Palaeontology Enters the “Metal Age”

Exploring the Metallome of Ancient Leaves Provides Insight into Plant Biochemistry

Readers may be familiar with the term genome, the genetic material that relates to an organism.  The word genome is believed to be derived from the words – gene (the molecular unit of heredity of an organism) and chromosome (the rod-like structures of DNA and protein found in the nuclei of cells that carry the genetic information in the form of genes).   Genome mapping has provided palaeontology with a whole new field of science to explore, plotting the genetic relationships between organisms as well attempts to recover viable organic material from fossils for further study.

This is exciting stuff, for example, last year Everything Dinosaur reported on the work of a team of international researchers who had been able to extract partial genome data from the 700,000 year old fossils of an ancient horse.

To read more about this research: Ancient Fossil Decodes Horse Evolution

However, preserved with fossil material and only accessible to science via the use of some astonishingly sophisticated technology lies another group of substances that can provide researchers with new information on organisms that lived long ago.  These are metallic elements and scientists from the University of Manchester are leading the world in research on the metal constituents of fossil and living organisms, the quest to plot the metallome is on!

Virtually every living organism has metallic elements within it, elements such as Iron, Zinc, Copper and Nickel.   These metals can be used as catalysts for biological processes, as important components of biosynthetic pathways used to produce important molecules, or simply be stored for use in other biological reactions.  We might be classed as carbon based life forms (carbon makes up about 18% of the typical biomass of a person) and these metals may be present in very small amounts but a number of metal elements seem to be essential to sustain life.  To a palaeontologist, these metals may be significant as the bonds that they form with organic molecules might be strong enough to permit the preservation of molecular material across deep, geological time.  If these metals can be detected, then important new information can be gleaned from the fossil record.

A case in point was the recently published paper that examined how dinosaurs recovered from injuries.  Metal traces mapped from a 150 million year old Allosaurus toe bone gave scientists a new perspective on the lives of the Dinosauria.

To read an article about this research: Those Very Tough Dinosaurs

University of Manchester scientists have used a synchrotron particle accelerator to bombard fossil leaves with intense X-rays, the diffusion of which, as they penetrate the fossil material permits the research team to work out the chemical composition and hence to map elements as they existed on a fifty million year old leaf.  By comparing their finding with the metallome of a modern leaf from a similar species, in this case an Acer, the team can be confident that they are mapping the metals within the leaf and not contaminating their sample with other elements that may have entered the leaf through the fossilisation process.  Such is the accuracy of their data, that in one example they have been able to plot the feeding trails left by caterpillars as they fed upon the leaf back in the Palaeogene.

The fossil plant materials are from the famous “Green River Formation” of the western United States.  The strata that makes up this formation consists of finely grained mudstones laid down in depositional sequence that represents approximately six million years or so, 53.5 to 48 million years ago (Eocene Lagerstätte).  Exquisitely preserved fossils can be found in a  number of areas, notably fossil fish and insects with occasionally other vertebrates such as birds.  Plant fossils are relatively abundant with the majority of the plant fossil material consisting of individual leaves that were transported by water to the sites of deposition and fossil formation.

A Beautifully Preserved Fossil Fish (Green River Formation)

Exquisitely preserved fossils from the Green River Formation (USA)

Exquisitely preserved fossils from the Green River Formation (USA)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Researchers from Britain’s University of Manchester, the Diamond Light Source (Didcot, Oxon) and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in the Unites States, including geochemists and physicists have published their findings in the journal of the Royal Society (Chemistry).  Lead author of the scientific paper Dr. Nicholas Edwards (postdoctoral researcher – University of Manchester) stated:

“The synchrotron has already shown its potential in teasing new information from fossils, in particular our group’s previous work on pigmentation in fossil animals.  With this study, we wanted to use the same techniques to see whether we could extract a similar level of biochemical information from a completely different part of the tree of life.  To do this we needed to test the chemistry of the fossil plants to see if the fossil material was derived directly from the living organisms or degraded and replaced by the fossilisation process.”

Fossilised leaves from the Green River Formation excavated from sites in Colorado and Utah were studied.  The results from the synchrotron experiments on the fifty million year old fossil material was then compared to extant similar plant species, in this case a type of Acer (Acer pseudoplatanus).  The comparison helped the researchers to determine which metals they should be scanning for and where in the fossil leaves they were likely to occur.

Dr. Edwards added:

“We know that plant chemistry can be preserved over hundreds of millions of years, this preserved chemistry powers our society today in the form of fossil fuels.  However, this is just the ‘combustible’ part; until now no one has completed this type of study of the other biochemical components of fossil plants, such as metals.”

By combining the unique capabilities of two synchrotron facilities, the team were able to produce detailed images of where the various elements of the periodic table were located within both living and fossil leaves, as well as being able to show how these elements were combined with other elements.

Distribution of Copper, Zinc and Nickel in Fossil Leaves

Looking at the distribution of metals in fossil leaves.

Looking at the distribution of metals in fossil leaves.

Picture  Credit: University of Manchester

The figure above shows optical images with metal elements mapped in an extant species (L. styraciflua), images labelled A-D.  Pictures E-H show the same data but this time in a fossil leaf from the Green River Formation. Copper seems to be at its highest concentration at the serrated tips of the leaves (both extinct and extant) – images B and F.  Black image areas indicate low concentrations of the element, whilst white areas indicate relatively high concentrations.

