Safari Ltd Release Further Details on their Prehistoric Animal Releases for 2014

New Addition to the Carnegie Collectibles Model Range, Ammonites and the Ascent of Man

Safari Ltd, those clever figure and model manufacturers have given Everything Dinosaur a peek around the curtain as it were and sent our team members details of the company’s new product releases for 2014.  Back in early September, Everything Dinosaur released details of some of the new additions to the Wild Safari Dinos and Prehistoric Life range of models and what exciting news it was, with the likes of a Suchomimus, a Pachyrhinosaurus and a Monolophosaurus being added to this not to scale range.

To read more about the new for 2014 Wild Safari Dinos model releases: New Prehistoric Animal Models from Safari Ltd

Now we can reveal details of further new prehistoric animal models being released next year and let’s start with a new addition to the Carnegie Scale Model Dinosaur Collectibles – Tyrannosaurus rex.

Carnegie Scale Model Collectible T. rex Model Available in 2014

New for 2014 a new model of the "Tyrant Lizard King"!

New for 2014 a new model of the “Tyrant Lizard King”!

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

Measuring a fraction over nineteen centimetres long and with a head height of just below fourteen centimetres this new T. rex model is bound to get collectors and young dinosaur fans roaring with delight.  We have a red headed model Tyrannosaurus rex to look forward to.  The “red head” theory springs from the debate between two distinguished palaeontologists Bob Bakker who proposed that this dinosaur was an active predator and Jack Horner who proposed the theory that T. rex was an obligate scavenger.  Jack Horner postulated that fully grown, mature individuals probably did not need to do much hunting.  They could simple sniff out a recent kill made by another predator with T. rex’s tremendous sense of smell and then bully the other unfortunate carnivores into surrendering their dinner.  The bright red colouration on the head, would have emphasised the ferocity of a T. rex to other dinosaurs (Dinosauria probably had excellent colour vision), so T. rex could have gained an easy meal without having to hunt for itself.

A Close up of that Ferocious Red Head

Exciting News for 2014.

Exciting News for 2014.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

With the retirement of the Museum Line Ammonite model, fans of prehistoric Cephalopods may have been worried about how they were going to show what these extinct marine creatures actually looked like.  Safari Ltd have stepped in to plug the gap and will be releasing an Ammonite model as part of their Wild Safari Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life replica series.  The Ammonite model measures over thirteen centimetres in length and the deeply ribbed shell has an impressive diameter of six and a half centimetres.

New  Ammonite Model for 2014

Large eyes, deeply ribbed shell perhaps a model of a Pavlovia spp?

Large eyes, deeply ribbed shell perhaps a model of a Pavlovia spp?

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The Safari Ltd Ammonite model is definitely a predator, with its large eyes and with its two longest tentacles striking out to grab prey.  The replica is posed in the typical attack pose of a Cephalopod, the same pose is seen in octopi, squid and cuttlefish today as they strike out at prey.

Another exciting development is the introduction of a set of five models that show part of the story of our own evolution (hominin evolution).  Safari Ltd have created five early human figures ranging from an Australopithecine (A. afarensis), to our species H. sapiens via H. habilis (handy man), H. erectus (upright man), to a Neanderthal and then to us.

The Evolution of Man (and Woman)

Tracing our evolution.

Tracing our evolution.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

These models are going to prove “handy” no pun intended H. habilis, what with the theory of evolution forming part of the teaching curriculum in the United Kingdom.  Bullyland of Germany used to have a set showing the “Ascent of Man”, but this six model series was officially retired a long time ago.  The hominin figures range in size from 6.75cm in height to 7.25cm and they are intended to be sold as a blister pack (a set of models).

These are exciting times for Safari Ltd and Everything Dinosaur we look forward to hearing more about these new figures.

