All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
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30 11, 2013

Dinosaurs under the Hammer – Are Auctions of Fossil Materials Good for Science?

By | November 30th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Press Releases|0 Comments

High Prices for Fossils at High Profile Auctions Could Lead to Increased Fossil Thefts and Damage to Fossil Sites

The auction is over, Misty the Diplodocus has been purchased and lots of media outlets have covered the story, after all, a seventeen metre long dinosaur skeleton getting sold is quite an unusual event.  However, it is not the £400,000 price tag that sticks in our collective throats, it is the acknowledgement that such sales are going to become more commonplace.  In the pre-auction publicity,  it was reported that, the auction house responsible for the sale of the Wyoming Diplodocus specimen was the first to offer a lot of this nature in Europe.  Not true, we recall a number of specimens being sold on the continent, at auctions held in Paris, for example. Whichever way you look at it, fossils, are highly sought after and as such, some specimens can fetch very high prices.  High demand equals high prices so more sales either at auction or through other sales platforms are going to occur.

Fossils could be regarded as the ultimate in antiques, although we don’t imagine Victoria Wood penning a soap parody entitled “Acorn Fossils”.  They are rare, for instance, there could be as many as 650 Stradivari instruments in the world today, but less than a dozen or so specimens of that creature often referred to as the “first bird” – Archaeopteryx (A. lithographica) and many vertebrates including some of our ancient hominid ancestors are known from just a handful of fossil fragments. Dinosaurs in particular are “box office” and as a result, a number of very wealthy individuals have taken to collecting dinosaur fossils.  The film actors Nicholas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio are believed to be keen devotees and good luck to them.

All this raises concerns for those of us who try to promote the study of Dinosauria and for that matter other vertebrates.  If fossils are worth a lot of money, then certain individuals may well be tempted to steal fossils and other rare artefacts in order to cash in on this bonanza.  Fossils have been stolen from museums.  A few years ago a fossilised dinosaur egg was stolen from a regional museum in New Zealand.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur embarked on a egg hunt with a difference. Fortunately, the fossil was retrieved and duly put back on display.  Theft from such institutions is abhorrent, however, a more heinous crime in our opinion, is the deliberate and wilful damage to important geological sites with a view to looting as much fossil material from them as possible.

Fossil Sites Ransacked as the Price of Fossils Soars

"Fossil Vandalism"

“Fossil Vandalism”

Such incidents are not limited to the dinosaur rich fossil hunting grounds of North America, unfortunately, there have been a number of shocking occurrences on this side of the Atlantic too.  Back in August of last year, Everything Dinosaur reported on the theft of a set of fossilised dinosaur  footprints from the Vale of Glamorgan.  The slabs containing the fossilised tracks were estimated to be over 200 million years old, but a local fossil collector saw the chance to make a quick profit.

To read more about this theft: Dinosaur Footprints Stolen

Fortunately, the three-toed (tridactyl) prints were recovered.  It was not long before they were spotted on Ebay.  The fossils were also offered for sale from a fossil dealer located in Lyme Regis.  A man was cautioned by police for the offence of causing damage to a protected site of scientific importance.  However, the fossil prints could not be returned to their former resting place, fear of another theft has meant that these beautiful fossils are now kept under lock and key.  The fossil dealer argued that the fossils had been offered via a legitimate source, so no further action was taken against the dealer.

The auction held on November 27th, the one in which Misty was sold, consisted of a large number of lots, collectively entitled “Evolution”.  The Diplodocus may have received star billing, but also on offer were a number of other important and rare fossils, both vertebrates and invertebrates.  In addition, bones from the Dodo including a pelvis were offered for sale.  There was also a number of stuffed animals up for auction, enough to keep the most enthusiastic taxidermist happy, even a specimen of a Tarpan (an extinct horse) was up for grabs.

Whilst we don’t object to such auctions, indeed, many important scientific discoveries have been made by commercial fossil dealers and fossil hunters as they go about their legitimate business.  Our concern is that with such high profile sales, the risk of fossil thefts and damage to locations where fossils can be found becomes that much more likely.

On October 27th 1997, we sat and watched in amazement as “Sue” the huge Tyrannosaurus rex fossil made an astonishing $8.36 million USD when she went under the hammer at Sothebys.  Misty the Diplodocus was sold a couple of days ago, like Sue,  the Diplodocus specimen is most probably going to go on public display.  The Diplodocus fossils are still, in all probability, going to made available for further scientific study – that’s good news.  However, we wonder who else may have looked on at the auction, or listened to the news reports with a growing sense of glee.  When fossils are up for sale,  it is not just a case of the auctioneer’s gavel being called into action, other unscrupulous persons may be tempted to do some hammering of their own.  Sadly, there are those in our society who will see fossil locations as places where some quick and easy money can be made.  Specimens will be hacked out of rocks and offered for sale either openly or  to that murky underbelly of fossil collecting – the black market.

We must remain vigilant, we all have a role in protecting our fossil heritage.  One thing that has come out of the auction, it has given us the opportunity to write an article about the increased risk of fossil thefts and damage to S.S.S.Is and other important locations.

29 11, 2013

New Prehistoric Animal Models from Collecta (Summer 2014)

By | November 29th, 2013|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates|8 Comments

Bistahieversor, Saurophapganax and a Mosasaurus

Another week and another announcement from Collecta about new model releases for 2014.  Collecta promised that once other projects were out of the way in 2013 that more replica figures, including prehistoric animals would be introduced and they have certainly not let us down with the announcement of a further three additions to their popular not-to-scale range.

