All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//October
31 10, 2013

Happy Halloween from Everything Dinosaur

By | October 31st, 2013|Adobe CS5, Press Releases|0 Comments

Horrible, Scary Triceratops

October 31st is “All Hallows Eve” a time for spooky goings on, pumpkin lanterns and trick or treats.  From a palaeontologist’s perspective it always surprising when one considers the scary and frightening monsters that are conjured up from the imagination when the fossil record is full of evidence of strange, bizarre and monstrous animals that really existed.  A psychologist friend waxes lyrical on our fear of dark places and something “lurking in the woods”.  To our ancestors, forested areas harboured predators such as bears, wolves and things much worse, these were places to avoid and our primeval fear of dark, poorly lit, potentially dangerous places still persists in many of us today.

Most mammals lack colour vision, unlike the birds and as most scientists agree, the Dinosauria.  The widely accepted theory is that mammals evolved in the shadow of the dinosaurs who were mostly diurnal (active during the day).  Our ancient mammalian ancestors, scurried about in the undergrowth or were nocturnal.  This was a strategy for survival, being small and furry made you fair game for a large number of predators so it was best to hide during the day.  As a result, most mammals have eyesight still suited to this way of life, we primates are an exception not the rule.

To celebrate October 31st, we have created a little spooky Halloween picture of our own.  Everything Dinosaur team members have hidden some prehistoric animals in the picture, as well as the Everything Dinosaur logo.  Can you spot them all with your colour vision?

Happy Halloween from Everything Dinosaur

Can you spot the prehistoric animals?

Can you spot the prehistoric animals?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The fossil record demonstrates the great variation in vertebrate forms that have evolved.  There are a number of candidates for the title of “scary creature”.  Of course there are the fearsome Theropod dinosaurs along with a huge number of other predators.  Take the Gorgonopsids for example.  Named after the terrible Gorgon of Greek myth, some of these Therapsid predators with their monstrous teeth and jaws were apex predators during the Permian.  Not capable of chewing, these reptiles probably bit off chunks of flesh and swallowed them hole.

A Typical Gorgonopsid (Inostrancevia)

Scary monster from the Permian

Scary monster from the Permian

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

There were also plenty of frightening mammals and birds around in prehistory, the aptly named “Terror Birds” or the mighty, nobbly-faced Uintatherium, a genus of huge, herbivorous mammal from the Eocene.  The largest species of Triceratops currently recognised is called Triceratops horridus (horrible three-horned face).  When the huge skull with its three horns was first studied, academics thought this was a dinosaur that would have looked horrible, but to us when viewing a reconstructed Triceratops skeleton we think it is rather beautiful.

A Triceratops Skeleton – Horrible or Beautiful?

Three Horned Face on Display

Three Horned Face on Display

Happy Halloween.

30 10, 2013

Argentinosaurus Walks Again After 94 Million Years

By | October 30th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

University of Manchester Scientists Digitally Recreate Argentinosaurus Locomotion

It may not have won any awards for its speed, but simply being able to walk when you weigh in excess of eighty metric tonnes and are longer than three double-decker buses is quite an achievement.  One of the debates about the largest land animals that ever lived, those long-necked dinosaurs, was how were they able to move their great bulk around at all.  Thanks to a study undertaken by University of Manchester scientists, in collaboration with researchers from Argentina, some further light has been shed on the locomotion of the super-heavy weights of the Dinosauria.

Under the guidance of Dr. Bill Sellers from the University’s Faculty of Life Sciences and an authority on computer modelling to assess vertebrate locomotion, a forty metre long reconstruction of the skeleton of Argentinosaurus was scanned by lasers and the data used to model how this huge Titanosaur moved.

Argentinosaurus (A. huinculensis) may only be known from fragmentary fossil remains discovered in Patagonia, but it is regarded as one of the largest land-living vertebrates known to science.  It was a Titanosaur, a group of huge plant-eating dinosaurs with elongated necks, small heads, wide bodies supported on four pillar-like legs and with long, quite flexible tails.  A life-size reconstruction of the skeleton of this huge herbivore on display at the  Museo Municipal Carmen Funes, Plaza Huincul, Neuquén, (Argentina) was carefully scanned and using Dr. Sellers own software and enough computer power to run 30,000 desk top pcs a computer simulation was created that enabled Argentinosaurus to take its first steps for 94 million years.

An Illustration of the Titanosaur Argentinosaurus (A. huinculensis)

Walking with Dinosaurs!

Walking with Dinosaurs!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The study, published in the academic journal Public Library of Science Online (PLoS One) provides the first ever ‘virtual’ footprints of the dinosaur and disproves previous suggestions that the animal was so large that it would have found walking incredibly difficult.  Although able to walk at around 5 mph (8 kmh), about as fast as we can when we undertake a brisk walk, the scientists also noted that under their research criteria, these huge land animals were probably reaching the theoretical limit for a body of that size to achieve efficient locomotion.

Dr Bill Sellers, whose work has led to many insights into Dinosauria locomotion already, including a study of just how fast T. rex could run commented:

“If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation.  This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved.”

To read an earlier article on the work of Dr. Sellers on Tyrannosaur locomotion: So T.rex could chase down David Beckham

Dr Lee Margetts, (IT Services for Research at Manchester University), who also worked on the project added:

“We used the equivalent of 30,000 desktop computers to allow Argentinosaurus to take its first steps in over 94 million years.  The new study clearly demonstrates the dinosaur was more than capable of strolling across the Cretaceous plains of what is now Patagonia, South America.”

The team of scientists involved in this study, included Dr Rodolfo Coria from Carmen Funes Museum, Plaza Huincal, (Argentina).  Dr. Coria was one of the palaeontologists given the task of formally naming and describing this huge dinosaur twenty years ago.  It was a team led by Dr. Coria who were responsible for building the first physical reconstruction of this dinosaur Argentinosaurus.  The dinosaur that was so big it was named after a whole country!