In the meantime, to view the range of Safari Ltd models stocked by Everything Dinosaur: Prehistoric Animals including Dinosaur Models

The Ecological Crisis at Lake Urmia

Drawing Attention to the Destruction of Lake Urmia (Iran and Southern Azerbaijan)

Social media sites are very powerful, they can highlight and draw attention to issues and the plight of peoples that would not necessarily be reported elsewhere.  For example, one of Everything Dinosaur’s many friends on the company’s Facebook page sent pictures and information about the crisis taking place in a region of the Middle East surrounding Lake Urmia, which is rapidly drying up and disappearing.  Lake Urmia, which is situated in northern Iran, close to the border of Azerbaijan was once regarded as the largest salt lake in the Middle East, however, its waters have been receding, threatening the livelihoods of the local population as well as the many millions of people in the surrounding area who depend on the Lake and its rivers for water.  The loss of such a habitat also has extremely grave consequences for the natural world. 

The Dramatic Reduction in the Volume of Water that Comprises Lake Urmia

The pictures (Google) show the dramatic decline in the water volume of Lake Urmia

The pictures (Google) show the dramatic decline in the water volume of Lake Urmia

Water levels have been dropping for many years, but the loss of water has really become accelerated over the last two decades or so.  A number of reasons have been given for this decline.  Something like thirty-nine dams are planned or have been built on the rivers flowing into the Lake Urmia.  The digging of thousands of wells for use in local industry or agriculture has depleted the water levels in the Urmia basin and a series of prolonged droughts has led to very little precipitation.  The Iranian Government, with the support of a number of international organisations including the United Nations, is trying to save the lake, which once was regarded as the third largest salt water lake on Earth.  Many experts on the environment say that what has been done so far and what steps are planned to take place in the near future will not be enough to save the flora and fauna of the region.

A project to divert over 600 million cubic metres of water from the Araz river into Lake Urmia was launched in 2010, this project, estimated to be costing approximately $1.2 billion USD may not be sufficient to counterbalance the loss of water.  A further $900 million USD was set aside by the Iranian Government to help in the Lake Urmia crisis the following year, although some informed commentators have questioned whether such sums have really been allocated to address the increasing problems in the Lake Urmia region.  It is believed that in  addition to other funding, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has allocated $135 million USD to help resolve environmental problems caused by the reduction in water volume.

It has been estimated that something around 76 million people live within 250 miles of the Lake’s basin, the drying up of this water resource could have devastating implications for the entire region.  The area is an exceptionally important wetland habitat, but as the water disappears what liquid that is left is becoming increasingly salty.  If the water goes altogether a huge salt pan would remain containing an estimated 8 billion tonnes of salt.  Winds could then transport and redeposit this salt over a wide area.  Scientists estimate that salt-toxicity could become a hazard in agricultural landscapes many hundreds of miles away from the Lake.  Farmland in Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia and Azerbaijan could be seriously affected.

Dramatic and Stark Photographs Reveal the Extent of the Environmental Damage

Stark photographs tell the story of Lake Urmia.

Stark photographs tell the story of Lake Urmia.

Picture Credit: Hamed Haghdoust (FARS)

Let us hope that the Iranian Government working in collaboration with environmental groups, the administrations of neighbouring countries and international bodies such as the United Nations are able to adopt effective solutions that can lead to the aversion of this potential environmental crisis.

Our thanks to Amin for his help in putting together this article.

Everything Dinosaur Interviewed about Dinosaurs

Leading Toy Magazine Interviews Everything Dinosaur about the Dinosaur Toy Market

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have been brushing up their dinosaur knowledge in readiness for an interview with a journalist who writes for one of the leading toy industry magazines.  With so much media interest in all things dinosaur at the moment, the magazine is producing an article about dinosaur and prehistoric animal toys, so naturally Everything Dinosaur was contacted and asked to participate.  Fortunately for us, these were telephone interviews so no make-up required.

The interviewer wanted to know which dinosaurs were popular at the moment, we were able to draw on figures compiled as a result of our annual prehistoric animal survey which provides a top ten of children’s favourite prehistoric monsters.  In addition, we were able to point out some trends in sales and touch upon our role in schools conducting dinosaur themed workshops with school children as part of our commitment to teaching science in schools.

