how Manchester University staff are using a highly sophisticated synchrotron in the United States to take  fresh look at fossils, we have joked that this powerful technology will shed new light literally onto long extinct organisms and reveal details never seen before.

We have plans for a number of fossil hunting trips, that is, if our busy work schedules allow us, it will be great to get out into the field again.  There is also a lot happening at Everything Dinosaur, lots of new products and projects, the first of which our long awaited Pinterest page is now live and should be integrated into our other websites early in the New Year.

Merry Christmas Everybody

Merry Christmas and a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Over the next few days we will finish compiling the results of our annual prehistoric animal popularity survey and towards the end of the year, now less than a week away, we will put together our list of the top ten most popular blog articles.  There is the stock take to complete plus other jobs that we can’t put off any longer so team members are going to be busy throughout the festive period.

One of the things we discussed yesterday, whilst we were finishing off some teaching plans for the school visits planned in early January, was which dinosaur would make the best Christmas dinner?  Technically since Aves (birds) are avian dinosaurs when you eat Turkey, Goose or Chicken you are consuming a member of the Dinosauria.

To read an article written by Everything Dinosaur team members about how your Christmas dinner is technically a dinosaur: Tucking into a Dinosaur at Christmas

If the dinosaurs were around today, this would have implications for extant fauna and flora.  Farms would look very different as bovines (cows) may not have had the chance to evolve so milk may not be regarded as a foodstuff.  Chances are, with the domesticated Dinosauria we would consume a lot of eggs.  As for Christmas dinner, birds would still be around, after all, they flourished in the Cretaceous so it would be likely for the birds to continue to do well as an Class if the dinosaurs had survived into modern times.  Perhaps, Bambiraptor would be a good candidate for Christmas dinner.  This small, carnivorous dinosaur probably grew quickly and it was around turkey-sized.  What would dinosaur have tasted like?  This is a difficult question, but the consensus around our board table yesterday afternoon was that it would probably have tasted like chicken.

Merry Christmas.

Those Smart Therizinosaurs

New Study Suggests that Therizinosaurids Had Highly Developed Senses

They may look like a dinosaur that has been designed by a committee, but a new study by a team of international researchers into the sensory abilities of Therizinosaurs suggests that these feathered Theropods had highly developed senses.  Using sophisticated computerised tomography (CT scans) to analyse a Therizinosaur skull discovered in Mongolia, the palaeontologists found that these bizarre looking members of the Dinosauria had a well developed sense of smell, most likely excellent eyesight and a strong sense of balance.

The Therizinosaurids are a rare clade of the Dinosauria whose fossils have been found in North America and Asia.  Almost exclusively known from Cretaceous material, these dinosaurs are members of the Theropoda but they seem to have adapted to a more sedentary, herbivorous lifestyle, despite being distantly related to fearsome dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Giganotosaurus carolini.

The Therizinosauroids are such unusual dinosaurs that until sufficient fossil material was found to prove their affinities with the Dinosauria they were thought by many palaeontologists not to be dinosaurs at all.  The first member of the Therizinosaur family to be formally named and described was Therizinosaurus (Therizinosaurus cheloniformis).  It was named and described in 1954 by the eminent Soviet scientist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Maleev, following an intensive study of some limb bones, strange claws and flattened ribs found by a joint Soviet/Mongolian expedition to a remote area of Mongolia in 1948.  This genus is also the largest known for the Therizinosauroids, with some scientists estimating that this creature was more than ten metres in length and weighed as much as five metric tonnes.

A Typical Therizinosaur – Beipiaosaurus

A Dinosaur designed by a committee - the term we use to describe Therizinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The exact taxonomic relationships between different genera of Therizinosaur is debated by palaeontologists; as is the groups affinities with the rest of the Theropoda.  Therizinosaurs seemed to share some general characteristics, they had small heads, perched on long necks, round, tubby bodies that gave them an almost pot-bellied look, short stocky legs and relatively long arms.  The hands ended in three-fingered claws, the most famous of the Therizinosaur autapomorphies (distinctive anatomical features), the claws of Therizinosaurs were exceptionally long.  The claws of  T. cheloniformis,  for example could have been up to a metre in length.   These claws were not strongly curved but rather flattened.  When first studied these claws reminded the scientists of scythes, so with more fossil finds, the clade of “scythe” lizards or the Therizinosaurs was established.  A number of Therizinosaurs such as Beipiaosaurus (B. inexpectus), are believed to have been covered in coats of simple, downy feathers.  These feathers were not like the flight feathers of modern birds but helped to insulate these animals and keep them warm.  This is evidence to suggest that these dinosaurs were endothermic (warm-blooded).