The research data shows that the distribution of copper, zinc and nickel in the fossil leaves was almost identical to that in modern leaves. Each element was concentrated in distinct biological structures, such as the veins and the edges of the leaves, and the way these trace elements and sulphur were attached to other elements was very similar to that seen in modern leaves and plant matter in soils.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Professor Roy Wogelius, from Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, commented:

“This type of chemical mapping and the ability to determine the atomic arrangement of biologically important elements, such as copper and sulphur, can only be accomplished by using a synchrotron particle accelerator.

The synchrotron analysis was so sophisticated that in one remarkable specimen, the research team were able to identify the feeding trails of caterpillars in a fossilised leaf.  Elemental maps of the sample clearly showed how the copper in the leaf tissue was recycled by the parasitic insects.  The leaf showed the presence of frass tubes similar to those made by the modern species Catastega aceriella.  The caterpillars of this moth feed on leaf tissue and generate cocoons, or frass tubes, out of their fecal pellets and silk.  High resolution copper maps of the fossil even allowed the research team to see the individual fecal pellets.

Professor Wogelius explained:

“In one beautiful specimen, the leaf has been partially eaten by prehistoric caterpillars,  just as modern caterpillars feed and their feeding tubes are preserved on the leaf.  The chemistry of these fossil tubes remarkably still matches that of the leaf on which the caterpillars fed.”

The Specimen that show evidence of Caterpillars Feeding

The synchrotron analysis reveals how the copper was recycled.

The synchrotron analysis reveals how the copper was recycled.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

The images above (I and J) are an optical image and a false colour image mapping elemental distributions.  Inset images in I and J (Cu) are magnified views of the boxed area showing the extremely fine detailed physical and chemical preservation of the larvae frass tubes and leaf venation.  Importantly, this research has demonstrated that the chemistry of the fossil leaves is not sourced from the surrounding environment, it represents elements laid down in the living leaves.

Manchester palaeontologist and co-author of the paper, Dr Phil Manning said:

“We think that copper may have aided preservation by acting as a ‘natural’ biocide, slowing down the usual microbial breakdown that would destroy delicate leaf tissues.  This property of copper is used today in the same wood preservatives that you paint on your garden fence before winter approaches.”

This work, along with other recent research papers highlights the role of X-ray bombardment via synchrotrons and the new insights that such techniques can provide in terms of data retrieved from the fossil record.

Everything Dinosaur is grateful to the University of Manchester for information used in the compilation of this article.

Dinosaur Footprint Party Cakes Recipe

A Simple to Follow Step-by-Step Guide to Make Dinosaur Footprint Cakes

No pun intended, but here is a simple step-by-step guide to make some super tasty dinosaur themed party treats.  Many children love dinosaurs and ask for a dinosaur themed birthday party, this can be a bit of a headache for the grown ups, but not to worry the team members at Everything Dinosaur can help out by providing a recipe to make cakes with a dinosaur footprint theme.

Everything Dinosaur’s Dinosaur Themed Party Cakes

Tasty dinosaur themed treats.

Tasty dinosaur themed treats.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

List of Ingredients (to make dinosaur themed tasty treats)

Plain Flour 275 grammes (10oz)

Butter 350 grammes (12oz)

Caster Sugar 225 grammes (8oz)

Small Tin Condensed Milk 400 grammes (14oz)

4 Table Spoons of Golden Syrup

Plain Chocolate 225 grammes (8oz)

Small pack of Marzipan or White Icing

2-3 Table Spoons of Jam

Method

    • Heat the oven to 180°C /350°F (Gas mark 4).  Mix together 225 grammes (8oz) of butter with 100 grammes (4oz) of the caster sugar in a large bowl.   Add the flour and work the mixture into a soft dough.
    • Press the mixture into a shallow baking tray, measuring approximately 22 centimetres by 32 centimetres, even it out then place in the oven and bake until this biscuit base is golden and crisp.
    • To make the caramel filling, heat the remaining butter and sugar with the tin of condensed milk in a saucepan, adding the golden syrup.  Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for a few minutes, stirring all the time until the mixture turns a golden, caramel colour.  Carefully pour over the biscuit base in the tray and then leave it to cool.
    • Melt the plain chocolate over a pan of simmering water and spread over the caramel, then allow everything to set.  Download the dinosaur footprint template (available at Everything Dinosaur*),draw round it using a piece of stiff card to create your very own dinosaur footprint template.
    • Roll out the marzipan or the white icing then carefully cut out footprints using a small knife.  Put a little dab of jam onto the footprint and carefully place them in rows on the chocolate biscuits.  Then simply cut the biscuits into small squares, each one with a footprint on it and there you go, your very own dinosaur footprint biscuits.

This recipe is very simple to follow and the cakes are very popular with young dinosaur fans.  For mums and grown ups too, we hope this easy to recipe helps when it comes to the dinosaur themed party food.

Everything Dinosaur* – when on the Everything Dinosaur home page, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the link entitled – “Dinosaur Party Cakes”.

A Review of the Pentaceratops Dinosaur Model from Schleich

Schleich Pentaceratops Dinosaur Model Reviewed

One of the new additions to the Schleich World of History model series for 2014, the only horned dinosaur to be added this year, is this colourful model of the Ceratopsid known as Pentaceratops (P. sternbergii).  In this short dinosaur model review, we will discuss this replica, the fossil evidence and compare the Pentaceratops replica to the Triceratops model also made by Schleich which was introduced back in 2012.