One of the questions asked was – “Why are dinosaurs so popular?”  That’s quite a tough question to answer, especially when you consider that we have customers from three years to eighty-three years of age and we get letters, emails, drawings and such like sent into us from all over the world.  However, we gave it a try and came up with the following response:

Like many things, when it actually comes to studying dinosaurs the simple answer is no one really knows.  Most people young and old are fascinated with monsters imagined or otherwise.  Psychologists when asked, often refer to the fact that  many dinosaurs were large and very frightening but since children very quickly learn that most of the Dinosauria are extinct and they can’t harm them, dinosaurs are sort of safe monsters.  Our  view at Everything Dinosaur is as follows, some dinosaurs were spectacular and amazing, we show children in schools some of the fossils that we have and we get the wide-eyes and jaw-dropping look.  Some of the carnivorous dinosaurs  like T. rex were so big that they could swallow you whole, a child could sit inside the stomach of a Triceratops stretch out their arms as wide as they can and the could not touch its ribs on either side.  We just think dinosaurs are amazing and lots of other people do too.”

We are not sure when the feature will be published, but we are looking forward to seeing our contribution.

Rare Amphibian Fossil Showing Predation to be Auctioned

Aspiration Fossil to be Sold in Texas

A rare fossil preserving an ancient amphibian whose eyes were bigger than its stomach is being auctioned by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas next month.  The sale, part of a special science and nature themed auction is to take place on 19th and 20th October.  The reserve on this particular lot, one that shows a seventy centimetre long amphibian apparently having choked as it attempted so swallow a smaller amphibian is set at $75,000 USD, but with the current interest in fossils, the final price to be paid for this exceptionally preserved evidence of feeding behaviour in a Permian amphibian will probably be much higher.

The fossil originated in Germany, where laws prevent the collection of such specimens, but this particular fossil was excavated and sold prior to the legislation being in place.  The fossil is currently part of a private collection in San Francisco, but when it is auctioned next month, anyone with a spare £200,000 USD or so can purchase it.

A Close up of the Aspiration Fossil – Amphibians from the Permian

Biting off more than it could chew?

Biting off more than it could chew?

Picture Credit: Heritage Auctions

The specimen dates from the Cisuralian epoch of the Permian (Early Permian), it is approximately 300 million years old and it reveals the last moments of a carnivorous, sub-adult Sclerocephalus haeuseri which may have bitten a smaller amphibian in half (presumed to be a specimen of Cherlyderpeton latirostris or possibly a juvenile S. haeuseri).  The exact identity of the victim is not clear, only the rear half is visible, the rest including that diagnostic, all important skull is inside the remains of the larger amphibian.  Apparently, the sub-adult S. haeuseri was asphyxiated as it tried to cope with its large meal, after all its victim was nearly thirty centimetres long.

Fossils of a predator choking on its prey are known as aspiration specimens.  They are exceptionally rare in the fossil record, although, Everything Dinosaur is aware of a number of aspiration fossils, most of which feature fish of one sort or another.  A famous example of an aspiration fossil shows a four metre long, Late Cretaceous predatory fish  called Xiphactinus that perished with a two metre long, Ichthyodectid fish inside its stomach.

The Famous “Greedy Xiphactinus” Fossil Specimen

A fossil fish within a fish

A fossil fish within a fish

Picture Credit: Sternberg Museum of Natural History

The Complete Specimen Up for Auction

The complete specimen up for auction.

The complete specimen up for auction.

Picture Credit: Heritage Auctions

The piece also features a fossil fish, possibly Paramblypterus gelberti which can be seen in the bottom right of the slab.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is a truly remarkable and very beautiful fossil specimen.  Aspiration fossils, certainly those featuring Tetrapods are extremely rare.  If a public body is unable to purchase this fossil, perhaps the private consortium or wealthy individual who secures this lot will allow it to be made available for further study and analysis – let’s hope so.”