Let’s kick off by taking a close look at Bistahieversor (B. sealeyi) a Tyrannosaur, like T.rex but one that was not too closely related to the “Tyrant Lizard King”.  Known from two specimens including an immature adult, Bistahieversor was the top predator in the New Mexico region during the Campanian faunal stage.  At between eight to nine metres in length, and perhaps weighing as much as 2.5 tonnes this was a formidable predator, the largest known from this part of the world.  Bistahieveror (pronounced Bis-tah-he-ee-ver-sore See-lee-eye ) comes from the Hunter Wash member of the Kirtland Formation, the fossils date from around 74.5 million years ago.  Named and described just a couple of years back, the model has been portrayed with a feathered crest and a body covered in a shaggy coat of proto-feathers.  This is a first for Collecta – a feathered Late Cretaceous Tyrannosaur.

Bistahieversor – Late Cretaceous “Destroyer”

New for Summer 2014

New for Summer 2014

Picture Credit: Collecta/ Everything Dinosaur

The first specimen material was discovered in 1998, in the remote and rugged Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness of San Juan County (New Mexico).  This dinosaur’s name means “destroyer of Bisti”, an appropriate name for a deep, snouted, strong-jawed carnivore.

Late Jurassic Theropods are also represented in the latest model releases from Collecta.  Say hello to Saurophaganax, which for some may be a new name to conjure with, but for us at Everything Dinosaur Saurophaganax is an old friend.  The 2011 BBC television series featured a short piece on dinosaurs from the Morrison Formation.  The production team wanted to portray an Allosaurus encountering another carnivore in a fight over a recently brought down Camptosaurus.  Step forward Saurophaganax maximus  a super-sized Allosauroid, one that some scientists state may be just a very big example of  A. fragilis.  Only fragmentary fossils have been found so the genus name remains a “nomen dubium” – the name is in doubt.  However, Saurophaganax appeared in the television series, seeing off an Allosaurus, although it was not included in the book that accompanied the television production, a point we made when we at Everything Dinosaur were given the task of reviewing the book.

Saurophaganax Makes Its Debut

Fearsome predator of the Late Jurassic.

Fearsome predator of the Late Jurassic.

Picture Credit: Collecta/Everything Dinosaur

For the time being let’s leave Saurophaganax leaving the last word to the very clever model designer Anthony Beeson who states:

“I designed Saurophaganax to look either as if it was attacking a smaller prey or eating (with the Stegosaurus corpse in mind).”

The Stegosaurus corpse is another 2014 release from Collecta, to see images of  this earlier Collecta new for 2014 announcement: The Collecta Dead Stegosaurus Dinosaur Model

Last but not least comes a spectacular model of a marine reptile, a Mosasaurus and very good it looks too.  The Mosasaurus model measures approximately 27 centimetres in length and it has been give a tail fluke, a very modern interpretation based on a number of scientific papers published over the last three years or so.

To read an article about how the Mosasaurus got its tail: Mosasaurus with a Shark’s Tail

The colouration on this replica looks excellent and in the mouth the row of pterygoid teeth in a “v” shape located in the upper jaw have been portrayed – top marks Collecta!

Mosasaurus Will Make Its Mark in 2014

Fearsome marine predator from Collecta due in 2014.

Fearsome marine predator from Collecta due in 2014.

Picture Credit: Collecta/Everything Dinosaur

Anthony Beeson comments:

“Mosasaurus incorporates my interpretation of the new belief that their tails bore a fluke like a shark or an Ichthyosaur.  The model also shows the body held more rigid like that of a shark when swimming and the propulsion given by the tail rather than it swimming like a snake as has often been the case.  Although it cannot be seen in the photograph,  the model also displays the pterygoid teeth in the roof of its upper jaw.”

All these models are in the Collecta not-to-scale model series and very good they look too.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur added:

“Collecta continues to bring out some amazing prehistoric animal models.  The “Prehistoric Life Collection” just keeps growing and going from strength to strength.  We have already commissioned illustrations of these replicas in preparation for our fact sheets that we will supply with these replicas.  We expect stocks to be with us at Everything Dinosaur by summer 2014″.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing range of Collecta figures: Collecta Prehistoric Animal Models

28 11, 2013

Camarasaurus for Cameron

By | November 28th, 2013|Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

Cameron’s Camarasaurus (Dinosaur Workshops in School)

Whilst working with a class of school children during one of Everything Dinosaur’s frequent school visits to undertake dinosaur themed workshops we explored how scientists go about naming organisms.  Inevitably, how dinosaurs got their names became the focus of this part of the lesson topic.  The children were able to demonstrate what they had learned during the term by correctly identifying various prehistoric animals and stating what the name of the animal actually means.  For example, Triceratops means “three horned face” and anyone who has seen a picture of this Ceratopsian’s skull can see for themselves the three-horns that adorn it.  The two large, brow horns over the eyes and the smaller nose horn.

Triceratops means “Three Horned Face”

Three-horned face.

Three-horned face.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The children learned that it is often the job of the person who discovers the dinosaur’s fossil bones to come up with a name for that animal.  Cameron asked, if he had to name a dinosaur could he call it Cameronsaurus?  Our team member explained that there was already a dinosaur that had a very similar name – Camarasaurus (C. supremus).