The Reconstruction of the Argentinosaurus Skeleton (Museo Municipal Carmen Funes)

The largest dinosaur yet described.

The largest dinosaur yet described.

Picture Credit: Museo Municipal Carmen Funes, Plaza Huincul.

Using Dr. Seller’s own software (Gaitsym) to investigate locomotion of both extant and extinct animals the team were able to create a computer simulation that showed the gait and locomotion of Argentinosaurus.   A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“With only a small proportion of the fossil skeleton actually known, the Argentinosaurus skeleton model has been built using better known Titanosaurs as bauplans.  The important thing here is the utilisation of new research techniques and methodologies to provide fresh insights into aspects of the Dinosauria whose bones would only tell part of the story.”

Dr. Sellers noted:

“The important thing is that these animals are not like any animal alive today and so we can’t just copy a modern animal.  Our machine learning system works purely from the information we have on the dinosaur and predicts the best possible movement patterns.”

Dr Sellers said the research was important for understanding more about musculoskeletal systems and for developing robots.  Knowing how the biggest land vertebrates got around has implications for studies of all vertebrates and applications in robotics and other branches of mechanical engineering.

Plotting Muscle Mass and Joint Loadings for Argentinosaurus

Argentinosaurus locomotion study.

Picture Credit: PLoS One

The picture above shows: A, side, and B, front view of the unscaled hull model. C, side, and D, front view of the scaled model with extra mass in the thigh and forearm segments.

He explained:

“All vertebrates from humans to fish share the same basic muscles, bones and joints.  To understand how these function we can compare how they are used in different animals, and the most interesting are often those at extremes.  Argentinosaurus is the biggest animal that ever walked on the surface of the Earth and understanding how it did this will tell us a lot about the maximum performance of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system.  We need to know more about this to help understand how it functions in ourselves.  Similarly if we want to build better legged robots then we need to know more about the mechanics of legs in a whole range of animals and nothing has bigger, more powerful legs than Argentinosaurus.”

The research team have concluded that dinosaurs like Argentinosaurus were approaching  a functional limit and that restricting the joint ranges of motion is necessary for a model without hypothetical passive support structures.  Much larger terrestrial vertebrates may be possible but would probably require significant remodelling of the body shape, or significant behavioural change, to prevent joint collapse due to insufficient muscle mass.

The University of Manchester team how to refine their work and explore the locomotive abilities of other iconic dinosaurs such as the Triceratops and Brachiosaurus.

29 10, 2013

Colouring in the Spinosaurids

By | October 29th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates|0 Comments

Stephen’s Spinosauridae – A Colourful Collection

During a recent visit to The Beacon museum (Whitehaven, Cumbria), we met a budding young palaeontologist called Stephen and his dad.  Having discovered that amongst all the dinosaurs that Stephen knew about, the Spinosaurs were some of his favourites, we promised, that on return to our offices, we would send out some pictures of various members of the Spinosaur family for Stephen to colour in.  The Spinosauridae are a family of specialised, large to gigantic Theropod (Tetanuran) dinosaurs.  Originating perhaps as early as the Middle Jurassic, fossils of Spinosaurs are known from Cretaceous aged strata from South America, Africa, Europe, south-east Asia and possibly Australia.

Stephen’s Spinosaurus (S. aegyptiacus)

An illustration of a Spinosaurus.

An illustration of a Spinosaurus.

Picture Credit: Stephen/Everything Dinosaur

Stephen has produced a very striking and colourful dinosaur drawing.   That huge sail running down the back of this dinosaur has been coloured bright red, perhaps in recognition that some palaeontologists think that the sail may have been used for visual communication between these large, bipeds.

Although, most Spinosaurs are known from only fragmentary material, the bauplan (body plan), of this dinosaur family seems to have been broadly similar.  The skulls were elongated with narrow snouts.  The jaws were superficially similar to extant crocodiles, with their kinked upper jaws and their very many conical teeth (Spinosaurus aegyptiacus may have had over two hundred teeth in its jaws).  The teeth lacked denticles (serrations) or had very small denticles.  The forelimbs of those specimens in which arm material has been ascribed, were very well developed.  Most Spinosaurs probably had three digits, the thumb being the largest and ending in a huge and highly curved claw.

Size estimates for these dinosaurs vary widely.  It has been estimated for example, that S. aegyptiacus may have reached lengths in excess of seventeen metres and it may have weighed in excess of ten tonnes, making it far larger than any known Tyrannosaur or Abelisaurid.  Such an animal could be heralded as the largest land carnivore known to science.

Britain’s very own Spinosaurid (Baryonyx walkeri) could have reached lengths in excess of ten metres.  Scientists are not actually sure how big Baryonyx was, as the specimen excavated from the Surrey clay pit which forms the holotype was not fully grown.  Remains of a similar animal called Suchomimus (crocodile mimic) have been unearthed in North Africa, this animal was over eleven metres long and some palaeontologists believe that it is actually a large Baryonyx.

Baryonyx by Stephen (B. walkeri)

Colourful early Cretaceous predator.

Colourful early Cretaceous predator.

Picture Credit: Stephen/Everything Dinosaur

These animals were most definitely carnivores, but whether or not they were specialised fish-eaters remains open to debate.  Certainly, there is some evidence that these dinosaurs were piscivores.  However, as well as there being evidence for habitually feeding on fish, Spinosaurid teeth have been found embedded in Pterosaur fossil bone and the Surrey Baryonyx specimen is associated with the partially digested remains of a  young Iguanodont which was found where the stomach would have been located.

A South American Spinosaur Illustrated

Irritator challengeri by Stephen.

Irritator challengeri by Stephen.

