Yi qi – The Dinosaur That Thought it was a Bat

Chinese Dinosaur Unveil Yi qi Another Weird and Wonderful Theropod

Hot on the heels of Chilesaurus* comes the second bizarre Theropod dinosaur to be named this week, the wonderful and weird Yi qi (pronounced ee-chee) from the Hebei Province of northern China.  A single specimen is known, this was discovered by a local farmer and subsequently sold to a museum in Shandong Province, careful preparation of the specimen, which although fractured, does reveal most of the anatomical details of this little dinosaur.  Remarkably Y. qi possessed a long, rod-like bone on each wrist that extended backwards.  No other Theropod dinosaur (or any dinosaur for that matter), had a bone quite like this.  Comparative analysis with extant animals suggests that this bone helped to support a flap of skin that could be stretched out to form a structure like a bat’s wing.  The absence of evidence for large muscles around the chest probably rules out any form of active, powered flight, but it is likely that this pigeon-sized dinosaur could have been a glider.  Not the dinosaur equivalent of Batman, more like a dinosaur equivalent of a flying squirrel.

The Second Bizarre Theropod Announced this Week – Yi qi

Mid Jurassic flier.

Mid Jurassic flapping flier no but glider yes (probably).

Picture Credit: Dinostar/Chinese Academy of Sciences

To read Everything Dinosaur’s earlier article about the research into Chilesaurus: Chilesaurus – A Dinosaur Designed by a Committee

The fossil material has been studied (and fully prepared) by scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology – IVPP) and researchers from Linyi University (Shandong Province).  Unlike a number of other feathered dinosaur specimens from China, the palaeontologists are confident that this specimen (STM 31-2) currently housed at the Tianyu Museum of Nature in Pingyi County, (Shangdong Province), had not be tampered with or augmented by unscrupulous fossil dealers hoping to inflate any purchase price.

The Holotype Fossil Specimen (STM 31-2) Yi qi

The only known specimen of Qi yi (holotype).

The only known specimen of Yi qi (holotype).

Picture Credit: Zheng Xiaoting

This little dinosaur probably weighed less than 400 grammes and that bat-like wingspan was around sixty centimetres across  The short, deep skull was less than four centimetres long.  It forms part of an amazing fauna that thrived in a forested environment some 160 million years ago.  Over the last ten years or so, Chinese scientists have built up a very detailed picture of the palaeoenvironment in this part of northern China during the Mid to Late Jurassic.  The forests consisted of ancient ferns, ginkgos and conifers and breaking up the sub-tropical woodlands were large, shallow lakes.  Nearby volcanoes occasionally erupted and buried the surrounding area with a huge layer of very fine dust trapping and killing everything that got buried.  It is thanks to these frequent eruptions that such a wealth of ancient material has been so exquisitely preserved.  The Yi qi fossil shows evidence of long, filamentous feathers on the limbs as well as signs of a membrane of skin attached to that rod-like wrist bone and between the three digits.  The tiny claws on those digits suggest that this dinosaur could have climbed up trees, certainly an arboreal existence has been proposed.  Yi qi probably hunted insects up in the branches, climbing up the trunks of trees and gliding from tree to tree.

A Close up of the Skull of Yi qi

The large eye (orbit) and the peg-like teeth at the front of the jaws can be clearly made out.

The large eye (orbit) and the peg-like teeth at the front of the jaws can be clearly made out.

Picture Credit: Zheng Xiaoting

The large orbit (eye socket) seen in the picture above suggests that this little dinosaur had big eyes providing stereoscopic vision, all the better to judge distances and to spot its insect prey amongst the dark, leafy canopy,  Those short, peg-like teeth would have been more than a match for any insect that this gliding dinosaur encountered.  It probably was not agile enough to catch prey in mid flight but probably scurried along branches looking for insects and spiders.

It would have had plenty of company in its forest home.  There were lots of Pterosaurs around, along with numerous feathered dinosaurs and a large number of bizarre mammals including some recently described Docodonts.  To read an article about the remarkable fauna from the  Daohugou Beds of the Tiaojishan Formation: Unravelling the Sequence of Deposition in North-eastern China

To read about the peculiar mammals from this part of China (Mid to Late Jurassic): Widespread Ecological Diversity Amongst Early Mammals from China

An Example of Convergent Evolution

This anatomy is not found in other Theropods.

This anatomy is not found in other Theropods.

Picture Credit: Zheng Xiaoting

The rod-like bone extending from each wrist is not found in any other known member of the Dinosauria, but similar features are found in a number of gliding and flying Tetrapods.  At first the scientists were stumped by this strange anatomy, Xu Xing, one of the authors of the academic paper stated:

“We spent quite some time to identify the body structure of Yi qi, because the specimen is so different.  At first we did not have the slightest idea about what was the rod-like bone.”