Camarasaurus was a long-necked, herbivore, a member of the Sauropoda that lived in the western United States during the Late Jurassic (155-145 million years ago).  It was a large animal, perhaps measuring in excess of twenty metres when fully grown.

An Illustration of the Sauropod Camarasaurus

Camarasaurus

Camarasaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Safari Ltd

Everything Dinosaur then challenged the class to design their own dinosaur and to come up with a name that describes the prehistoric animal, one that could be used to name their very own dinosaur.

27 11, 2013

Wild Safari Dinos Dimorphodon Model Reviewed

By | November 27th, 2013|Everything Dinosaur Products, Product Reviews|0 Comments

A Review of the Dimorphodon Flying Reptile Model (Safari Ltd)

A recent addition to the Wild Safari Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life model series made by Safari Ltd is this replica of an early Pterosaur, a flying reptile known as Dimorphodon.  The first fossils of this Jurassic creature were found by Mary Anning as she searched for specimens along what is now known as the “Jurassic Coast”.  This fossil was found in 1828 (although some sources claim 1827) and it is currently housed in the Natural History Museum in London, although it is rarely displayed as this specimen is missing its head.

Frustratingly, little is known about the origins and evolution of the flying reptiles but thanks to a handful of excellent fossil specimens, palaeontologists have been able to piece together, literally in most cases, quite a bit of data about Dimorphodon.  It is one of the better known members of the Pterosauria with fossils having been found in Europe and a possible second species having been identified from fossil material of Early to Mid Jurassic age from Mexico.

The Wild Safari Dinos Dimorphodon Flying Reptile Replica

Pterosaur for 2013

Pterosaur for 2013

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

The genus name means “two form tooth”,  a reference to the different size and shape of the teeth, an observation first noted by Sir Richard Owen, the man responsible for coming up for a name for the Dinosauria.  The model makers at Safari Ltd have been careful to depict their Dimorphodon with the teeth at the front of the jaws being long and fang-like with smaller teeth towards the back of the mouth, accurately reflecting what is seen in the fossil material.

The head of the Dimorphodon model is quite broad and deep.  Again this mirrors what is found in the fossil record.  Proportionately, the head is much larger than that seen in other long-tailed Jurassic Pterosaurs. It has been estimated that Dimorphodon may have weighed almost twice as much as similar sized flying reptiles.

This said, the bones in the skull are extremely thin and light, little more than struts and studies suggest that Dimorphodon had a relatively weak bite.  Although, found in coastal and marine deposits many palaeontologists believe that this Pterosaur may not have dined exclusively on fish as was previously thought.  Its main prey may have been insects.  Safari Ltd have painted their Dimorphodon replica in predominantly tan and dun colours, with the wing membranes given brown and black markings on their dorsal surface and brown underneath.   This contrasts nicely with the lighter colouration on the Pterosaur’s body.  The skin has been textured to give the impression of a covering of fine, downy, insulating body hair.

This Pterosaur had large eyes and it is pleasing to note that this detail has been picked up by the design team with the head of this figure particularly well painted and the eyes are very prominent.

We think this model represents Dimorphodon macronyx, the species found by Mary Anning almost two hundred years ago now.  The species name means “big claws” in reference to the large claws on the forelimbs which were probably used to help this Pterosaur climb trees or up cliffs.  Safari Ltd have given their Dimorphodon large and curved finger and toe claws, once again reflecting the known fossil material.

The Famous Fossil Collector of Dorset – Mary Anning

The most famous former resident of Lyme Regis

The most famous former resident of Lyme Regis

The model has a long tail, Dimorphodon is known to have had a least 30 verebrae making up its tail.  Safari Ltd have also tipped the tail with a diamond shaped rudder, although we are not certain as to whether or not Dimorphodon actually possessed such a feature.  Mathematical models assessing the flight capabilities of this Pterosaur with its relatively heavy body and its broad wings suggest that taking to the air was energetically demanding and when airborne flight may have been somewhat laboured, Dimorphodon flight trajectories have been described rather unflatteringly as a “graceful plummet”.

It is always a pleasure to see a member of the Pterosauria added to a model range, especially one with links to the Jurassic coast of southern England and this well-crafted replica is already proving popular with serious collectors.

To view the range of prehistoric animal models (Safari Ltd) available from Everything Dinosaur: Wild Safari Dinos and Carnegie Collectibles

Dimorphodon may have been the first Pterosaur to have been closely studied in England, it was only the third Pterosaur genus to be established and it has enabled scientists to piece together more information about the flight capabilities and feeding habits of flying reptiles.  Other Pterosaurs such as Pteranodon may be more common in model collections, but it is great to see a replica of Dimorphodon included in the Wild Safari Dinos model range.

26 11, 2013

“Dinovember” at Barton Moss Community Primary School

By | November 26th, 2013|Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

Pupils Learn All About Dinosaurs at Barton Moss Community Primary

Year 3 pupils at Barton Moss Community Primary have been turning this month into “Dinovember” with a whole range of dinosaur and fossil themed activities as the children learn all about prehistoric animals.   Under the tutelage of Mr Sagar and Miss Wardle both classes of Year 3 pupils have been studying dinosaurs and the classrooms have on display some lovely examples of the children’s drawings and creative writing.  A team member from Everything Dinosaur was invited along to show the children some fossils and to illustrate the size and scale of dinosaurs.  The pupils were quick to demonstrate their knowledge and to point out which dinosaurs were carnivores and which were herbivores.