Picture Credit: Stephen/Everything Dinosaur

Recently, some new Spinosaurid/Baryonchidae fossils have been found on the Isle of Wight.  Everything Dinosaur team members have been able to view some of this material, including elements of the premaxilla and teeth.  There are a couple of things we can say with a degree of certainty.  There are probably a number of members of the Spinosauridae still awaiting discovery and that their colouration is unknown.  We challenged young Stephen, who had demonstrated his knowledge of dinosaurs, to illustrate some members of this particular Theropod dinosaur family using some drawing materials that we emailed over.

Stephen Gets to Grips with Ichthyovenator (I. laosensis)

A Spinosaur with two sails - possibly?

A Spinosaur with two sails - possibly?

Picture Credit: Stephen/Everything Dinosaur

Ichthyovenator is known from fragmentary remains that were discovered in Laos in 2010.  Fossil bones include vertebrae, a partial rib, plus elements of the hip area.  All the fossil material represents post cranial material, no skull fossils were found.  The striking thing about this basal Spinosaurid, currently assigned to the Baryonchidae is that it may have had two sails, running down its spine.  One sail seems to conclude at the first sacral vertebrae (back bones above the hip), the second starting from the second sacral vertebrae.  I. laosensis was formally named and described a year ago.  Stephen has opted to give his Ichthyovenator a bright red body but with a blue skull and blue hind legs.

We were very pleased to meet Stephen and all the other fans of prehistoric animals that visited the wonderful Beacon museum to view their Ice Age exhibition and to marvel at all the amazing shark exhibits that were on display.  Thanks for the illustrations, much appreciated.

28 10, 2013

Scientists Identify the Oldest Bird Tracks Down Under

By | October 28th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Evidence of Australia’s Oldest Feathered Friend

A team of scientists has identified a pair of 100-million-year-old fossilised bird tracks  – the oldest ever discovered in Australia.  The fossilised tracks,  likely made by two individual birds, each the size of a heron, were found at the famous Dinosaur Cove site, approximately 125 miles south-west of Melbourne (Victoria).  The tracks were discovered as part of a long term project being conducted by a team of scientists including Museum Victoria’s Dr Tom Rich, Dr Patricia Vickers-Rich and Michael Hall from Monash University and Dr Anthony Martin from Emory University in the United States.

Dr. Martin stated:

 “We know the tracks were made by birds because of the rear-pointing toes.  The tracks show a beautiful mark caused by the back toe dragging in the sand, which indicates the bird was flapping its wing and coming in for a soft landing.  Discoveries like these help us better understand avian evolution.”

One of the problems ichnologists have (ichnology is the study of trace fossils, specifically foot prints and tracks), is distinguishing between tri-dactyl dinosaur footprints typically made by members of the Theropoda and those made by birds that lived alongside the Dinosauria.  The back toe (hallux) may not leave an impression so it is very difficult to tell the difference between the two.

The Fossil Dinosaur Cove Site (Victoria, Australia)

Site reveals trace fossils of ancient birds.

Picture Credit: Dr. Tom Rich/Museum Victoria

Dr. Rich explained:

“The tracks date back to the Early Cretaceous, a time that spans from 100-million years ago to 140-million years ago when Victoria was still connected to Antarctica.  The tracks were made in what was once the moist sand of a riverbank during a polar spring or summer most likely.”

Dinosaur Cove has produced a remarkable number of fossil finds over the last forty years or so.  This location, in combination with the East Gippsland locations has revealed a diverse assemblage of vertebrate fossils including the dinosaurs Leaellynasaura, Qantassaurus, as well as numerous Theropods, Pterosaurs, fish, giant Labyrinthodont amphibians, turtles and potentially evidence of Ornithomimid dinosaurs – a first for Australia.  What is remarkable is that, this part of Australia was at approximately 75 degrees south for much of the Early Cretaceous.  The area was covered by extensive polar forests and for nearly two months of the year, the high southerly latitude meant that there was total darkness, with the sun not appearing above the horizon during the winter.  In the summer, there were periods of 24-hour daylight.  The research team are unsure as to whether these bird tracks were made by residents or migrants that came to the area to exploit the 24-hour feeding opportunity during the summer months.

The bird tracks are estimated to be around 105 million years old, making them the oldest evidence uncovered to date of Aves in Australia.

Ancient Birds Walked this Way

105 million year old bird tracks.

105 million year old bird tracks.

Picture Credit: Alan Tait

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Back in 1999 when the ground breaking BBC television series “Walking with Dinosaurs” was being made, an episode was dedicated to the amazing fossil discoveries from Dinosaur Cove and East Gippsland.  The programme was entitled “Spirits of the Silent Forest”, but as no evidence for an Avian presence had been found, no birds were featured.  We suggested at the time that birds were most likely present, perhaps migrating to this area to breed and we imagined vast breeding colonies, it now seems that there is fossil evidence to support the theory that birds inhabited or at least were present in this habitat for some part of each year.”

Everything Dinosaur would like to thank Museum Victoria for their help in putting together this article.

27 10, 2013

Sauropod Dinosaurs Could Have Used Their Long Necks as Radiators

By | October 27th, 2013|Dinosaur Fans, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Sauropods could have used their Long Necks to Help Maintain their Body Temperatures

The Sauropoda, those long-necked herbivores of the Dinosauria have attracted a great deal of research recently.  These creatures, the first truly large terrestrial animals, bigger than extant species today, evolved in the Triassic and went onto to form a significant proportion of the plant-eating animals in a number of ecosystems for the next 150 million years or so.  Although, the Ornithischians during the Cretaceous were more numerous and diverse, the Sauropoda persisted right up to the end of the age of the dinosaurs and some genera represent the largest land living animals of all time.  Body weights in excess of eighty tonnes are frequently cited and some of these leviathans, dinosaurs such as Alamosaurus, Argentinosaurus, Andesaurus and Antarctosaurus (just to focus on Sauropoda being with the letter “A”), may have reached lengths of more than thirty metres.