What these animals ate is also debated by palaeontologists, some believe that these dinosaurs were omnivores, feeding on vegetation but also catching small lizards, birds and mammals.  Others think that the long, flattened blade like claws and their strong arms were used to break open termite nests and feed on the insects inside.  Many palaeontologists have concluded that with their extended bellies, blunt beaks and small, leaf-shaped, non-serrated teeth coupled with the presence of prominent cheeks, these dinosaurs were largely herbivorous if not entirely vegetarian.

It has been speculated that these animals lived mainly in arboreal environments and filled a ecological niche similar to that filled by the later Chalicotheres and the giant sloths.  Well developed senses are not usually associated with animals that occupy these niches in an ecosystem, so a team of international researchers from the Earth Sciences Department of the University of Bristol (England), two American Universities assisted by an associate at the University of Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) set about exploring the brains of Therizinosaurs.

It is not possible to study the brain tissue of dinosaurs, such soft tissue is very rarely fossilised and quickly rots when an organism dies, however, by assembling a skull and examining the spaces that would have been occupied by soft tissues such as brains and nerves, palaeontologists can build up a detailed picture of the shape and function of extinct animal’s brains.  By studying the morphology and size of nerve openings into the skull from the orbit and olfactory areas, scientists can deduce how well developed certain senses were.  If the inner ear is available for study then an understanding of the animal’s sense of balance can be achieved.

Using a superbly preserved and virtually complete skull of the Late Cretaceous Therizinosaur known as Elikosaurus andrewsi, a typical Mongolian Therizinosaur that lived around 90 million years ago (Turonian faunal stage of the Cretaceous), the team were able to build up a picture of the senses of this dinosaur.  Sophisticated computer programmes interpreted the data from numerous CT scans of the fossil skull and this enabled the team to build up a three-dimensional picture of the internal structure of the dinosaur’s head.

The Skull of the Therizinosaur used in the Study (Elikosaurus andrewsi)

The large orbit (eye socket) of a Therizinosaur. Study suggests these creatures had highly developed senses.

Picture Credit: Emily Rayfield, University of Bristol

The study, the results of which have been published in the online scientific journal “The Public Library of Science” reveal that Therizinosaurs had a remarkably well developed sense of smell, excellent eyesight and a strong sense of balance. When the skull of a Therizinosaur is examined the large orbit (eye socket) can be clearly seen, and the long muzzle provides an extended naris which may have helped improve the animal’s ability to smell.  All this data was interpreted and managed by what turns out to be an enlarged forebrain. It seems that these slow-moving, herbivores with their over-sized bellies and strange claws may have had keen senses and a very well developed sense of balance.  It is likely that these attributes are a carry over from when the ancestors of the Therizinosaurs were active predators.

The work of this international team of researchers has important implications for our understanding of how sensory functions evolved and changed in the Dinosauria.  It also sheds a little light on how the sensory organs of birds (closely related to Theropod dinosaurs), evolved.

It is difficult to think of these dinosaurs as “smart”, their brains were small in proportion to their body size, but this latest sophisticated study further assuages the old fashioned theory that these reptiles were extremely slow witted, with dull reactions and in comparison to modern mammals, the dinosaurs were very poorly adapted to their environments being doomed to ultimate extinction.  In reality, the Dinosauria, were extremely well adapted to their environments and they evolved into a myriad of forms so that they could exploit a whole range of opportunities in the Mesozoic world.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the University of  Bristol with this article.   Inside the head of a dinosaur: Research reveals new information on the evolution of dinosaur senses.

Giant Titanosaur Tooth Hints at Even Bigger Titanosaurs

Single Giant Tooth Tantalises Scientists with Prospect of “Enormosaurus

A distinguished palaeontologist from the National University of Rio Negro in Argentina has published a scientific paper on the discovery of a single tooth, a fossil which may have serious implications on the estimated size of the largest land animals known to science.