Helped by the enthusiastic Teaching Assistants, Miss Marsh and Miss Thomas, each class have been looking after their very own dinosaur egg and the children are waiting to see what will happen next.

One of the Dinosaur Eggs in the Classroom is Getting Ready to Hatch

Can you see the crack in the egg?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Some of the pupils got to examine pieces of real dinosaur egg shell and they learned the reasons why dinosaur eggs were not as big as you might imagine.  Lots of questions were asked and our dinosaur expert was able to answer most of them, taking time out to explain using some of the fossils and to check the children’s understanding, we really enjoyed looking at some of the children’s dinosaur drawings including Kamila and her “Kamila-oh-saurus”.

The Second Dinosaur Egg in Mr Sagar’s Class

Could be a T. rex about to hatch?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Young Tyler was told all about a huge marine reptile that has a similar name to his (Tylosaurus).  Our dinosaur expert explained that Tylosaurus ate Ammonites and other sea creatures and there were some Ammonite fossils on hand so that the children learn a little bit more about these sea creatures, which Cain correctly guessed were related to today’s squid.  Caprice even produced a wonderful mime of an Ammonite, swimming, bobbing up and down in the water and shooting out its tentacles to catch a fish.

Young Denver, in Mr Sagar’s class learned that he too, shares a name with a prehistoric animal, this time it’s a dinosaur – Denversaurus.  Scale drawings of both the Tylosaurus and the Denversaurus have been sent over to the school so that the children can see how big these extinct animals actually were.  Special thanks to Ethan and his chums for explaining what extinct meant and to Cole for remembering what omnivores ate.

Some of the Examples of the Children’s Artwork 

Creative, Inventive Dinosaurs

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Oliver had produced a most impressive drawing of a dinosaur, he had decided to call his dinosaur Fred.  It’s a dinosaur with spikes on his back and a very loud roar.

Examples of the Children’s Work Posted up on the Classes Working Wall

A spiky dinosaur crated by Oliver

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With a new dinosaur being named and described on average every two to three weeks, there are a lot of dinosaur discoveries going on around the world at the moment, Michael and Anthony, both from Poland, got to hold a piece of a backbone from a marine reptile that had been recently excavated in the country whilst Jack learned that prehistoric animal bones can be found in this country too.  Our thanks to Courtney-May and Amy for taking notes.  Charlie and his chums correctly identified how closely related to dinosaur’s birds are, whilst Lucy helped with the experiments and Aidan got to help guess the fossil.

For further information about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Teaching About Dinosaurs in Schools

Some of the questions posed by the children were very thought provoking and demonstrated a clear understanding of the term topic and there were a number of budding palaeontologists in each class. All in all, a rewarding term topic for both teachers and pupils and as a final challenge the children were asked to compose a thank you letter to Everything Dinosaur, a test of their recall plus an ability to show off their creative writing skills.

25 11, 2013

Baby Chasmosaurus Dinosaur Fossil Unearthed in Alberta

By | November 25th, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans|2 Comments

Dinosaur Provincial Park Home to a Baby Chasmosaurus

The word “cute” is rarely used to describe a member of the Dinosauria, but a team of scientists have discovered the nearly complete fossilised remains of a baby horned dinosaur, a Chasmosaurine toddler and it is providing palaeontologists with an insight into how dinosaurs changed as they grew.  Finding the fossilised remains of a young dinosaur is exceptionally rare, as Professor Phil Currie of the University of Alberta (Canada), explained:

“The big ones just preserve better.  They don’t get eaten, the don’t get destroyed by animals.  You always hope that you’re going to find something small and that it will turn out to be a dinosaur.”

A field team was examining a dig site in the famous Dinosaur Provincial Park (Alberta), when Professor Currie thought he had found part of a turtle shell sticking out of the hillside.  On closer inspection it turned out to be elements from the bony frill of a baby horned dinosaur.  A number of isolated bones from small, juvenile Ceratopsians had been found previously in the Dinosaur Provincial Park, but single bones are not much help to the scientists who want to learn how dinosaur body proportions changed as these reptiles grew up.

Having excavated the entire specimen, virtually complete with just the front limbs missing, in fact the skeleton was so well preserved that the pebble-like skin pattern of this dinosaur had been preserved as an impression on the surrounding rock matrix, the dinosaur was identified as a Chasmosaurus belli, a distant relative of the better known Triceratops.

The Baby Chasmosaurus Dinosaur Fossil (C. belli)

Scientists Discover Baby Dinosaur Fossil

Cute Chasmosaurus?

Picture Credit: Philip J. Currie, Robert Holmes, Michael Ryan Clive Coy, Eva B. Koppelhus

The various tools placed around the fossil give an idea of scale.  The research team estimate that this little dinosaur was about three years old when it died.  It would have taken another fifteen years or so to reach maturity.  If it had made it into adulthood it would have been over five metres long and weighed more than an Indian elephant.  Although, still a baby this youngster was over 1.5 metres in length.  The sediments in which the fossil material had been preserved represent a watery environment and the lack of any evidence of predation or scavenging suggests this little dinosaur probably drowned and then the body was buried relatively quickly.