An Illustration of the Late Cretaceous Titanosaur – Alamosaurus sanjuanensis

Scale Drawing of Alamosaurus.

Scale Drawing of Alamosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A number of research teams have explored gigantism in the Sauropoda in a bid to understand how and why these reptiles were able to grow so big.  At the Society for Vertebrate Palaeontology meeting being held in the USA this week, a number of papers will be presented.  Some of these papers explore this subject area, but one study undertaken by Dr. Donald Henderson (Curator of Dinosaurs, at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Alberta, Canada), deserves a special mention.  Dr. Henderson asked an intriguing question, the long-necked dinosaurs by definition are known for having long necks, could these long necks have helped to regulate the body temperatures of these colossal animals?

One of the enormous (no pun intended), difficulties with the Sauropoda, is that, there are no land animals alive today that come even close to matching them in size.  The body proportions of a Sauropod, its body shape and its anatomy are very different from any living relative of the Dinosauria, so using extant species as comparators is effectively ruled out.   Large animals such as elephants and Sauropods do share a common problem – how to lose heat, how to stop their bodies overheating.  Small animals, even those that are endothemic (warm-blooded), have a high surface area to volume ratio.  They can lose heat rapidly and can struggle to maintain body temperature.  The giants of the animal kingdom, today’s elephants and the Sauropoda of the Mesozoic have the opposite problem, their large bodies helped them to retain heat, maintaining a core body temperature that was different to the surrounding temperature of the environment.  How did the Sauropods stop themselves from overheating?

The problem is compounded by the ongoing debate as to whether the Sauropoda were warm or cold-blooded.  Putting this debate aside for moment, large animals such as thirty metre long Diplodocus would still struggle to lose heat and avoid the trauma and physiological damage to its organs if it did not find an effective way to cool down.  African elephants are able to use their large ears as radiators to help them remove heat from their bodies.  The ears of tropical elephants are much larger then the ears of their long extinct, cold adapted cousins the Woolly Mammoths.  The ears of the African Bush Elephant (Loxadonta africana) are very well supplied with blood vessels and are very effective at helping to cool these animals down, as proved by many infrared thermography studies.   The long necks of the Sauropoda, as well as acting as extremely efficient food gathering devices and allowing access to food resources that other herbivores could not reach, may also have served a similar physical function to those large flapping ears of today’s biggest land mammal.

Dr. Henderson calculated the surface area to body mass proportions of a number of different types of Sauropods.  In total, sixteen computer generated models were created, some based on early, basal Sauropods such as Shunosaurus from China, whilst other models represented Diplodocoid Sauropodomorphs such as Nigersaurus (from Niger, Africa) as well as Apatosaurus and Diplodocus from the United States.  Other types of Sauropod studied included members of the Macronarian Sauropodomorphs (big noses).  This group included the likes of Camarasaurus and Brachiosaurus.  In addition to this, the study looked at juveniles and their body shapes in comparison to the adult animals.  The smallest specimen studied was a juvenile Camarasaurus estimated to weigh less than 700 kilogrammes, the largest specimen used in the study represented a mature Brachiosaurus.

Typical Models Used in the Computer Simulation (Macronarian Sauropodomorphs)

Scale bar = 2 metres

Scale bar = 2 metres

Picture Credit: PLoS One

Dorsal and lateral views of the taxa used in part of the study.  The diagram above shows: (A) Camarasaurus lentus, (B) Haplocanthosaurus priscus, (C) Saltasaurus loricatus and (D) Brachiosaurus brancai.

Although a number of assumptions have had to be made, for example, the metabolic rate of Sauropods is not known and there is also a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the biology of these reptiles,  Dr. Henderson was able to draw some interesting conclusions from his research.  The physical length of the necks did alter surface area to body mass and volume ratios, thus suggesting that the long neck could have been used to assist in thermo-regulation.  In addition, the presence of air sacs in the neck and trunk when considered in conjunction with the active blood flow between the core and surface of the body make the long neck radiator theory certainly plausible.

It is also worth considering the position of  the neck, although not held in the “swan-like” pose so favoured by earlier restorations, the necks were a long way off the ground in large individuals.  The necks would have been exposed to any cooling breeze and any air currents circulating – these too would have assisted with any requirement to lose heat from the body.

Dr. Henderson, considered the function of dermal spines that have been found in association with some Sauropod fossils and their role in helping to regulate body temperature.  Sauropod specimens assigned to the Diplodocus genus had a row of dermal spines running from the neck down the back and along the midline of the tail.  There is the intriguing possibility that these spines could have significantly increased the body surface area of these dinosaurs and therefore aided heat loss.  To test the role of these spines in thermo-regulation, a Diplodocid model was generated, one with a set of dermal spines running almost the entire length of the body.  The height of the individual spines was based on the relative position of each spine in association with the vertebrae.  The largest spines were estimated to have been around forty centimetres tall.

The Dermal Spines of Diplodocus – What Effect on Cooling the Body Would These Have Had?

Did the dermal spines of some Diplodocoids act as radiators?

Did the dermal spines of some Diplodocoids act as radiators?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The precise location of these spines is still debated.  In this study, it was assumed that cervical, dorsal, sacral and caudal vertebrae all had dermal spines associated with them.

An Illustration of the Diplodocoid Model used in the Study (D. carnegii)

Dermal spine arrangement used in the study.

Dermal spine arrangement used in the study.

Picture Credit: PLoS One

For the sets of dermal spines along the tail, trunk and neck body segments their combined surface areas  amounted to  7.94 square metres.  The total surface area of the body and limbs of the Diplodocus model was calculated to be a little under 68 square metres. Based on this model, the full dermal spine area represented 11.7% of the actual body area.  If these spines were well supplied with blood vessels (as seen in the elephant ears), then they would have a significant potential to act as radiators, helping to cool the animal down.   However, Dr. Henderson did point out the speculative nature of this aspect of his research.  There is a great deal of uncertainty about the size, internal structure, and distribution of these spines on the bodies of these types of dinosaur.  Until better fossil material becomes available, the importance of any dermal spines for heat loss in Sauropods will have to remain very much open to speculation.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“There have been something like two hundred different species of Sauropod named and described to date.  Neck length does vary considerably between genera, most likely due to adaptations to exploit particular food resources however, this research does raise the possibility that the long necks of these dinosaurs could well have served a thermo-regulatory function.”