Dinosaur Soft Toy Made in Space

Astronaut Aboard the International Space Station Makes T. rex Soft Toy for her Son

Karen Nyberg, a keen quilter and a dab hand with a needle and thread had a few spare moments in what was her busy daily routine so she decided to make a Tyrannosaurus rex soft toy for her little boy from some scraps of material that was lying around.  What’s so remarkable about that  you may ask?  Well, Karen is a flight engineer currently working on the International Space Station that is orbiting the Earth some 23o miles overhead.  This is the first soft toy made in space (we think), a T. rex created in zero gravity.

Karen’s Tyrannosaurus rex Soft Toy Made in Space

T. rex made in Space

Picture Credit: Karen Nyberg/NASA

Karen has been on the International Space Station since May 29th of this year, missing Jack, her three-year-old son, she decided to make him a toy dinosaur, a special souvenir of his Mum’s time in space.  It seems that the supply boxes that carry the food containers on their space bound journey have a velcro-like packing material inside them.  Karen used this material to make the shape and the soft toy, once stitched, was stuffed with strips from an old T-shirt.  We at Everything Dinosaur are sure that Jack is going to love his “space dinosaur”, although this is not the first dinosaur in space.  Members of the Dinosauria have ventured into zero gravity before, and we at Everything Dinosaur produced an article on this remarkable feat, especially for an extinct order of reptiles.

To read more about dinosaurs in space: Dinosaurs and Spaceflight

Karen Busy Quilting in Space

A sewing hobby 370 kilometres above our planet!

A sewing hobby 370 kilometres above our planet!

Picture Credit: Karen Nyberg/NASA

Working in weightlessness conditions hasn’t stopped Karen from showing off her crafting skills.  Perhaps, Karen could make a second stuffed toy dinosaur in the few spare minutes she gets during her busy work schedule.  This second soft toy could be put on display at the Kennedy Space Centre, to inspire the next generation of astronauts.

Great work Karen, we think Jack is going to love his dinosaur toy.

Thousands of Dinosaur Tracks Discovered along the Banks of Alaska’s Yukon River

Evidence of an Extinct Ecosystem Revealed

A team of researchers from the University of Alaska Museum of the North have found a number of major new sites which show evidence of Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils, not too far from the Arctic Circle.  The research team explored the banks and rocky beaches of the Yukon and Tanana rivers and the expedition returned with over 900 kilogrammes of dinosaur trace fossil specimens.

Commentators have stated that the University of Alaska Museum of the North researchers have found major new sites for dinosaur fossils in Alaska.

Earth Sciences Curator Pat Druckenmiller, a member of the expedition team commented:

“There aren’t many places left in the world where palaeontologists can just go out and find thousands of dinosaur footprints”.

In the high summer (July) with the long days of daylight, the research team set off at the start of a 800 kilometre journey, one that would take them down the Tanana and Yukon rivers and also back in time to the Cretaceous a time when, according to the trace fossils, a large number of different dinosaur species roamed these northern latitudes.

Operations Manager at the Museum, Kevin May stated:

“Based on what we know about the geology along the Yukon River, the rocks exposed downriver from Ruby [a small town 400 kilometres west of Fairbanks] suggested they might be a good place to find dinosaurs”.

Footprints of both plant-eating dinosaurs (Ornithopods) and meat-eating dinosaurs (Theropods) were discovered indicating that this part of the Late Cretaceous world supported a rich and diverse ecosystem.  Many different types of prehistoric animal footprint have been recovered from the nearby Denali Park (Lower Cantwell Formation), including those of a giant prehistoric bird that may have stood over 1.5 metres tall.  In fact, the nearby Denali Park is famous for its extensive bird fossil trackways, it seems that birds were also abundant and shared this Late Cretaceous habitat with the dinosaurs.  Intriguingly, the newly discovered dinosaur footprints from the Yukon area are probably 25-30 million years older than the Denali fossils, still Late Cretaceous but indicating a rich and diverse ecosystem flourishing in this part of the world for many millions of years.