Rodolfo Garcia, a specialist in the study of South American dinosaurs that lived during the Cretaceous geological period, writing in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research” states that a tooth found in strata of the Allen Formation at Salitral  de Santa Rosa, Rio Negro (Argentina) is thirty-two percent bigger than any other tooth from the same type of dinosaur found to date.  The tooth is believed to have belonged to a Titanosaur, a plant-eating, long-necked type of dinosaur.   The chisel shaped tooth measures in excess of seven and a half centimetres in length (including the crown and the root), this is nearly as third as big again as the largest Titanosaur tooth previously known.

The Super-sized Tooth of Perhaps a Super-sized Titanosaur?

Big Tooth does not necessarily mean a big dinosaur.

Picture Credit: National University of Rio Negro/Journal of Cretaceous Research

Note the scale bar in the picture.

The Titanosaurids were the last group of Sauropods (long-necked dinosaurs examples of which include the Jurassic Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus), to evolve.  The exact taxonomic relationship between the Titanosaurs of the Late Jurassic and the Cretaceous and the earlier Jurassic Sauropoda remains unclear.  The Titanosaurids are the only type of Sauropod to have survived until the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs (sixty-five million years ago).  Fossils of these animals have been found in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India and Asia.  The lack of Titanosaur fossils from Antarctica was thought due to the lack of sampling and not a reason to exclude this fauna from that part of the super-continent of Gondwanaland that we now know as Antarctica.  In 2011, a single fragmentary vertebrae discovered in Antarctica did indeed, suggest that these large, herbivores had roamed all off the southern continents in the Late Cretaceous.

A number of Titanosaurs were believed to have been armoured, perhaps an adaptation to the evolution of large, super-predators such as the Abelisaurids and the Tyrannosaurs.  Several genera of Titanosaur can lay claim to the title of the largest, land living creatures known to science.  Paralititan from North Africa may have measured in excess of thirty metres, Andesaurus, fossils of which have been found in Argentina may have been bigger still and a recent discovery of cervical vertebrae in the southern United States suggests that Alamosaurus may have reached lengths well in excess of thirty metres too.  The dinosaur regarded as the largest of the Titanosaurs at the moment is the colossal Argentinosaurus huinculensis, which as the name suggests was also discovered in Argentina (western Argentina, Huincul).  It may have measured more than thirty-five metres in length and weighed as much as one hundred tonnes.

A Scale Drawing of Argentinosaurus (A. huinculensis)

Currently, the biggest land living animal ever?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The trouble is, most large Titanosaurs are only known from a few fragmentary fossils.  Their true size can only be estimated based on the scant fossil evidence palaeontologists have to study.  The finding of an enormous tooth in strata from the Allen formation (fossil reference: MML-Pv 1030), leads to the intriguing prospect of even bigger dinosaurs awaiting discovery.

The tooth, the biggest Titanosaur tooth to be described comes from Upper Cretaceous aged strata (mid Campanian to lower Maastrichtian faunal stage), it has been tentatively dated to around 77 to 73 million years ago.  The single tooth is thirty-two percent larger than the previously largest Titanosaur tooth described.  The former record holder came from a Titanosaur genus known as Nemegtosaurus whose fossils have been found in the famous Nemegt Formation of Mongolia. Like many Titanosaurs Nemegtosaurus is poorly known with one single incomplete specimen including a partial skull for the scientists to study.  The teeth of this Late Cretaceous Titanosaur were chisel-like, large and limited to the very front of the jaws.

For Rodolfo Garcia, the discovery of this single, shed tooth may mean that there is another genus of Titanosaur awaiting discovery in the Allen Formation, one that will become known as the biggest terrestrial animal known in the fossil record.  Perhaps, the dinosaur who lost this tooth was not that big but had unusually large teeth for its size, or indeed the tooth could actually turn out to belong to an already described, but poorly known genus of South American Titanosaur.

The wear and tiny scratches on the tooth are being studied by the research team as they hope to infer feeding behaviour and dietary information from this fossil find.