Professor Currie speculated:

“I think it may have just gotten trapped out of its league in terms of water current.”

Apart from being cute, this newly discovered specimen will help palaeontologists understand a little more about the ontogeny (growth) of Ornithischian dinosaurs.  An examination of the baby Chasmosaur’s bony frill has revealed that it looked very different compared to a mature adults.  Intriguingly those limbs that are present reveal that the leg proportions don’t change much as the animals grow.  Tyrannosaurids such as the infamous T. rex, look very gangly as juveniles.  The legs are disproportionately longer as juveniles than they are when they are adults.  Presumably, long legs in the youngsters help them to keep up with the adults in the pack, or perhaps to avoid being eaten by other predators.

An Illustration of a Baby Ceratopsian Dinosaur

"Baby horned face"

“Baby horned face”

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Everything Dinosaur

Comparing the new Chasmosaurian specimen to Theropods, Professor Currie commented on the likely differences between how herbivores and carnivores grew up.

He added:

“In Chasmosaurians, the proportions are essentially the same, which probably means the adults were probably never moving that fast.  There was never priority for these animals to run to keep up with the adults.”

It is very likely that this youngster would have stayed close to the adults in its herd, the larger, heavier animals would have acted as a considerable deterrent should any Theropod fancy snacking on a baby Chasmosaurus.  It is likely that the specimen will be put on public display once the preparation work has been completed.

An Illustration of an Adult Chasmosaurus (C. belli)

"Chasm Lizard"

“Chasm Lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

24 11, 2013

Dinosaurs from the Deep South

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

Southernmost Fossils of Dinosaurs from the Americas Described

A team of palaeontologists working in the most southerly part of Chile (South America), have described the fragmentary remains of Cretaceous-aged Ornithopod dinosaurs.  The fossils, although very disarticulated, are definitely remains of bird-hipped dinosaurs and they are the most southernmost dinosaur fossils to be found to date in the Americas.  The discovery has taken place in the Chilean region of the Magallanes, more than 1,000 miles south of the Chilean capital of Santiago.  The area is relatively remote, sparsely populated and poorly served by roads.  However, a team of scientists from the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) supported by fellow researchers from the National Natural History Museum and the University of Chile have been working in the area for three years to establish a better understanding regarding the natural history of this beautiful yet remote part of the world.

The fossils come from Upper Cretaceous sediments that had been studied by the eleven member research team, the fossils, representing a bone bed are either Hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs) or basal Iguanodonts.  The team are hopeful that further investigations will enable them to make a genus diagnosis.

A Picture of One of the Fossil Bones at the Dig Site

Note the Scale Bar in the Picture

Picture Credit: Chilean Antarctic Institute

Commenting on the research, Marcel Leppe, a palaeobotanist from the Chilean Antarctic Institute stated:

“This discovery constitutes a milestone in world palaeontology that also opens the way to studying the evolution of flora and fauna between the extreme south of the Americas and Antarctica.”

The scientists also discovered that underlying the fossilised bones there was a layer of plant fossils.  The two deposits represent different deposition elements preserved as a record in the life of an ancient river channel.  The leaves have been identified as belonging to the Nothofagus genus (Southern Beech).  For much of the Mesozoic, Antarctica and South America were joined together as part of a super-continent called Gondwanaland.  Fossils of Nothofagus have recently been found in Antarctica in slightly older strata.  The scientists have hypothesised that this deciduous tree may have evolved in Antarctica and gradually spread throughout the land mass of Gondwanaland.  This has resulted in Southern Beeches being found today as places so geographically dispersed such as New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, New Caledonia and Australia.

There are thirty-six species of Nothofagus known today, it seems likely that the dinosaurs which roamed the land that was to become one of the most southerly points of the Americas, fed on the leaves of these trees.

23 11, 2013

Unravelling the Apex Predators of the Cretaceous – Before Tyrannosaurs

By | November 23rd, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|2 Comments

Siats meekerorum – The Carcharodontosaurid that Kept the Tyrannosaurs in Check

The trouble with dinosaur fossils is that there is most certainly not anything like a record of dinosaur evolution and development throughout their time dominating terrestrial environments.  True, palaeontologists have been able to build up a remarkable degree of knowledge and some ancient ecosystems are quite well understood.  This said, we really have only the merest glimpse of the Dinosauria, or indeed of other terrestrial vertebrates for much of the Mesozoic.  Take for example, the United States.  A tremendous amount of dinosaur fossil material has been discovered and indeed thanks to the likes of the Morrison Formation, scientists have been able to build up a detailed impression of life in the Late Jurassic.  With the wonderful Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, palaeontologists have an insight into an ecosystem from the Campanian faunal stage of the Cretaceous.  The likes of the badlands and Hell Creek have provided evidence of the dinosaur fauna that roamed at the very end of the Cretaceous period, but what about all the bits in between?

Take for example, the issue of apex predators.  Allosaurids such as Allosaurus fragilis and Saurophaganex maximus may have been the largest meat-eating dinosaurs in the western United States during the Late Jurassic whilst the Tyrannosaurids such as Daspletosaurus (D. torosus) and the recently described Lythronax argestes topped the predator tree towards the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  Of course, thanks to the Hell Creek Formation, we can be fairly certain that at the very end of Cretaceous the likes of T. rex ruled.  Step forward Siats meekerorum,  a newly described apex predator  that roamed Utah approximately 98 million years ago.  Here is evidence of an apex predator, a dinosaur approaching perhaps 3,000 kilogrammes in weight and at least ten metres long, possibly the apex predator in this part of the world during the Cenomanian faunal stage.