The first fossils of Pentaceratops were discovered in 1921 by the famous American palaeontologist Charles Hazelius Sternberg as the Upper Cretaceous sedimentary strata of the south-western United States was being mapped. Pentaceratops was named and scientifically described in 1923, by Henry Fairfield Osborn, the same palaeontologist who named Tyrannosaurus rex back in 1905.  Pentaceratops had a very elongated and relatively narrow head shield when compared to other Chasmosaurine dinosaurs such as the distantly related Triceratops (T. horridus).  This feature has been very well recreated by the design team at Schleich and the detailing is superb, although the model shows little evidence of the large parietal fenestrae, the pair of substantial, skin covered holes that were located towards the top of the head crest.

The Schleich Pentaceratops Compared to the Schleich Triceratops Dinosaur Model

Pentaceratops model is on the left.

Pentaceratops model is on the left.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Many articles published on Pentaceratops refer to the size of the skull, which was certainly very big.  It had been thought that this dinosaur possessed the biggest skull of any terrestrial vertebrate, although many larger specimens once ascribed to Pentaceratops, have been reassigned to a new dinosaur genus, Titanoceratops which was established in 2011.  The lines between these two genera remain a little blurred, although there is plenty of fossil material to study, much of the skull material related to Pentaceratops from the Fruitland and Kirtland Formations of New Mexico and Colorado is crushed and distorted so definitive classification is somewhat hazardous.

To read an article published by Everything Dinosaur in February 2011 about the establishment of the new Titanoceratops genus: Titanoceratops – A New Type of Dinosaur Found in a Scientific Paper

Pentaceratops means “five horned face”, this is a bit of a misnomer, as this dinosaur did not have five horns.  The jugal bone, the bone over the cheek area of the skull, was prominent and came to a point.  The cheek bones may have been covered by horny outgrowths so when viewed from the front, it would look like this dinosaur did indeed have five horns.

An Anterior (view from the front) of Pentaceratops compared to Triceratops

One of the enlarged jugal bones with a horny sheath on it can be clearly seen on the Pentaceratops model (cheek area, under the eye).

One of the enlarged jugal bones with a horny sheath on it can be clearly seen on the Pentaceratops model (cheek area, under the eye).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The horn configuration was the same as the better known Triceratops, the Schleich World of History Triceratops which can be seen adjacent to the Pentaceratops model illustrates this point nicely.  Both dinosaurs had long forward facing brow horns, with a shorter nasal horn.  Pentaceratops was smaller than the largest species of Triceratops and it also had a shorter tail, these details can clearly be seen when the two Schleich models are compared.  Although smaller than the largest species of Triceratops known (T. horridus), scientists estimate that this Late Cretaceous herbivore may have weighed in excess of 3,000 kilogrammes.

Based on an adult Pentaceratops reaching a length of around 6.3 metres, we estimate that this figure is in approximately 1:37 scale as this Schleich replica measures a little over seventeen centimetres in length.  The model has been very well painted and the skin texture with its irregular sized scales and folds of skin, particularly on the underside of the neck, has been rendered with a great deal of care and attention.

A View of the Underside of the Schleich Pentaceratops

The detail on the underside of the Schleich Pentaceratops.

The detail on the underside of the Schleich Pentaceratops.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the fine detail on the underside of the Schleich Pentaceratops dinosaur model.  Note the folds of loose skin underneath the neck and the texture on the underside of the short, stubby tail.

This dinosaur is posed with one front foot off the ground, quite an unusual stance for a prehistoric animal model.  The correct number of digits have been added, five on the front feet, with four toes on the hind feet, the red colouration makes this replica stand out, although we suspect that since the Pentaceratops name is not reproduced on the underside of the model, (see picture above), less well informed dinosaur fans and model collectors could end up referring to this as another Triceratops replica.  Everything Dinosaur provides a fact sheet on Pentaceratops with each model that we sell, hopefully this will help clear up any confusion that may arise.

Pentaceratops and the other models in the Schleich World of History range are available from Everything Dinosaur, the UK based retailer of dinosaur models, toys and games that is staffed by parents, teachers and real dinosaur experts.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Schleich models: Prehistoric Animal Models from Schleich

Museum Line Lambeosaurus Video Review

A Video Review of the Bullyland Lambeosaurus Dinosaur Model

Duck-billed dinosaurs had been relatively under represented in the Bullyland range of prehistoric animals.  In fact, Everything Dinosaur team members had trouble remembering what duck-billed dinosaur models this German manufacturer had made in the past.  There used to be a Parasaurolophus in the range, but the last version of this model, a lovely replica with a bright orange crest was retired a few years ago, so it is refreshing to see the name sake of the Lambeosaurines stepping into the spotlight as Bullyland added a Lambeosaurus to their Museum Line series.

In this short video review, we take a look at this new for 2014 replica, comment on the fossil evidence and naturally, we discuss that wonderful head crest.

Everything Dinosaur’s Review of the Bullyland Museum Line Lambeosaurus

Video credit: Everything Dinosaur

The video is 5 minutes, 33 seconds long, it gives viewers a little more information about this dinosaur, where it lived and how difficult it is to classify Lambeosaurine fossil material.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Bullyland Museum Line prehistoric animal models: Bullyland Dinosaurs

Gorgosaurus versus Albertosaurus (Speculative)

Tale of the Tape – Albertosaurinae

Team members at Everything Dinosaur get sent lots of letters, pictures and emails from fans of dinosaurs, we are grateful for all the correspondence and we do our best to respond to those that require a reply.  A frequently asked question is which dinosaur would win in a fight between two species?  We tend to steer clear of these sorts of debates, after all, there is not a lot fossil evidence to back up any claims and many of the opponents in such contests happen to be separated by thousands of miles and in most cases millions of years.