Preserved Dinosaur Footprints Found Along the Shore
Tracks along the shore.
Picture Credit: Pat Druckenmiller
The picture above shows the typical shoreline landscape with large boulders littering the shoreline that have been eroded out of the surrounding strata.  The boulder in the foreground shows a positive footprint fossil.
Getting Close to Yukon River Dinosaur Footprints
Dinosaur footprint outlined in red.

Picture Credit: Pat Druckenmiller with highlighting done by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a close up of the dinosaur footprint, although team members at Everything Dinosaur have only this photograph to study and there is no defined scale, it has been suggested that this trace fossil may have been made by the foot of a Ceratopsian (horned dinosaur).

Pat Druckenmiller explained that one of the reasons the Yukon River dinosaur tracks may have gone undiscovered for so long is due to their method of preservation, they are “natural casts” formed when sand filled in the actual footprint after the dinosaur stepped in soft mud.  The footprints are not “sunken impressions”, as we refer to such tracks at Everything Dinosaur, rather, they are “raised positive impressions”, that actually stick out and stand proud of the surrounding matrix.  A spokesperson for the Alaskan based team stated that the prints “stick out from the rock and sometimes look like blobs with toes.”

The fossil finds are significant as they hint at an extensive dinosaur rich ecosystem that predates those fossils found from the Lower Cantwell Formation of Denali.  The University of Alaska Museum of the North are keen to work with local native communities to help co-ordinate future expeditions to the area, perhaps looking for body fossils of dinosaurs so that new genera of Dinosauria may be identified.  The dedicated dinosaur footprint spotters included, Jørn Hurum, from the University of Oslo Natural History Museum, UAMN Earth Sciences Collection Manager Julie Rousseau, and University of Alaska (Fairbanks) students Meghan Shay, Katherine Anderson, and Meg O’Connor.

Some of the Expedition Members with their Finds
Finding dinosaur footprints in Alaska.

Picture Credit: Kevin May

The Head of Production at the Museum Roger Topp, has produced a film of the team’s exploits and the University of Alsaska Museum of the North is planning to exhibit their finds in the summer of 2015.

Commenting on the fossil footprint discoveries, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur said:

“From the preliminary studies that have been made, these fossilised footprints indicate a rich Dinosauria fauna, with herbivorous Ceratopsians and duck-billed dinosaurs dominating the mega fauna.  These animals may have migrated to high latitudes to take advantage of food resources during the long periods of prolonged daylight.  Predators such as Tyrannosaurs may well have followed these herds north and south, picking off the sick and the old.”

A Close Up of an Ornithopod Footprint
An impression made by the hind foot of a plant-eating dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Pat Druckenmiller

Smilodon fatalis (Sabre-Tooth Cat)

Smilodon Goes on Display

Just a normal day at Everything Dinosaur, sort the mail, email answers out to school children who have sent in dinosaur themed questions to our team, quick update on IT developments on the website and finding a place to display our Smilodon fatalis skull.  The skull is quite delicate and it has taken a lot of work to get it sorted, but it is finished along with its huge, foam-filled transport box so that if needed, it can be taken to schools as part of our teaching about evolution and prehistoric animals in schools.

Taking a “Snap” of a Smilodon (S. fatalis)

Big-toothed predator

Big-toothed predator

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The gape of the jaw is most impressive, these predators could open their mouths far wider than a lion or any other modern day “Big Cat”.  To read more about the jaws of members of the Machairodontinae and their very special adaptations: Open Wide! The Bite Force and Attack Strategy of Smilodon

Palaeontologists estimate that the Smilodon genus had four species; there is conjecture whether Smilodon floridus and Smilodon californicus are true species or sub-species of Smilodon fatalis.  Many thousands of Smilodon fossils are known, the tar pits at Rancho La Brea in Los Angeles have produced a lot of fossil material relating to the Smilodon genus (mainly S. californicus).

Still a Little Wobbly – Anterior View of Smilodon

The business end of Smilodon.