Terror of the Tyrannosaurs – Siats meekerorum

Fearsome Cen0manian Predator

Picture Credit: Jorge Gonzales

This new dinosaur discovery, (recently new that is, as the fossils were found in 2008), may help explain a mystery surrounding the Tyrannosaurs of northern latitudes.  Although, this particular group of meat-eating dinosaurs had their origins back in the Jurassic, they seem not to have grown really big and become apex predators until towards the end of the Cretaceous.  Dinosaurs such as the fearsome Siats meekerorum, pronounced see-atch me-ker-roar-rum, may be the reason why.

Scientists from the Field Museum (Chicago), North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, set about exploring the strata in the Cedar Mountain Formation of Utah.  The team’s work, published in the academic journal “Nature Communications” outlines the discovery of a Carcharodontid dinosaur, one that was around ten metres in length and a candidate for the top predator position in this part of the western United States around 98 million years ago.

The partial specimen, consisting of elements from the pelvis, a femur, fragmentary lower leg bones, toe bones and some vertebrae including caudal vertebrae represents only about 4% of the entire skeleton but from this largely disarticulated and scattered material, the researchers were able to determine that they had found evidence of a formidable predator.  This dinosaur gets its genus name from Siats, a mythical man-eating monster from local, Native American tribal legend.  The species name honours the Meeker family for their long-term financial support of the palaeontology department of the Field Museum.  It was Lindsay Zanno (Director of Palaeontology at the North Carolina State University/North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences), who made the discovery.  It took two summer expeditions to carefully remove the fossil material and prepare them in the laboratory.

Siats meekerorum has been classified as a member of the Carcharodontosauridae family, a group of large to gigantic Carnosaurs with strong affinities to the Allosaurs which lived in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, Africa and Asia.  Little is known about the majority of the members of the Carcharodontosauridae family, but one thing is for sure, a number of them were massive, bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex and potentially amongst the largest terrestrial predators that have ever lived.   Siats meekerorum is only the second member of this dinosaur family to have been discovered in North America.  The first Carcharodontosaur was Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, fossils of which have been found in Maryland, Texas and Oklahoma.  It has been estimated that the fossils of S. meekerorum are ten million years younger than those of the youngest Acrocanthosaurus material, thus the Carcharodontosaurids existed in North America later than previously thought.

A Model of Acrocanthosaurus (A. atokensis)

Fierce meat-eater

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Remarking on the fact that Acrocanthosaurus was named and described back in 1950 Dr. Zanno stated:

“It’s been sixty-three years since a predator of this size has been named from North America.  You can’t imagine how thrilled we were to see the bones of this behemoth poking out of the hillside.”

Dr. Peter Makovicky, from the Field Museum of Natural History assisted Dr. Zanno in the collection, and study of this fossil material.  The researchers were able to establish that although the fossil bones represented an individual over ten metres in length, and perhaps weighing as much as 3,000 kilogrammes, this dinosaur was not fully grown when it died.  Analysis of the partial femur that was excavated reveals that had the bone been complete, it would have been only about ten centimetres smaller than that of Acrocanthosaurus, so it could be speculated that when fully grown Siats meekerorum may have matched the early Carcharodontosaurid Acrocanthosaurus in size.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Size estimates for A. atokensis vary, but most palaeontologists agree that this dinosaur may have reached lengths in excess of twelve metres and perhaps weighed 4 tonnes or more.  Although, slimmer and more lightly built than the very last of the Tyrannosaurs these meat-eaters were formidable predators and it is quite likely that a fully grown Siats meekerorum would have been around twelve metres in length too.  This means that S. meekerorum is vying with Acrocanthosaurus for being the second largest Cretaceous Theropod dinosaur discovered in North America.”

Although Siats and Acrocanthosaurus are both members of the Carcharodontosauridae family, they represent different sub-families.  There is a lot of debate with regards to the taxonomic affinities of Carcharodontosaurs but in this instance, Siats seems to have affinities to the Neovenatorids, a sub-family of Carcharodontosaurs that are geographically dispersed with fossils found in Europe, South America, China, Japan and Australia.  This is the first Neovenatorid known from North America.

For Dr. Zanno, who specialises in studying Theropod dinosaurs, this discovery helps fill a gap in the apex predators of North America from the Allosaurids of the Jurassic, to the earlier Carcharodontosaurids such as Acrocanthosaurus, with Siats meekerorum following on before the emergence of the robust, heavy-set Tyrannosaurs such as Daspletosaurus, Teratophoneus and Tyrannosaurus rex.

Dr. Zanno added:

“This thing is gigantic.  There is nothing even close in this ecosystem to the size of this animal that could have been interpreted as an apex predator.”

There were other Theropods in this Cenomanian ecosystem.  Teeth found in the same strata indicate the presence of Tyrannosauroids, the distant ancestors of the mighty T. rex.  However, these Tyrannosaurs were small-bodied, fast running, cursorial predators and simply no match for Siats meekerorum.  There has been no evidence found in this strata to suggest the presence of an equal sized Tyrannosaur challenging the likes of Siats for the apex predator position.

The spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“Think of Siats meekerorum as the “lion of the Cenomanian” with the much smaller Tyrannosauroids the equivalent of jackals.  Tyrannosaurs may well have fed of the remains of kills but they would have been no match for Siats and probably stayed well clear of such a large carnivore, which was many times their body weight.”

Wary Tyrannosaurs Stay Clear of the Dominant Siats meekerorum

Siats meekerorum has nothing to fear from these two Tyrannosaurs.

Picture Credit: Julio Lacerdo

The discovery of Siats meekerorum extends the time when Allosaurids were present in North America by ten million years.  It also provides evidence of large Allosaurs sharing the same environment as small-bodied Tyrannosauroids.  This research supports the hypothesis that the extinction of the Allosauridae in terrestrial ecosystems of North America permitted the rise of the Tyrannosaurs which went onto become the dominate, apex predators of Late Cretaceous food webs.

It is likely that the presence of such a large carnivorous dinosaur indicates that a very rich faunal ecosystem may have been preserved in the rocks of the Cedar Mountain Formation.  Everything Dinosaur expects announcements of other dinosaur discoveries from excavations carried out, possibly the naming and describing of a number of new herbivorous dinosaur species.

22 11, 2013

Collecta Announce 1:40 Scale Therizinosaurus Dinosaur Model for 2014

By | November 22nd, 2013|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

Collecta Deluxe 1:40 Scale Therizinosaurus Dinosaur Model

Therizinosaurus is going to have a big year next year.  2014 may be the year of the horse according to the Chinese, but for Collecta, part of their focus is going to be on Theropod dinosaurs and an example of this is their new Deluxe Therizinosaurus that is going to be available in a few months time.  The Therizinosaurids are a very strange group of lizard-hipped dinosaurs.  Therizinosaurus, the first of this group and the one that gives this super family of Theropoda its name – the Therizinosauroidea, was formally described back in 1954.  Next year marks the diamond jubilee of the Therizinosaurs and over the last sixty years or so a number of genera have been erected, but scientists still no very little about these bizarre-looking dinosaurs.

The New for 2014 Collecta Deluxe Therizinosaurus

New for 2014

Picture Credit: Collecta

Dinosaur model designer (Collecta), Anthony Beeson explained that the Deluxe Therizinosaurus is depicted in a pose that might be interpreted as a defensive posture.  It is likely that this large dinosaur was herbivorous (or possibly an omnivore).  Therizinosaurus shared its environment with large Tyrannosaurs, Dromaeosaurs and Troodontids so there were plenty of predators about.  Fossils of Therizinosaurus cheloniformis are associated with the Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous.  These upper Cretaceous rocks from Mongolia have also revealed the fossils of the potential predators of this slow-moving dinosaur, as well as the diverse range of other prehistoric animals that the predators may have fed upon.

Everything Dinosaur’s Scale Drawing of Therizinosaurus

Huge "scythe lizard"

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Anthony stated:

“The model measures 8.5 inches high by 11 inches in length when measured from claw to the tip of the tail.  I made this one more colourful as a male in full plumage, so that the smaller not-to-scale Collecta Therizinosaurus might be interpreted as either an immature animal or a female if the two models are put together.”

This interpretation makes a lot of sense, we at Everything Dinosaur are fairly certain that the Dinosauria had colour vision and there very probably was colour variation between the males and females just as we seen in many extant species of birds today.  Therizinosaurs are known as “scythe lizards”, one glance at those huge claws on the three-fingered hands explains why.

The Two Collecta Therizinosaurus Models Together

A pair of Therizinosaurs.

In the image above, the 2012 Collecta not to scale model of a Therizinosaurus has been placed next to the new for 2014 Deluxe model.  As well as being larger, the Deluxe Therizinosaurus has more colourful plumage.  If we use modern, extant peacocks as a comparison, the larger model could well represent a male, whilst the smaller one with more subdued colouration could represent a female.  It is likely that these animals did move in herds, or should that be flocks, either way this is speculation as colouration is not known in Therizinosaurus nor indeed have four-toed, fossilised tracks been found to indicate these dinosaurs moved around in groups.  It has been suggested that T. cheloniformis, walked on four-toes, unlike most members of the Theropoda that walked on three or two toes.  Since only elements from the arms, some claws and parts of the hind limb have been assigned to this species it is not known how many toes these animals walked on.  Other Therizinosaurs, which have more complete fossil material ascribed to them are known to have walked on four toes.  Feathers identified in fossils related to Beipiaosaurus inexpectus, an earlier Therizinosaur known from at least two individual skeletons that were found in Yixian Province (China), have led to most palaeontologists agreeing that Therizinosaurs were probably feathered dinosaurs.

These are not the only “scythe lizard” models made by Collecta.  The first Therizinosaur model made by Collecta was Nothronychus (N. mckinleyi).  Nothronychus was the first Therizinosaur to be discovered outside of Asia.  Its fossils were found in New Mexico (United States).  One of the specimens was found in marine deposits, suggesting that this animal may have lived in coastal swamps and a carcase was washed out to sea.  The neck is not feathered in the Collecta model, perhaps an adaptation to living in a swampy, marshy area where feeding on water plants by dipping the head into water may have been a preferred feeding habit.