One email received recently, asked the question who would win in a fight between Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus?  We thank Theodore, Clare and Adam for this question.  We have had a lot of questions about Gorgosaurus since this fearsome Tyrannosaur appeared in the “Walking with Dinosaurs in 3-D” film that came out in December 2013.  Let’s try and answer the question by explaining a little bit about what we think we know from fossils when it comes to these two types of meat-eating dinosaurs.

Albertosaurus and Gorgosaurus Are Very Closely Related

The famous Canadian palaeontologist Lawrence Lambe established the Gorgosaurus  genus exactly 100 years ago, when he described fossils of a large Tyrannosaur Gorgosaurus libratus.  The dinosaur known as Albertosaurus was named a few years earlier (1905), although the specimens which became known as Albertosaurus fossil material were actually found back in the mid 1880’s.  Albertosaurus (Albertosaurus sarcophagus) was named after the part of Canada in which the fossils were found, the Province of Alberta.  Palaeontologists have argued over whether there are two different types of Tyrannosaur represented by the fossils.  A comprehensive review carried out in 2003, established Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus as different, but very closely related dinosaurs.

Sister Taxa

Analysis of more recently discovered Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus fossils enabled a team of scientists to establish in 2003 that Gorgosaurus was indeed a different type of meat-eating dinosaur to Albertosaurus.  Gorgosaurus is believed to have had slightly longer legs, and slight differences in the skull.  Some scientists have suggested that since the majority of fossil material ascribed to Gorgosaurus is found in older rocks than the majority of fossil material believed to represent Albertosaurus, then Gorgosaurus may have been the ancestor of Albertosaurus.  These dinosaurs were very closely related.  They have been put into their own sub-family of Tyrannosaurs, the Albertosaurinae.  For the moment, most scientists agree that just Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus belong in the Albertosaurinae, they are sister taxa, which means that Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus are more closely related to each other than they are to any other type of Tyrannosaur.

Who Would Win in a Fight?

Fossils of Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus have been found in the same parts of North America and if we assume that these dinosaurs lived at around the same time, then it is possible that these species may have interacted.  If they shared the same environment and competed for the same food and living space then these two dinosaurs may have been in competition with each other. Violent conflicts between Albertosaurus and Gorgosaurus would probably have been rare. We don’t know this for sure, fossils of both Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus show signs of injury caused when the animal was alive, but there is no way of telling how these injuries occurred.  If an adult Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus met, then it is likely that they may have used visual signals to intimidate and threaten each other rather than an all out attack.  Neither animal would want to risk serious injury as if they were unable to hunt as a result of wounds, then this would probably prove fatal.  At Everything Dinosaur we have speculated in several articles about Tyrannosaurs using scent making to establish territories to convey messages and ultimately to avoid other big predators.

Tale of the Tape – Battle Statistics

Comparative  studies have been undertaken by palaeontologists when it comes to Tyrannosaurs.  Everything Dinosaur team members have taken some of the data from these studies and reviewed the fossil record of these two species.  Using information gleaned from the very largest specimens, we have come up with a “tale of the tape”, a simple data set that can be used to weigh up the likelihood of one type of dinosaur beating another type of dinosaur – in this case a battle of the Albertosaurinae.

Battle Statistics of Albertosaurus (speculative)

May have been bigger, slightly heavier, with a stronger bite.

May have been bigger, slightly heavier, with a stronger bite.

Albertosaurus sarcophagus and Gorgosaurus libratus would have been very equally matched.  Based on an analysis of some of the larger fossil specimens, Albertosaurus could have been slightly larger than Gorgosaurus (although this point is contradicted by other evidence).  The skull size, shape and jaw length was also different, giving Albertosaurus a slightly smaller skull, but a stronger and shorter muzzle that may have provided this dinosaur with a more powerful bite.

Battle Statistics of Gorgosaurus (speculative)

Faster and slightly more nimble when compared to the biggest Albertosaurus dinosaurs.

Faster and slightly more nimble when compared to the biggest Albertosaurus dinosaurs.

Measurements of limb bones attributed to G. libratus indicate that this dinosaur may have had a slightly longer stride length.  This information, when taken together with the smaller size of the Gorgosaurus specimens compared to the largest Albertosaurus fossils, suggest that Gorgosaurus could have been more agile and slightly faster.  Looking at published academic papers on the bite force of members of the Tyrannosaur family and relating this to a one metre long skull discussed in the collection of a Canadian museum, we have speculated that Gorgosaurus may have had a weaker bite, still a powerful bite, but perhaps its jaws were not as strong as a similar sized, shorter-skulled Albertosaurus.

So based on this highly speculative and in no way whatsoever valid analysis, we have the following:

  • Albertosaurus (A. sarcophagus) – a little bigger, with a more powerful bite
  • Gorgosaurus (G. libratus) – smaller, but more nimble and probably slightly faster

This is all very well and good, let’s put things onto a slightly more scientific footing.  Both these predators are known from fossil material discovered in Canada.  In 2013, an academic paper was published that looked at a concept called “Niche Partitioning” amongst plant-eating dinosaurs of the Dinosaur Park Formation (Alberta, Canada).  This is the same rock formation that contains fossils of Albertosaurus.  In this scientific paper, researchers proposed that there were lots of different herbivorous dinosaurs living together at the same time as they each specialised on feeding on different types of plants.  Some herbivores, such as the slow moving, heavily armoured Euoplocephalus were grazers, whilst duck-billed dinosaurs such as Edmontosaurus were browsers of trees and other tall vegetation.