26 10, 2013

Dinosaur Extinction – Providing Information Sheets for Schools

By | October 26th, 2013|Educational Activities|2 Comments

Helping Primary School Children with Their Dinosaur Studies

Team members at Everything Dinosaur visit lots of school to undertake dinosaur workshops to help with teaching science as part of the UK’s national curriculum.  During our sessions with children aged from 4 years and upwards we get asked some amazing questions by the eager, budding palaeontologists.  We answer the questions as best we can but sometimes we are unable to deal with a specific enquiry during the teaching session itself, but we always follow up and send out further information and other resources to help the teaching staff with extension activities.  After all, taking dinosaurs into a school means that the school children are very excited and keen to learn all about these prehistoric animals as well as to demonstrate applied knowledge.

One of the questions we do get asked a lot concerns the extinction of the Dinosauria, typically we get asked “How and why did the dinosaurs go extinct”.

To help teachers, Everything Dinosaur has prepared a number of useful information sheets covering different aspects of palaeontology and the study of dinosaurs.

How and why did the Dinosaurs go Extinct?  Typical information sheet prepared for Key Stage 1/2 

The dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, at what we call the end of the Cretaceous (CREE-TAY-SHOUS); this marked the end of the Age of Reptiles and the start of the Age of Mammals.  Not only did the dinosaurs die out but also all the flying reptiles and the large marine reptiles went extinct as well.  Many different types of fish, shelled animals such as the Ammonites (AM-MON-NIGHTS) became extinct along with many small animals such as certain kinds of plankton that lived in the sea and a large number of plants.

Something like sixty percent of all life on Earth died out, this type of event is called a mass extinction and these have happened from time to time throughout the history of our planet.

Scientists cannot be certain as to what exactly happened to the dinosaurs, there have been a lot of theories put forward to explain why the dinosaurs, other animals and plants went extinct.  Each theory has its own set of supporters, scientists that have looked at the evidence in fossils and rocks and come to a conclusion as to what might have happened.

We have listed some of the theories put forward, presenting evidence to support each theory and provided some other information presented by scientists who oppose this point of view.

In your class, weigh up the evidence look at the information presented and see if you can decide what wiped out the dinosaurs.

Your turn to be scientists…

Theory 1 – Death from Outer Space

If you look at a picture of the moon in a book you will see that it is covered in craters.  These have been caused by asteroids and meteorites crashing into the moon over millions and millions of years.  The moon has no weather, no atmosphere, so these craters are not eroded away, they are a permanent reminder that there are lots of chunks of rock and ice whizzing around in space.  Our planet has an atmosphere, it has weather, if an asteroid crashed into Earth, depending on the size of the rock, it could cause a lot of damage, but the crater would eventually get weathered away and any evidence of the impact would be eroded.  The Earth gets hit by lots of debris from space all the time, most of these rocks are very small and burn up in our atmosphere, they form shooting stars that sometimes you can see on a clear night.

However, every once in a while a huge lump of rock crashes into our planet and some scientists think that at least one huge meteorite or asteroid crashed into the Earth around sixty-five million years ago and this led to the demise of the dinosaurs.

Asteroid Impact Theory – Extinction of the Dinosaurs

The end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

The end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

If a big enough piece of space rock crashed into the Earth then shock waves would be sent around the world, earthquakes would be caused and if the rock hit the sea, massive tidal waves would flood the surrounding land.  The impact would vaporise much of the rock and the ground where it hit.  Huge clouds of smoke, dust and rock would be thrown up into the atmosphere.  The rock would be molten and it would fall down to earth, as showers of red-hot material, causing forest fires that would add even more smoke to the atmosphere.

The fine particles thrown up and the smoke could spread across the whole planet, disrupting weather patterns and ocean currents, the sun could be blocked out and the Earth could enter into a period of world-wide winter, killing off what vegetation remained.  A big enough impact would have resulted in an environmental disaster and this could have led to the death of many different animals and plants.

Depending on where the meteorite or asteroid hit, the damage done to the Earth could be made much worse if the place where the impact occurred had lots of rock with sulphur in them.  If the impact caused lots of sulphur to get thrown up into the atmosphere then this would have combined with other materials in the air and formed acid rain (sulphuric acid).

Acid rain would have destroyed much of the vegetation and damaged the delicate communities of plankton in the sea which in turn would have led to the collapse of food chains and the demise of lots of animals and plants.

Death from Outer Space – The Evidence

1.  The K-T Boundary (Rare Elements found in sixty-five million year old rocks)

In some parts of the world, the rocks that were laid down at the end of the Cretaceous are separated from the rocks that make up the first deposits of the Tertiary (TER-SHERRY), the Age of Mammals, by a thin layer of red-grey clay.  Scientists have tested the clay deposits (it is called the K-T boundary) and they have discovered that it contains high levels of rare Earth elements such as Iridium.  This element is scarce on Earth but is found in meteorites, could this be evidence of a meteorite impact sixty-five million years ago?

A Clay Deposit Marks the End of the Age of Dinosaurs

Marking the end of the Cretaceous.

Marking the end of the Cretaceous.

Picture Credit: Open University/Everything Dinosaur

2.  The Crater

In 1990, evidence of a huge crater 200 kilometres wide was found off the coast of Mexico.  The asteroid or meteorite that caused this crater must have been at least 10 kilometres wide.  Little evidence of the impact can be found on land but a study of the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico and the rock layers in the area indicates that at around sixty-five million years ago a huge body from outer space crashed into the Earth.