The business end of Smilodon.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We shall take the guidance provided by the scientists at La Brea Tar Pits, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, which incidentally is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and suggest that this is Smilodon fatalis californicus a sub-species of Smilodon fatalis.

Smilodon fatalis was a sizeable beast, this skull alone measures more than thirty centimetres in length.  Smilodon fatalis stood over one metre high at the shoulder, not as big as the South American S. populator but considerably larger than Smilodon gracilis.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of prehistoric animal models: Prehistoric Mammal Models and Toys

Giant Prehistoric Straight-Tusked Elephant Butchered by H. heidelbergensis in Kent

University of Southampton Researchers Uncover a Rich Treasure Trove of Palaeolithic Fossils including Many Hand Axes

Research by a University of Southampton archaeologist suggests that early humans, who lived thousands of years before Neanderthals, were able to work together in groups to hunt and slaughter animals as large as a prehistoric elephant.  The fossil evidence of a straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) has provided tantalising evidence that Homo heidelbergenis was very capable of co-ordinating the butchering of a large animal carcase, with the research team proposing that at least four individuals worked on the corpse, extracting the cuts of meat.  It is not known whether, in this instance, H. heidelbergensis actually hunted and killed the elephant but other H. heidelbergensis sites from Germany indicate that they may well have hunted these mega herbivores.

Dr Francis Wenban-Smith discovered a site containing remains of an extinct straight-tusked elephant in 2003, in an area of land at Ebbsfleet in Kent, during the construction of the High Speed 1 rail link from the Channel Tunnel to London.  Investigation of the area was carried out with the independent heritage organisation Oxford Archaeology, with the support of HS1 Ltd.

Excavation revealed a deep sequence of deposits containing the elephant remains, along with numerous flint tools and a range of other species such as; wild aurochs, extinct forms of rhinoceros and lion, Barbary macaque, beaver, rabbit, various forms of vole and shrew, frogs and a diverse assemblage of snails.  These remains confirm that the deposits date to a warm period of climate around 420,000 years ago, the so-called Hoxnian interglacial, when the climate was probably slightly warmer than the present day.

The Tusks of the Prehistoric Elephant Uncovered During the Fossil Excavation

Straight tusks of prehistoric elephant slowly emerge

Straight tusks of prehistoric elephant slowly emerge.

Picture Credit: University of Southampton

Since the excavation, which took place in 2004, Francis has been carrying out a detailed analysis of evidence recovered from the site, including eighty undisturbed flint artefacts found scattered around the elephant carcass and used to butcher it.  The prehistoric elephant was twice the size of today’s African variety and much heavier.

Dr Wenban-Smith commented:

“Although there is no direct evidence of how this particular animal met its end, the discovery of flint tools close to the carcass confirm butchery for its meat, probably by a group of at least four individuals.  Early hominins of this period would have depended on nutrition from large herbivores.  The key evidence for elephant hunting is that, of the few prehistoric butchered elephant carcasses that have been found across Europe, they are almost all large males in their prime, a pattern that does not suggest natural death and scavenging.  Although it seems incredible that they could have killed such an animal, it must have been possible with wooden spears.  We know hominins of this period had these, and an elephant skeleton with a wooden spear through its ribs was found at the site of Lehringen in Germany in 1948.”

These early humans suffered local extinction in Northern Europe during the great ice age known as the Anglian glaciation 450,000 years ago, but re-established themselves as the climate grew warmer again in the following Hoxnian interglacial.

An ability to hunt large mammals, and in particular elephants, as suggested by the Ebbsfleet find, would go some way to explaining how these people then managed to push northwards again into what is now Britain.  The flint artefacts of these pioneer settlers are of a characteristic type known as Clactonian, mostly comprising simple razor-sharp flakes that would have been ideal for cutting meat, sometimes with notches on them that would have helped cut through the tougher animal hide.