This idea of niche partitioning applies to carnivores just as much as it does to herbivores.  Dinosaurs such as Albertosaurus and Gorgosaurus probably specialised in hunting different types of prey when compared to their bigger and stronger Tyrannosaur cousins (the Tyrannosaurinae).  Living alongside the likes of Albertosaurus and Gorgosaurus was the stronger and more powerful Daspletosaurus (Daspletosaurus torosus) – “frightful lizard”. Roughly the same size as the largest members of the Albertosaurinae, Daspletosaurus may have been up to 1,000 kilogrammes heavier.  It may have specialised in hunting horned dinosaurs whilst the lighter, faster Tyrannosaurs such as Albertosaurus and Gorgosaurus may have hunted small Hadrosaurs and Pachycephalosaurs.

Truth is, no one will probably ever know for certain. All three dinosaurs seem to have been apex predators.

Look Out for Daspletosaurus

Larger Tyrannosaur present in the ecosystem.

Larger Tyrannosaur present in the ecosystem.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 So, when it comes to looking at battling dinosaurs, what evidence we have can be interpreted in different ways.  Albertosaurus versus Gorgosaurus, who do you think would win?

The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi Reviewed

A Review of “The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi”

Julius Csotonyi is one of those rare breed of scientific illustrators who is able to combine anatomical accuracy and scientific detail with vivid imagination and a flare for the digital medium.  His artwork has graced a number of natural history museums around the world, his pictures helping to inform, educate and inspire.  Titan Books has just published a hardback book which gives dinosaur fans and general readers alike the opportunity to learn more about this artist, how he works and to view a collection of some of the stunning images that he has created since his hobby turned into a full-time profession.

Launched this Week – “The Paleoart of Julius Csotonyi”

The front cover of this new hardback book.

The front cover of this new hardback book.

Picture Credit: Titan Books/Julius Csotonyi

Co-written by Steve White, the book showcases the drawings and digital artwork of Julius Csotonyi.  Visitors to the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Alberta, Canada), the Houston Museum of Natural Science or indeed to the newly refurbished Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County will already be familiar with a lot of Julius’s work as he has been commissioned to create murals and back drops for a number of exhibits in these museums.  However, the lighting in many galleries is quite poor and this book permits the viewer to appreciate the craft of the palaeoartist in glorious colour.

There is a brief foreward written by Dr. David Evans (Royal Ontario Museum, Canada), which helps to set the artwork in context.  With a doctorate in microbiology and as a pioneer in merging true-life photography with digital images, Julius has been able to bring a unique set of skills to the drawing board of scientific illustration.  The equally eminent Dr. Bob Bakker chips in to explain how images are created using a meticulous study of fossil data and a case study is provided focusing on how the diet of Dimetrodonts was interpreted.

Creating Images from the Fossil Evidence

Permian scene (Texas Red Beds)

Permian scene (Texas Red Beds)

Picture Credit: Titan Books/Houston Museum of Natural History/Julius Csotonyi

An ” In Conversation” piece follows, an in depth interview which discusses early influences, outlines the creative process and explores aspects of Julius’s work.  There are also some handy tips and advice on hand for budding artists trying to break into the field of palaeontological illustration.  The rest of the book, the vast majority of the 156 pages or so, showcases the artwork and illustrations.  The images are laid out by geological Era, starting with the Palaeozoic, the Mesozoic follows and then comes the Cenozoic.  By far the largest portion of the book is dedicated to illustrations of Mesozoic fauna and flora and much of this features the Dinosauria, so dinosaur fans will have plenty to view.

Bringing the Early Permian to Life

An early Permian landscape.

An early Permian landscape.

Picture Credit: Titan Books/Commission: Gondwana Studios/Julius Csotonyi

 Brief notes accompany the illustrations helping to provide context and to explain what is being depicted. One small criticism, there is not much of a key for the casual reader to help them interpret what is being shown.  A simplified drawing with a number key would help point out some of the subtle nuances depicted and assist with the identification of the various prehistoric animals and plants that make up the scene.

Fantastic Dinosaur Illustrations

Bringing "three horned face" to life.

Bringing “three horned face” to life.

Picture Credit: Titan Books/College of Charleston/Julius Csotonyi

Throughout the book, there are short sections that focus on how one individual animal or group of animals are depicted.  For example, information is provided on how Tiktaalik, a fish that possessed anatomical characteristics that link it to the first Tetrapods, was illustrated, more detail is provided on how a Utahraptor assemblage was interpreted and there is a special feature on the early Chinese Tyrannosaur known as Guanlong.  However, the real stars are the artwork and imagery, credit to the publishers here for reproducing the pictures in such high quality.

Plenty of Illustrations of Theropod Dinosaurs Too

Tyrannosaurs on the beach.

Tyrannosaurs on the beach.

Picture Credit: Titan Books/Julius Csotonyi

In the picture above, a pair of Tyrannosaurs (Lythronax argestes) inspect the carcase of a large prehistoric shark (Squalicorax), whilst two enantiornithine birds hope to pick up some scraps.  Many of the illustrations included in this book had been commissioned to help publicise news stories featuring recent fossil discoveries to the general media.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“As well as commissions for various exhibits at natural history museums, this book contains a number of scientific illustrations that had been specifically commissioned for use in press releases in order to help boost public awareness of recent fossil discoveries.  Julius has a rare talent for helping to put flesh on bones and bring back from the dead ancient, extinct creatures.  He portrays long disappeared environments in an imaginative way and through his work he is helping to inform and inspire the next generation of scientists.”