Such an event would have been disastrous for life on Earth but not all scientists agree with this theory.  Why did the turtles in the sea survive but no other marine reptiles?  How did birds survive and most mammal species?  Some scientists state that only the very smallest land animals were able to survive, a lot of dinosaurs were small, they do not seem to have made it through to the Age of Mammals.  Crocodiles did not go extinct, they have armour on their bodies like turtles and tortoises perhaps this is how they survived, but many dinosaurs like Anklylosaurus (AN-KIE-LOW-SORE-US) had armour as well but these animals went extinct.

Theory 2 – Global Climate Change

Although the age of dinosaurs ended suddenly, in geological timescales suddenly can mean as long as 100,000 years or more.  It is not possible to tell from rocks whether the events that caused the death of the dinosaurs took place over a few years or over a much longer time period.

Could gradual global climate change have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs?

When scientists look at the fossils found in rocks aged between 70-75 million years ago, they find lots of different types of dinosaur.  When scientists examine rocks from some parts of the world that are dated between 70-65 million years ago they find fewer types of dinosaur.  This might indicate that the dinosaurs were slowly dying out.  Scientists studying dinosaur fossils in rocks from 74 million years ago have found the fossils of over thirty different types of dinosaur, in studies of rocks from 67 million years ago, only about nineteen different types of dinosaur are found.

Between 70-65 million years ago a rising current of hot, molten rock began bubbling up from the Earth under western India.  This led to huge volcanic eruptions in the region.  These eruptions lasted for millions of years.  So much lava and molten rock was thrown out in volcanic explosions and lava flows that scientists estimate that enough material was ejected to cover 1.5 million square kilometres.  Huge amounts of carbon dioxide gas would have been sent up into the atmosphere.  Lots of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects the climate and weather patterns just as we are seeing today.

Climate change could have resulted in the deaths of many different kinds of plants and animals; they were unable to cope with their changing environment.

Extinction of the Dinosaurs

Death of the dinosaurs.

Death of the dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Global Climate Change – The Evidence

1.  The Gradual Decline in the Number of Certain Types of Fossil Found

Studies of tiny fossils in rocks close to the South Pole indicate that at the end of the Cretaceous period there was a gradual but steady decline in marine life.  Survival was getting difficult for animals and plants living in the polar regions, this indicates that slowly and surely the environment was changing and plants and animals were struggling to cope.

2.  The Deccan Traps

Much of India today is covered in layers of lava now turned into basalt rock.  These are the remains of the huge volcanic eruptions that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous.  In some parts, these volcanic layers of rock are nearly 5,000 metres deep.  This is volcanic activity on a huge scale.

So much carbon dioxide was pumped into the atmosphere it led to global climate change.  Even life in the sea would have been badly affected.  More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would have become dissolved in the seas this would lead to an increase in acidity levels in oceans.  Many types of plankton cannot survive in water that is slightly acidic; this would have caused the death of the plankton and the collapse of whole marine food chains.  The amount of carbon dioxide pumped out into the atmosphere would have been many times what we are experiencing today.  We know that many animals and plants are endangered by global warming at present, so the animals and plants around at the end of the Cretaceous would also have been threatened with extinction.

A Lava Field – Evidence of Huge Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic activity at the end of the Cretaceous.

Volcanic activity at the end of the Cretaceous.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Other Theories

There are lots of other theories around; did aliens hunt the dinosaurs to extinction?  Did biting insects spread diseases amongst the dinosaurs and this led to their demise?  Were all the plant-eating dinosaurs killed off by the spread of poisonous flowering plants and this also led to the death of the meat-eaters too?

Everything Dinosaur has put two of the most likely theories to your class; you must weigh up the evidence and decide what you think happened?

1).  Did the mass extinction event take place very suddenly caused by the impact and consequences of a huge meteorite or asteroid hitting the Earth?

2).  Did the mass extinction event take place gradually as a result of global climate change?

3).  Perhaps the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a combination of factors.  Global climate change had caused many types of plant and animal to decline and a big impact from outer space finally saw many of them go extinct.

Over to you and your classmates…

Although we have over simplified this subject area, the idea behind the information we have provided is for teachers to use this as part of their lesson plans and scheme of work preparation for a dinosaur themed term topic.

To learn more about the work of Everything Dinosaur team members in schools: Dinosaur Workshops in Schools

25 10, 2013

Cretaceous Mass Extinction Event – First Evidence of Bee Populations Affected

By | October 25th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|0 Comments

Massive Extinction Event – Evidence for Bee Diversity Decline at the End of the Cretaceous

The Cretaceous mass extinction event that saw the demise of the Dinosauria, is perhaps the best known to the general public, of all the great extinctions recorded in the fossil record.  Something like 60% of all, large terrestrial life forms became extinct some sixty-five million  years ago. Although, the causes of the extinction are still debated, we often come across members of the public who can be very knowledgeable about asteroid impacts and such like but seem to have missed some of the important implications of this particular event that occurred back in deep time.  It was not just those scary, non-avian dinosaurs  that failed to make it through to what was later termed the Palaeogene.   Whole groups of other organisms died out near to or around the time that the K-T boundary was laid down.

Marine reptiles, Ammonites and the Pterosaurs become extinct.  Other classes of organism suffered dramatic losses and a rapid reduction in their diversity, groups such as marine plankton, Brachiopods, Echinoderms and Bivalves.  Plants were not immune to effects either.  Although the fossil record for the Angiosperms at the end of the Cretaceous is far from complete, scientists have shown that flowering plants, including hardwood trees also suffered, especially those genera associated with the Northern Hemisphere.

If flowering plants were affected by the mass extinction event, then it is logical to assume that those organisms that have a close association with these plants would also have declined too.  We are not just talking about the plant-eaters, what about the pollinators?