The Collecta Nothronychus Dinosaur Model

Part of the not to scale range of dinosaur models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It is always exciting to see new dinosaur models, especially replicas of some of the more bizarre and unusual dinosaurs.  The Collecta Deluxe Therizinosaurus is part of a second phase of 2014 releases, it should be available from Everything Dinosaur in the summer of 2014 or thereabouts.

Collecta prehistoric animal models available from Everything Dinosaur: Collecta Dinosaur Models

21 11, 2013

Three-Dimensional Printers and Computerised Tomography Reveal Fossils

By | November 21st, 2013|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans|0 Comments

3-D Printing Technology Used to Help Palaeontologists Reveal Fossils Still Inside Protective Plaster Jackets

More and more technology is being employed  by palaeontologists these days and one of the latest tools in the armoury of a palaeontologist is a three-dimensional printer.  In combination with computerised tomography (CT scans), a printer can produce an exact replica of a fossil, even one that is still buried deep inside its protective burlap and plaster jacket.

A team of German scientists have used a 3-D printer to create a copy of a fossil that may have been too delicate to remove from its jacket using conventional methods.  This non-destructive technique opens up a whole new range of possibilities for palaeontology and other branches of the Earth sciences.  The research team used CT scans to create a computerised image of an unidentified fossil bone which is part of the huge natural history collection of the Museum für Naturkunde, based in Berlin (Germany).  The study has been published in the academic journal “Radiology”.

Field teams very often cover fossils that are being excavated in layers of sacking (burlap) and plaster.  This is done to protect the fossil material in the field and in its subsequent transport back to the museum or the preparation lab.  The plaster is carefully applied and then it is smoothed over by hand (surprising how many sharp edges can form on a plaster jacket), these lumps, some of which can weigh hundreds of kilogrammes, are then carefully removed and transported.  Unfortunately, when it comes to removing the fossil from its jacket, this can be very tricky.  Sometimes the plaster is so strongly bonded to the actual fossil bone that removing the plaster leads to damage of the fossil.  Using the CT scans in combination with 3-D printers enables scientists to find out more information about a specimen without worrying about the removal of the surrounding sediment or plaster.  The fossil is therefore very unlikely to be damaged using such technology.

Fossil Bone Gets Its “Field Jacket”

Protecting Fossils in Preparation for Transport

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The “scan and print” method as we call it at Everything Dinosaur is also very time efficient.  It can take weeks, months even years to physically extract a fossil from its surrounding matrix.

The fossil specimen had been housed in a part of the Berlin museum that had been extensively damaged during World War II.  Many of the specimens held by the museum were destroyed in bombing raids, others, like this specimen, ended up as unidentified objects, with researchers not sure as to what material the jackets may contain.  Thanks to the application of this new technology, the research team were able to establish what was inside the plaster block and study the specimen that had been picked out by the powerful X-rays of the CT scan.  CT scans, otherwise known as CAT scans (computerised tomography) were originally conceived in the world of physics, but have applications in all sorts of other branches of science and elsewhere.  This technology is used in medicine, engineering and of course in palaeontology.  The X-rays from the CT scanner can distinguish fossil material from surrounding rock, sediment and plaster jackets as these materials all have different radiation absorption rates (different attenuation).  This permits a computer to plot the data and produce an image in three-dimensions of any object such as a fossil inside a block of burlap wrapped stone.

CT scans also provide palaeontologists with information regarding the placement and orientation of a fossil within a block, this can be extremely helpful when it comes to attempting a physical excavation.  Information about the integrity of the fossil can be obtained, even possible fracture lines can be identified.  The object in this study proved to be elements from the backbone, part of the Halberstadt excavations (Germany), a series of digs that took place between 1910 and 1927.  The vertebrae belongs to a Plateosaurus, a lizard-hipped, Late Triassic dinosaur that could have reached lengths in excess of ten metres.  The bones measure approximately 21 centimetres in length and 17 centimetres in diameter at their widest part.

The Original Plaster Jacket and the 3-D Print of the Fossil

Scale bar = 10cm

Picture Credit: Radiology and RSNA

The application of this technology is helping the German scientists to sort out which of the unidentified parcels of fossil material belongs to which expedition.  It turns out that this part of the museum that was damaged by bombing, housed fossil specimens collected in Germany and from Tanzania.  The German led expeditions to Tanzania took place between 1909 and 1913, at the time, this was German East Africa.  The fossils collected by these two expeditions were mixed up.  It now seems that 21st Century technology is going to help unravel a mystery surrounding fossilised bones of vertebrates that were collected in some cases more than one hundred years ago.

A Scale Drawing of the Triassic Plateosaurus

Plateosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Once the CT images had been produced, the use of a computer allied to a 3-D printer was all that was required to reproduce a model of the object.  Original drawings and diagrams from the expeditions were then used as a source of reference to help confirm the identity of the fossil material.

One of the Original Halberstadt Expedition Illustrations showing the Layout of Fossil Material

A Plateosaurus vertebra is highlighted.

Picture Credit: Radiology and RSNA

One of the authors of the research stated that the advances in three-dimensional printing technology means digital models of objects such as fossils can be transferred rapidly among researchers as endless copies can be made.  Reproductions of fossils can be created from digital downloads, this will permit museums to share delicate, fragile fossils very easily.  Very rare and important fossils such as those of early hominids could be made much more accessible, thus facilitating more research and study.

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