The discovery of this previously undisturbed elephant grave site is unique in Britain, where only a handful of other elephant skeletons have been found and none of which have produced similar evidence of human exploitation.  The Ebbsfleet location is just a few miles from the West Sussex gravel beds where further evidence of H. heidelbergensis hunters have been found (Boxgrove).

Dr Wenban-Smith explains the Ebbsfleet area would have been very different from today:

“Rich fossilised remains surrounding the elephant skeleton, including pollen, snails and a wide variety of vertebrates, provide a remarkable record of the climate and environment the early humans inhabited.  Analysis of these deposits show they lived at a time of peak interglacial warmth, when the Ebbsfleet Valley was a lush, densely wooded tributary of the Thames, containing a quiet, almost stagnant swamp.”

The layer of earth containing the elephant remains and flints is overlain by a higher level of sediment, rich in so-called Acheulian tool types, hand axes of various forms from later in the same interglacial.  Controversy surrounds whether or not these represent a later wave of colonisation of Britain, or whether the Clactonians themselves evolved a more sophisticated tool-kit as they developed a more sustained occupation.

To read an article on the discovery of a baby Woolly Mammoth carcase in Siberia that shows signs of being butchered by humans (H. sapiens): Baby Mammoth Killed by Lions and then Butchered by Humans

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of the University of Southampton in the compilation of this article.

Silurian Placoderm from China – a “Jaw-Dropping” Fossil Discovery

Say Hello to “Fish Face” Entelognathus primordialis – Crucial New Evidence into the Evolution of Jawed Vertebrates

The evolution of jaws was perhaps one of the most significant events in the history of the vertebrates (and this group includes us by the way).  Jaws permitted vertebrates to eat bigger items, more diverse types of food, develop different feeding styles and in the case of fish, to push more oxygen bearing water through the expanded mouth cavity, a substantial aid to respiration.  It can be argued that the development of a complex jaw gave the Gnathostomes (jawed vertebrates) the edge over the invertebrates, perhaps most notably the Arthropods and the Mollusca as these groups battled it out for the position of apex predators in the Palaeozoic seas.

The discovery of cranial elements from an armoured fish at a quarry near to Xiaoxiang Reservoir, Yunnan Province, China, dated to approximately 419 million years ago is shedding new light on the evolution of jaws.  This fossil shows the earliest evidence discovered to date of jaws and facial bones seen in Gnathostomes.  Other bones are more primitive, typical of a Placoderm (armoured fish).  This sets up the intriguing hypothesis that the face was the first modern skeletal feature to evolve.

The fish, which swam in shallow seas during the Silurian, has been named Entelognathus primordialis, the name means “primordial complete jaw”.  The beautifully preserved fossil skull shows details of the individual bones that make up the skull and jaws, its discovery is extremely significant as the Placoderm group is believed to have given rise to the two major classes of extant fish, the cartilaginous fish such as sharks and rays which are known as Chondrichthyes and the bony fish, the Osteichthyes, which encompasses fish with bony skeletons and all other vertebrates that bear limbs with distinct digits, that’s amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds and of course us.  E. primordialis has dermal marginal jaw bones (premaxilla, maxilla and a dentary) and as such it is the first stem Gnathostome to show such anatomical features.

Placoderms (the name means plated skins) were primitive jawed fish.  They are named after the broad, flat, bony plates that covered their heads and the front parts of their bodies.  Although during the Silurian and up to the Mid Devonian this group was extremely diverse, this type of fish becomes increasingly rare in the fossil record from then onwards and it is believed that Placoderms became extinct at the end of the Devonian around 360 million years ago. Features such as the braincase of E. primordialis indicate a strong affinity with the Placoderms but, the pattern of the bones in the jaws is almost identical to that seen in fish of the class Osteichthyes and their descendants, terrestrial animals with backbones.

Member of the research team, Xiaobo Yu (Kean University in Union, New Jersey) commented:

“This is a unique pattern, that is found only in bony fishes.  As such, finding the pattern in what otherwise looks like a Placoderm is a real surprise.”