An international team of researchers have identified a dramatic decline in bee numbers at around the same time the dinosaurs became extinct.  The research team, including Dr. Sandra Rehan of the department of Biological Sciences (University of New Hampshire) and her collaborators from the South Australia Museum, the University of Adelaide and Flinders University (South Australia) used a series of molecular phylogenetic analyses to demonstrate that one particular type of bee suffered a significant decline.  Given the implied dramatic changes to ecosystems that occurred at this time, the events recorded in the fossil record at or near the K-T boundary would have significantly disrupted many plant-insect relationships.  Such disruption would have had major consequences for the subsequent evolution of those flowering plants that depend on the likes of bees to pollinate them and vice versa.

First Evidence of Bee Populations Affected by Cretaceous Extinction Event

Extinction event affected prehistoric pollinators.

Extinction event affected prehistoric pollinators.

The researchers chose to study bees within the subfamily known as Xylocopinae, the long-tongued bees which included the carpenter bees.  These bees may have evolved more than ninety million years ago, a time when it could be argued that the dinosaurs were in their heyday with the flowering plants also doing extremely well and beginning to dominate the flora in a number of habitats.  It had been assumed by scientists that insect pollinators would have been severely affected by the Cretaceous mass extinction event, but as the paper’s (the paper having just been published in the online journal PLoS One), lead author, Dr. Sandra Rehan stated:

“There is a relatively poor fossil record of bees.  This has made the confirmation of such an extinction difficult.”

However, the researchers were able to use an extinct clade from the  Xylocopinae Subfamily as a calibration point for timing the diversification and the radiation of these bees.  The team also studied the fossils of angiosperms that had evolved traits that allowed them to be pollinated by these long-tongued forms.

Dr. Rehan commented:

“The data told us something major was happening in four different groups of bees at the same time and it happened to be the same time as the dinosaurs went extinct.”

This research could have important implications for bee conservation today, as environmentalists, governments and scientists express concern over the loss of important bee pollinator species today.

Dr. Rehan added:

“Understanding extinctions and the effects of declines in the past can help us understand the pollinator decline and the global crisis in pollinators today.”

24 10, 2013

Most Complete Fossil of Baby Parasaurolophus Described To Date

By | October 24th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|1 Comment

Introducing “Joe” – The Baby Parasaurolophus

Fossils of baby dinosaurs are exceptionally rare, however, when found they can provide palaeontologists with a wealth of information.  Scientists can gain an understanding of how dinosaurs grew, how their bodies changed as the animal got older and in some cases how quickly dinosaurs matured.  The large amount of duck-billed dinosaur fossils found in western North America has enabled researchers to piece together the growth stages of a number of herbivorous dinosaurs and thanks to a sharp-eyed student, scientists at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology in Claremont (California), have a near complete, less than one year old baby Parasaurolophus to study.

High school student Kevin Terris discovered the fossils back in 2009.  It was a chance discovery as palaeontologists had been at the same location just a couple of days earlier but they had failed to spot the articulated specimen eroding out of the rock.  The baby Parasaurolophus, which has not been assigned to a particular species within the Parasaurolophus genus, represents one of the most complete baby Hadrosaurs discovered to date.  The fossils have been dated to around 75.5 million years ago (Campanian faunal stage of the Cretaceous) and come from the highly fossiliferous Kaiparowits Formation in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

A View of the Right Lateral Side of the Specimen (A = Line Drawing, B = Actual Fossil Material)

Fossil specimen included evidence of preserved skin.

Fossil specimen included evidence of preserved skin.

Picture Credit: Peer Journal

The interpretive line drawing (A) shows bones bounded by solid lines and coloured orange.  The blue shaded areas show fragmented and highly weathered bone material, whilst the green areas show places where bone impressions can still be seen.  The small, pink area at the bottom of the right hand side of the picture (a foot), indicates the presence of skin impressions.

The baby Parasaurolophus has been named “Joe” in honour of Joe Augustyn, a long-time patron of the museum whose family sponsored the preparation of the fossil material.  It measures approximately 2.5 metres in length, less than one quarter the size of an adult Parasaurolophus.  It did however, have a low bump on the top of its skull, the first signs of that long, tubular, swept-back crest that helps to distinguish this Lambeosaurine dinosaur from other duck-bills.

Andrew Farke, a palaeontologist and the lead scientist on the study project that has taken nearly four years to complete commented:

“Our baby Parasaurolophus is barely 25% the size of an adult, but it had already started growing its crest.  This is surprising, because related dinosaurs didn’t sprout their ornamentation until they were at least half-grown.  Parasaurolophus had to get an early start in order to form its unique headgear.”

Studies of a related Lambeosaurine dinosaur, Corythosaurus, suggest that Corythosaurus spp. did not begin to develop crests until their skulls were approximately half the size of an adult’s.  “Joe” may have needed to start sprouting his crest early as in some species of Parasaurolophus, notably P. walkeri the crest in adult males could reach lengths in excess of two metres.

An Illustration of an Adult Parasaurolophus with “Joe” and a Human Figure for Scale

"Joe" the baby Parasaurolophus compared to an adult and a person.

"Joe" the baby Parasaurolophus compared to an adult and a person.

“Joe” the baby Parasaurolophus compared to an adult and a person.

Picture Credit: Raymond M. Alf Museum and Everything Dinosaur

The study of growth in organisms is called ontogeny.  The research team analysed cross-sectional areas of the fossilised bones and found that the bone tissue was filled with many large blood vessels, indicative of rapid growth in extant animals.  Furthermore, Sarah Werning (Stony Brook University), a co-author of the scientific paper published in the academic journal “Peer” could not detect signs of an annual growth ring in the bone samples studied.  This suggests that this dinosaur was less than twelve months old when it died, yet it had already grown from the size of a small dog to the size of a Guernsey cow.

Post doctoral research fellow Sarah stated:

“We didn’t see even one ring [growth ring].  This means that it grew to a quarter of its adult size in less than a year.”