Newly Described Pachycephalosaur (A. audeti)

Acrotholus audeti disturbs a freshwater turtle (Neurankylus lithographicus) which had been soaking in a dinosaur footprint.

Acrotholus audeti disturbs a freshwater turtle (Neurankylus lithographicus) which had been soaking in a dinosaur footprint.

Picture Credit: Titan Books/Evans et al/Julius Csotonyi

This book may be divided up into sections based on geological Eras, but within each section the illustrations themselves are not shown in geological time scale order.  For example, a mural showing the environment from the Campanian faunal stage as represented by the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of Canada, precedes illustrations on the armoured dinosaur Sauropelta and the Early Jurassic Pterosaur Dimorphodon.  For fans of the age of mammals, the book concludes with a number of illustrations depicting fauna and flora of the Cenozoic, from Sabre-toothed cats to Arctic camels.

The Prehistoric Whale Dorudon Cruises into View

Digital painting and photographic composite showing Dorudon.

Digital painting and photographic composite showing Dorudon.

Picture Credit: Titan Books/Look at Sciences/Julius Csotonyi

There is a useful, but short glossary at the back of the book along with a geological time scale.  Putting aside the fact that this book has utilised the American spelling for a number of terms, not surprising really given the focus on artwork from North America and Julius’s Canadian nationality, this makes an excellent addition to a dinosaur fan or general reader’s book collection.

Highly recommended.

The Schleich Light Green Tyrannosaurus rex Dinosaur Model Reviewed

A Review of the Light Green, 2014 Schleich T. rex Dinosaur Model

One of the first of the 2014 Schleich World of History dinosaurs to be reviewed by team members at Everything Dinosaur is the new, light green T. rex figure from the German manufacturer.  Schleich have made a number of replicas of what is perhaps the most famous dinosaur of all and this new addition to their prehistoric animal model range is bound to prove popular with young dinosaur fans.

This is the second, large-sized Tyrannosaurus rex model in the World of History series, when compared to the 2012 T. rex, this model is fractionally smaller, the earlier model measuring around 28 centimetres from nose to tail, whilst the 2014 Tyrannosaurus rex measures about 27 centimetres in length.  Apart from the obvious colour difference, the actual pose is slightly different with the head turned more to the left and the slightly longer tail is raised upwards.

A Comparison Between the 2014 T. rex (right) with the Schleich 2012 T. rex (left)

2012 version on left 2014 version on right

2012 version on left
2014 version on right

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As with the earlier T. rex model, the lower jaw is articulated, so this dinosaur can be posed with its mouth open or closed, or indeed posed in any position in between.  When the jaws are opened, the care attention taken over the painting of the mouth area by the artists at Schleich can be clearly seen.

Schleich Tyrannosaurus rex has an Articulated Lower Jaw

A moveable lower jaw on this T. rex dinosaur model.

A moveable lower jaw on this T. rex dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The model is very well balanced and it is ideal for creative play, although as with the majority of the Schleich dinosaur replicas that represent bipeds, the hind feet are a little oversized.  The large feet permit this dinosaur model to be posed with the tail raised off the ground, the anatomically correct position.  It seems that Schleich have had to trade off having slightly bigger feet on their meat-eating dinosaur models  against being able to portray them in more dynamic poses.  The texture of the skin with its scales and skin folds has been beautifully rendered.  There is a lot of fine skin detail to admire, even individual rounded scales along the flank can be picked out.  The level of detail is also reflected on the underside of the model, an area of some replicas often neglected, but this is not the case with this new Schleich T. rex.

The skull is particularly well modelled with individual wrinkles around the nostrils depicted along with accurate representations of the skull morphology complete with its fenestrae and lumps and bumps.  Intriguingly, this dinosaur’s eye is black, with no obviously definition such as an iris.  This gives this T. rex quite a menacing, frightening look, especially when light reflects off the highly glossy black paint of the eye to give the impression of a white pupil.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Schleich prehistoric animals: Schleich Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

As this replica measures approximately 27 centimetres in length,  by our estimates this makes this particular model something like 1:50 scale.  The model is very robust, it almost has a waxy feel to it and it would be a great T. rex model to encourage creative, imaginative play.

These two World of History T. rex models work well together, perhaps the bigger figure could represent a larger, mature female and the slightly smaller, light green model a male, her mate. For scientists believe that, just like many of today’s birds, female T. rexes were bigger than the males.  Here is another opportunity for model collectors and dinosaur fans to acquire another interpretation of Tyrannosaurus rex and there is a lot to commend this particular Schleich replica. Everything Dinosaur even includes a T. rex fact sheet that we send out with all our sales of Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur models.

Could Archaeopteryx Fly?

Seeing Archaeopteryx in a New Light (Literally) 

A joint team from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (Grenoble, France), the Solnhofen Museum (southern Germany), the Paul Scherrer Institute (Switzerland) and the Palacký University (Czech Republic) have been collaborating on a piece of ground-breaking research in order to assess the flight capabilities of Archaeopteryx.  Ever since the first fossil of this ancient, feathered creature were found amongst the finely grained lithographic limestone strata of Solnhofen, scientists have speculated on whether this “dino-bird” could fly.  Archaeopteryx fossil material is extremely rare, for much of the known history of Archaeopteryx (A. lithographica), its holotype material consisted of the impression of a single feather.   In all, thirteen fossils ascribed to Archaeopteryx have now been found (if you include the feather specimen), they represent material that is regarded by many palaeontologists as some of the most important vertebrate fossils discovered to date.  Archaeopteryx is viewed as a “transitional fossil” it shows anatomical evidence of both dinosaurs and birds.  Here is a dinosaur with feathers or if you prefer, the fossils represent a bird with teeth!