 The Holotype Fossil Material with an Artist’s Impression of E. primordialis in the Background

"Hello Funny Face".

"Hello Funny Face".

Picture Credit: Reuters

The dermal armour at the front of Placoderm bodies bears little resemblance to the skeletons of extant vertebrates.  Scientists had thought that the descendants of the Placoderms lost their dermal bones entirely with two main classes of fish evolving, the Chondrichthyes such as the sharks and the Osteichthyes.  The sharks and rays continued to evolve without bony skeletons, these fish have skeletons supported by cartilage.  The Osteichthyes class re-evolved the bony skeleton, a successful body plan of all bony fish and their descendants the Tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals).

This new fossil find, is something of a smack in the mouth for the “second evolution” of the bony skeleton theory.  The dermal plates of the Placoderm may survive today in the jaws of Gnathostomes, and that includes human beings as well.  Placoderms may not have lost their dermal armour, it simply evolved into elements of the modern bony skeleton such as the upper and lower jaws.  The face may have been the fist element of a modern Gnathostome skeleton to evolve.

A Close up of the Fossil Material

Something to get your teeth into the evolution of facial features.

Something to get your teeth into the evolution of facial features.

Picture Credit: Reuters with the mouth highlighted by Everything Dinosaur

Previously, the common perception had been that the sharks and rays with their skeletons made of cartilage were more primitive than the bony fishes.  Their lack of a bony skeleton rather suggests that the Chondrichthyes arguably, have evolved further from the ancestral form than the bony fishes have.  It may not be a case of having a cartilaginous skeleton being a primitive trait, this new discovery suggests that in terms of a support structure for their bodies, sharks and rays may be more different from basal forms than the bony fishes.  Sharks and rays have evolved further from the ancestral, basal body structure.

A Computer Generated Image of the Fossil Material Revealing Skeletal Features

"Fossilised Face"

"Fossilised Face"

Picture Credit: Nature

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“This intriguing find, one of a number of Silurian fossil fishes that have been discovered in rocks making up the Kuanti Formation (Late Ludlow) Formation, might lead to a revision in the taxonomic relationships between basal members of the modern, vertebrate groups.”

Life in the Silurian Seas – Entelognathus primordialis

The first "Jaws"?

The first "Jaws"?

Picture Credit: Brian Choo

The illustration above shows a life restoration of E. primordialis swimming in a warm, tropical sea that was to form the province of Yunnan (western China).  Scientists believe that this fossil discovery re-writes the history of the evolution of jaw bones, including our own.

No “Good Dinosaur” Until November 2015

Pixar Delay the Release of a Dinosaur Movie

Pixar, the digital animation film company responsible for such global hits as “Finding Nemo” and the “Toy Story” movies, has put back their release of “The Good Dinosaur” until November 2015.  This animated film, telling the story of our planet if the dinosaurs has not become extinct was originally due for release in May of next year, but following the removal of the film’s director Bob Peterson, the premier has been rescheduled a further 18 months down the line from the original intended release date.  Bob Peterson has worked as a voice actor and storyboard editor on a number of Pixar productions.  He co-directed the acclaimed “Up” which was released by Pixar in 2009.  Sources at Pixar cite concerns over the creative development of the film as the reason for Mr Peterson’s departure.

Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar, which is owned by the Disney corporation, has stated that:

“Nobody ever remembers the fact that you slipped a film, but they will remember a bad film.  Our conclusion was that we were going to give the [dinosaur] film some more time.”

Intriguingly the new release date of Pixar’s dinosaur movie will follow just four months after the intended world premier of Jurassic Park IV (Jurassic World), which is scheduled for release in the early summer of 2015.  Following this dinosaur themed live action film may well help Pixar, the momentum from the first movie may well attract young dinosaur fans and their mums and dads into cinemas as “dino mania” as we at Everything Dinosaur call it continues towards Christmas 2015.

“The Good Dinosaur” Set for Release in November 2015

Release of film delayed for 18 months.

Release of film delayed for 18 months.

Staypressed theme by Themocracy