This supports previously published research that was reported upon by Everything Dinosaur team members.  The ontogeny of another Lambeosaurine dinosaur from North America – Hypacrosaurus had shown that some types of dinosaur must have grown rapidly.  The most likely explanation for this is the need to grow up fast to avoid being eaten.

To read more about the Hypacrosaurus study: Hadrosaurs Grew Up Fast To Avoid Being Eaten by Tyrannosaurs

The completeness of the specimen in conjunction with the fossils being that of a baby Parasaurolophus enabled the research team to examine other aspects of these dinosaur’s anatomy.  For example, striations found in association with the jaws revealed the location of the keratinous beak.  CAT scans allowed the scientists to study the nasal passages of this young dinosaur.  From this work, the team concluded that baby dinosaurs such as this Parasaurolophus were probably not capable of producing deep, low frequency sounds.  Instead, baby dinosaurs such as “Joe” the Parasaurolophus may have vocalised in a very different way to the adults.  Perhaps it “chirped” and “tweeted” at a higher pitch than older animals in the herd.

Computerised Tomography Reveals Details of the Baby Dinosaur’s Skull Morphology

A computer reconstruction showing the head of the baby Parasaurolophus.

A computer reconstruction showing the head of the baby Parasaurolophus.

Picture Credit: Ville Sinkkonen

The picture above shows a computer generated image of the baby dinosaur’s head.  A = lateral view (view of the more complete left side of the skull), note the large eye socket (orbit).  View B is a dorsal view, viewing the skull from the top down.  View C is viewed from the front (rostral).  In the rostral view, the beak (rhamphotheca) can be clearly seen.  The shape and size of the beak has been inferred based on rock striations found in association with the jawbone that indicate the position of the beak and its relationship to the predentary and the premaxilla.

The fossil material is now on display at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology and we are grateful to the museum for their help in the compilation of this article.

23 10, 2013

Back to the Age of Dinosaurs with Year 1

By | October 23rd, 2013|Educational Activities|0 Comments

Children Investigate Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals as Part of Their Autumn Term Studies

For Year 1 children (ages 5-6) at Pennyhill Primary, the autumn term topic has been all about dinosaurs, fossils and other prehistoric animals.   Under the enthusiastic tutelage of the school’s teaching team the children have been learning about when dinosaurs lived, what sorts of dinosaurs were there and what dinosaurs ate.  The classrooms were beautifully decorated with lots of examples of artwork, posters and creative writing.  Miss Shuker’s class had been looking at different types of dinosaur and flying reptiles (Pterosaurs).  The children had been busy doing lots of independent research and gathering facts about prehistoric animals.

 

Artwork on Display in Miss Shuker’s Classroom

Colourful dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals on display.

Colourful dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals on display.

The eager pupils had prepared lots of amazing questions, such as why did some dinosaurs eat meat?  What colour were dinosaurs?  Why were the dinosaurs able to grow so big?  Mr Hayes had converted part of his classroom into a palaeontology laboratory, complete with skeleton models and an assortment of dinosaur facts that the children had collated.  The pupils had even carried out an investigation into why some prehistoric animals had fins and sails on their backs.   One of the prehistoric creatures that the children studied was an animal called Ctenospondylus, not a dinosaur but a sail-backed reptile from a group known as the Pelycosaurs.  Under the guidance of Mr Hayes and the teaching assistants the young palaeontologists had produced a series of colourful prehistoric animal drawings with a figure of a Ctenospondylus also included in the exhibit for good measure.

 

The Palaeontology Laboratory with Ctenospondylus taking Centre Stage

Pupils learn about the shapes and sizes of different prehistoric animals.

Pupils learn about the shapes and sizes of different prehistoric animals.

Mrs Heffernan’s class had also been busy preparing questions as well as creating some very decorative dinosaur illustrations using paper plates.  A paper plate folded in half makes a super template for a dinosaur’s body, the children had come up with all sorts of designs.  Ironically, there is a dinosaur genus called Plateosaurus.  This particular dinosaur lived during the Late Triassic geological period, it was a herbivore.  A number of children were eager to explain the differences between herbivores and carnivores as well as to name one or two examples.  One pupil even explained what omnivores ate, fortunately there was a cast of a Pachycephalosaur jaw bone on hand to show the children the teeth and beak of a dinosaur that is thought by palaeontologists to have been omnivorous.  Looks like this was a very successful dinosaur workshop in school.

With so many enthusiastic and knowledgeable pupils, it seems that dinosaur research in the future is likely to be in robust health.

22 10, 2013

Name a Spinosaurus Competition! WIN WIN WIN with Everything Dinosaur!

By | October 22nd, 2013|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

Just Ten Days Left to Enter Name a Dinosaur Competition

Everything Dinosaur has introduced an exciting range of super, soft and cuddly dinosaur soft toys.  Please note this competition has now closed.

Amongst the company’s new prehistoric pals there is a wonderful, bright red Spinosaurus and our team members need a name for their new dino chum.

So, we have come up with  a super, dinosaur giveaway.  Our new Spinosaurus soft toy needs a name and we are going to give one lucky winner their very own soft and cuddly Spinosaurus.

Name a Dinosaur Competition with Everything Dinosaur

Please give me a name!

Please give me a name!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

There are just TEN DAYS LEFT to enter our dinosaur inspired competition.  It closes on the evening of October 31st.

To enter, all you have to do is “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then comment on the Spinosaurus soft toy picture including a suggestion for the name for our very cute, sail-backed reptile soft toy.  He’s big, measuring a whopping 44cm long and bright red, but he needs a name!

Everything Dinosaur on FACEBOOK: “LIKE” Our Facebook Page and Enter Competition

Good luck to everyone, a winner will be selected, notified by email and that lucky person will receive a Spinosaurus soft toy to help turn their home into a Jurassic Park!

Load More Posts