But could it fly?

The Subject of Intense International Study

Getting into a flap over Archaeopteryx

Getting into a flap over Archaeopteryx

Picture Credit: Carl Buell

With so few fossils of Archaeopteryx to study, answering this fundamental question has proved extremely difficult.  Palaeontologists from the Natural History Museum (London), using the “London specimen”, now regarded as the holotype after a ruling in 2011 by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), have used X-rays to uncover more information, but the matrix surrounding the fossil has meant that the slabs of limestone in the biggest specimens are too large to be rotated in standard CT scanners.

To read more about the work on Archaeopteryx by the Natural History Museum: Let’s Hear it for Archaeopteryx

Other techniques would prove too destructive, so most of the research carried out to date has involved a close up analysis of the surface of the fossil.  However, the use of intense X-ray beams generated by a synchrotron has enabled this European team to probe the depths of Archaeopteryx revealing details of the feathers and vertebrae not seen before.  An X-ray scattering technique employed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), has permitted researchers to see images from deep within the rock entombing the 150 million year old creature.  A beam of intense light called a slice beam is projected at the fossil, this beam slowly travels down the mounted specimen permitting the X-rays that have been emitted to penetrate deep inside the rock.  As the X-rays are diffused by the substrate and fossil their rate of diffusion can be detected by a camera obscura system, a pin hole within a large sheet of lead, which relays this data to detection software that can produce a computer generated three dimensional image.

This is a non-destructive technique that permits scientists to see right inside the fossil and pick up details not revealed on the surface.  This new method of studying life in the past was tried on two specimens of Archaeopteryx, an almost complete specimen known as the Wellnhoferia grandis specimen and an isolated fragment of wing that had not been too distorted or crushed as a result of the fossilisation process.

The Wellnhoferia Archaeopteryx Specimen Used in the Analysis

One of the fossils used in this new study.

One of the fossils used in this new study.

Picture Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck

The Wellnhoferia Archaeopteryx has had a chequered history.  Originally it had been described as a fossil of the small Jurassic Theropod Compsognathus, however, a detailed analysis led to it being declared a new genus of bird and the genus Wellnhoferia (W. grandis) was established.  Further research led to the specimen being referred back to Archaeopteryx, it represents the largest individual known to science with a wingspan of around fifty centimetres.  It is likely to be one of the show piece fossils on display when the Solnhofen museum re-opens today (24th May), after six months of renovation.

One of the Three-Dimensional Images Generated

In the 3-D image feathers on the wings can clearly be made out.

In the 3-D image feathers on the wings can clearly be made out.

Picture Credit: European Radiation Synchrotron Facility

This results of this study will permit scientists to see previously hidden anatomical features of Archaeopteryx which may finally resolve the issue as to whether this creature could fly or not.  It will also contribute significantly to the current knowledge of Avian evolution.  It is very likely that other fossil specimens will be analysed using this methodology.

The Research Team Photographed Next to the Wellnhoferia Specimen

Shedding new light on Archaeopteryx.

Shedding new light on Archaeopteryx.

Picture Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck

Papo of France recently introduced a very colourful model of Archaeopteryx (A. lithographica), it has been heralded as one of the best models of this prehistoric animal ever made.

The Papo Archaeopteryx Prehistoric Animal Model

Ready for take off!

Ready for take off!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the Papo range of prehistoric animal models, including the Archaeopteryx replica: Papo Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

Volunteers Required to Help Protect Scotland’s Fossil Heritage

Action Taken to Safeguard Fossils In Scotland

The Isle of Wight off the coast of southern England might be regarded by some as Britain’s “Dinosaur Isle” but the United Kingdom does in fact have several contenders for this accolade.  Travel north of the border into Scotland to the Inner Hebrides and you might find the residents of the Isle of Skye taking issue with such claims.  However, the island’s rich fossil heritage has been under threat with unscrupulous fossil collectors damaging important scientific sites in their quest to obtain rare vertebrate specimens.

Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the sad case of “fossil vandalism” back in 2011: Important Fossil Site is Vandalised

Steps are being taken to help protect Scotland’s fossil heritage and local people on the Inner Hebrides are being asked to volunteer as wardens to help watch over and safeguard sites that are important to geology and palaeontology.  The Isle of Skye may seem like an unlikely place to find dinosaurs and fossils of other Mesozoic vertebrates, but back in the Jurassic, this part of the world was joined up with the land mass that was later to become the western United States.  Rocks laid down in the Middle Jurassic are exposed on the Isle of Skye and in the U.S. States such as Utah, Colorado and Wyoming – parts of America famed for their Jurassic aged dinosaur fossils.

‘To view Everything Dinosaur’s article explaining the importance of the Isle of Skye and its links to the western United States: Question!  What do the Isle of Skye and the State of Wyoming have in Common?

Scotland did introduce a national fossil hunting code back in 2008.  Most fossil hunters and amateur palaeontologists follow this code when collecting fossils, however, there are those who simply see an opportunity to hack into the relatively deserted cliffs and gullies on Scottish islands in a bid to find fossilised bones of vertebrates which then can be sold to private collectors.  A public meeting was held at Portree (Isle of Skye), this week which involved representatives from Scottish National Heritage (SNH), National Museums Scotland, The Hunterian Museum and the Highland Council with the aim of setting up a network of wardens to help record and protect important fossil sites.  With a managed approach to these important fossil sites, it is hoped that more fossil collectors will visit Scotland, especially the Isle of Skye and neighbouring islands, boosting tourism and the local economy.