If a new genus is erected based on this single specimen, this would not be the first time that this has happened in the study of the Dinosauria.  In 1825, when Gideon Mantell described Iguanodon he did so largely based on the finding of teeth that reminded him of the teeth of extant iguana lizard.  The marine reptile Liopleurodon was established as a genus after the describing of some large teeth found in France, it does not take much to erect a new genus.  However, there is one little “fly in the ointment” when it comes to trying to estimate the size of dinosaurs.  It seems that unlike mammals, dinosaurs grew a little bit each year as long as they lived – what scientists term indeterminate growth.  A very old Argentinosaurus for example, would grow a little bit more each year it lived.  It would not have the rapid growth or growth spurts that occurred when it was young, but even a one percent increase in size each year for a dinosaur already in excess of thirty metres long would add another foot or so to its overall length.

At the moment this single tooth raises the possibility that scientists may have to come up with another superlative to appropriately describe a new, huge genus of long-necked dinosaur.  The likes of Supersaurus and Seismosaurus have already been used, so how about “Enormosaurus” being established to describe the genus of Titanosaur associated with this enormous tooth.

A New Addition to the Iguanodontid Family

Proa valdearinnoensis – The Latest Addition to the Iguanodon Family

The Iguanodon taxon has been much revised over recent years.  Palaeontologists have made new fossil discoveries and a number of new genera of these large Ornithopods have been erected.  Material held within museum collections, particularly in Europe and North America, has been re-examined in the light of recent fossil discoveries and as a result, a number of new genera have been established.  A number of species assigned to the the Iguanodon taxon have been re-assigned and set up as separate genera.  An example would be the establishment of Mantellisaurus after a reassessment of Iguanodontid material.  This genus honours Dr. Gideon Mantell, the Victorian scientist who first named and scientifically described Iguanodon (1825).

A Typical Iguanodontid Dinosaur

A typical Iguanodontid Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Regarded as a taxonomic “waste basket” for a number of years, this reassessment of Iguanodon fossil material has led to the setting up of a number of new genera.  The Iguanodont family in Europe has just got a little bigger with the addition of a new, basal Iguanodontid from the Teruel Province of eastern Spain.  Iguanodonts are a group of “bird-hipped”, Ornithischian dinosaurs that first evolved during the Jurassic and went onto become one of the most important and most common groups of herbivorous dinosaurs in the Cretaceous geological period.  The name means “Iguana teeth”, after Dr. Gideon Mantell noticed the resemblance of some fossil teeth he had found in Sussex (southern England) to the teeth of an extant Iguana lizard.   These facultative bipeds had large bodies, long, stiffened tails, jaws packed with hundreds of blocky shaped teeth and beaks made of horn.  Their five fingered hands were quite dexterous for a dinosaur and they are famous for having a “thumb spike” which was probably used in intraspecific conflicts or to defend these herbivores against Theropod predators.

A Variety of Iguanodontid Skulls showing the Diversity of this Dinosaur Family

A large family.

Picture Credit: Gregory S. Paul

Excavations carried out by a team of palaeontologists at a coal mine in Ariño (Teruel Province), led to the discovery of Iguanodontid fossil material that represents at least six individual dinosaurs.  It total more than 340 dinosaur bones have been found so far, most importantly a number of elements from the skull, including a beautifully preserved and nearly complete specimen of a skull from an adult animal.  Studies carried out on the fossils have provided enough evidence for the scientists to establish a new genus of European Iguanodon.  The new dinosaur has been named Proa valdearinnoensis.  The genus name reflects the shape of the predentary bone, as it reminded the scientists of the shape of a bow on a boat.  The species name honours the location where the fossils were found Val de Ariño, the traditional name for this part of the Teruel region.  This particular Iguanodontid is distinguished by a very distinctive anatomical feature (autapomorphy), the predentary comes to a point at its tip (the rostral margin).  The predentary bone also has upward pointing projections (divergent lateral processes).  It is these characteristics that has led to the establishment of a new Iguanodontid genus.

A number of specimens, including the best preserved skull material will be put on display at a regional natural history museum.  The fossil material was excavated from the Escucha Formation of Teruel Province (eastern Spain).

Fossil Material on Display (Proa valdearinnoensis skull material)

Iguanodon with a lower jaw ending in a point like the bow of a boat.

Picture Credit: Zootaxa

The fossilised bones have been dated to approximately 112 – 110 million years ago (Lower Albian faunal stage of the Cretaceous) and palaeontologists estimate that P. valdearinnoensis would have been about seven to eight metres in length as a fully grown, mature adult.

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