Skye and the nearby island of Raasay have a rich geological heritage spanning the last three billion years of Earth’s history.  Fossil remains of plants and animals record the evolution of life .  They also record the fascinating journey of the area we now know as Skye and Raasay, as it drifted for hundreds of millions of years across the face of the Earth, from once being part of America to now being part of the western edge of Europe.

Commenting on the plan to form local action groups to protect the beaches, Dr. Colin MacFadyen of Scottish National Heritage stated:

“Skye and Raasay have a fantastic fossil heritage, and kids and amateur fossil hunters should be encouraged to collect.  But at the same time something has to be done about irresponsible collecting and to reduce examples where people for whatever reasons damage fossil localities and important fossils.   This is where the local community can get involved and help secure their threatened natural heritage.  Local action may ensure that rare fossil finds are rescued, recorded and saved for the nation.  The public meeting in Portree will encourage local people to play an important part in safeguarding and promoting an internationally significant asset.”

Dr. Nick Fraser, Keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland commented:

“We are excited by the opportunities to work together to bring Skye’s remarkable fossil heritage into greater prominence.  This is a precious resource which, with support from the wider community, will benefit generations of islanders.”

Plans to Protect Scotland’s Fossil Heritage

The Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained the importance of the Isle of Skye fossil sites, stating:

“Only a few places in the world have exposed strata dated to the Middle Jurassic that contain vertebrate body and trace fossils preserved within them.  The Isle of Skye is one such location and the fossils found here and on neighbouring islands have helped palaeontologists to understand more about the fauna and flora of our planet around 170 million years ago.  It is vitally important that such fossil bearing sites are protected, whilst at the same time striking a balance to help encourage tourism to boost the economy.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of a press release from Scottish National Heritage in the compilation of this article.

A Review of the Bullyland Lambeosaurus Dinosaur Model

Bullyland Lambeosaurus Under the Spotlight

This review is of the new for 2014 Bullyland Lambeosaurus model,  part of the company’s Museum Line prehistoric animal model range.  This is the only duck-billed dinosaur model currently available from this German manufacturer and this replica has a lot to commend it.

Lambeosaurus is one of the better known genera of hadrosaurid dinosaurs and substantial fossil remains ascribed to the Lambeosaur family have been found.  All the fossils discovered to date and related to this genus, come from North America.  In most circumstances, it is the lack of fossil material that gives palaeontologists problems when it comes to describing a new dinosaur species and working out where it fits into the dinosaur family tree. Lambeosaurus is an exception to this, as the amount of fossil material discovered has led to considerable confusion with regards to this dinosaur and to the number of species of Lambeosaurus there might have been and how closely related it is to other crested duck-billed dinosaurs.

The Bullyland Lambeosaurus Dinosaur Model

New interpretation of Lambe's lizard.

New interpretation of Lambe’s lizard.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As these animals grew and developed, so the size and the shape of that famous “hatchet-like” crest changed.  There may also have been differences in the crest morphology between males and females.  Defining what is actually a species of Lambeosaurus is therefore a bit tricky, however, something like three species are currently recognised and the geographical range of the fossil finds suggests that these types of duck-billed dinosaur lived all along the western part of North America, from Alberta (Canada), in the north, down to New Mexico in the south.

The Bullyland Lambeosaurus is very well painted and there is lots of detail to admire.  The hatchet crest has a bumpy, roughened texture and it is painted bright red with a brown/black border.  The size and shape of the crest suggests that this model represents one of the larger species of Lambeosaurus currently recognised and that the model is a male.  The ears and nostrils can be clearly seen, little details often overlooked with inferior models.

The replica is roughly in proportion to the known fossil material and the striking blue stripe running down the model gives this Lambeosaurus a certain flamboyance.  The model makers have done a lot of work on the skin texture with some raised dermal scutes and smaller scales, these reflect what is known about Lambeosaurus as impressions of fossilised skin have been found.  The figure measures around twenty-six centimetres in length and based on a comparison with the fossil material associated with one of the bigger Lambeosaurs, Lambeosaurus magnicristatus, we estimate that the figure is in approximately 1:27 scale.  It is posed in quite a dynamic, active stance with the tail held out straight behind the body, to give the impression of movement.

A Close up of the “Hatchet Shaped” Crest

The body and the crest of this dinosaur have been given an authentic roughened texture.

The body and the crest of this dinosaur have been given an authentic roughened texture.

The Bullyland design team have taken care to depict the digits of this dinosaur.  A characteristic of the hadrosaurids is that the fingers of the hand  on the front limbs were often united, connected by skin to form a fleshy pad, whilst the toes of the hind feet could be more splayed.  It is this webbing between the fingers of the hands of this dinosaur that helped give weight to the early hypothesis that these herbivores were largely aquatic.

The model with its Front Digits United to Form a Fleshy Pad

The Museum Line Lambeosaurus with an Everything Dinosaur fact sheet.

The Museum Line Lambeosaurus with an Everything Dinosaur fact sheet.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Bullyland prehistoric animal models: Bullyland Dinosaurs etc.

There is much to be admired about this latest interpretation of a Lambeosaurus from Bullyland.  The model’s bright colours and dynamic pose are likely to make it a favourite amongst collectors and dinosaur fans.

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