It was only after a researcher undertook a study on extant flying vertebrates that the connection was made.

Zheng Xiaoting (Linyi University), another co-author of the study explained:

“Living in the mid period of the Jurassic, the dinosaur Yi qi could be a pioneer in the evolution of flying ability.”

The rod-like wrist bones are an example of convergent evolution, that is, when unrelated organisms evolve the same adaptations, such as tail flukes in dolphins and Ichthyosaurs.  Not only is this one of the most remarkable Theropod fossils discovered to date, Yi qi is one of the smallest dinosaurs so far described.  It also has several other claims to fame, for example, with a binomial, formal scientific name of just four letters, it has the shortest name for any member of the Dinosauria that we at Everything Dinosaur can think of.  In addition, as the fossil material is part of the Tianyu Museum of Nature’s Collection, it is part of the largest dinosaur fossil collection housed in a single museum anywhere in the world.  Back in 2010, the Guinness Book of Records announced that this museum had the greatest number of dinosaur specimens on exhibit at any one time.  The museum has over 28,000 square metres of exhibition space, a large proportion of which is dedicated to the Dinosauria.  The museum claims to possess over 1,100 different dinosaur specimens and tens of thousands of other vertebrate fossils in its collection.

Yi qi has been phylogenetically assigned to the clade Maniraptora, specifically being placed in the Family Scansoriopterygidae, a very odd group of dinosaurs, known for their small size, assumed arboreal habits, long arms and elongated third fingers.  In all other members of the Theropoda it is the second digit that is the longest. The Scansoriopterygidae contains a number of genera, with Epidexipteryx (E. hui) being perhaps the best known since it appeared in an episode of the BBC documentary series “Planet Dinosaur” back in 2011.  Epidexipteryx hui was named and described in 2008.

An Illustration of Epidexipteryx

Epidexipteryx hui

Epidexipteryx hui

Picture Credit: Nature

Rebor Ceratosaurus Video Review

Rebor Ceratosaurus Video Review

Fans of dinosaurs and model collectors have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the newest Rebor replica on the block.  The Rebor Ceratosaurus 1:35 dinosaur replica is now in stock at Everything Dinosaur and what a splendid model it is.  This is the fourth in the Rebor series and team members have made a short (ten minute) video review of this excellent model of this Late Jurassic predator.

Everything Dinosaur’s Video Review of the Rebor Ceratosaurus “Savage”

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In this short video we explain the introduction of the first “non monospecific” replica into this Rebor model collection, we outline what is known about Ceratosaurus dentisulcatus and we discuss why Rebor has made such a good job with the base, demonstrating an understanding of the ancient environment (palaeoenvironment), of the Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation.  Well done Rebor!

Just like the rest of the highly impressive Rebor range introduced so far this dinosaur has a nickname.  Say hello to “Savage”.

To view the range of Rebor dinosaur models available from Everything Dinosaur: Rebor Dinosaur Models

We hope you like our  a short, ten minute video review of the Rebor Ceratosaurus 1:35 scale replica.

Plastic Dinosaur Skeleton Models – Great for Creative Play

Plastic Dinosaur Skeletons from Everything Dinosaur

A term topic on dinosaurs for Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) can provide a number of opportunities for young minds to develop through creative play.  Most children are fascinated by dinosaurs and prehistoric animals and Everything Dinosaur team members often get asked by teachers and teaching assistants for ideas on how to stimulate the class when the children have been learning about dinosaurs.  We recommend a wide range of tactile activities to help young learners explore the nature of materials and the wider world.  For example, this set of twelve plastic prehistoric animal skeletons gives the children the chance to play at being a palaeontologist.

Prehistoric Animal Skeleton Set Available from Everything Dinosaur

A set of assorted prehistoric animal and dinosaur skeletons.

A set of assorted prehistoric animal and dinosaur skeletons.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

These robust, plastic skeleton models represent a number of very well known dinosaurs.  Prehistoric creatures such as Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Brachiosaurus.  There are even some meat-eating dinosaurs and a Pterosaur (Pteranodon), in this twelve figure set.  We bury these models in the sand pit play area at the school and invite the children to excavate their own dinosaur fossils using paint brushes and plastic spades.  This is a fun activity  and the addition of a couple of magnifying glasses so that the children can examine the bones helps the pupils to feel like scientists.  These models can also be used in the wet play area as children explore which objects float.  They are a wonderful resource for Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS plastic dinosaur skeletons).

Use the Models to Make Impressions Just Like Fossils

Showing how fossils form.

Showing how fossils form.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

By pressing these study models into modelling clay the children can learn how fossils form and they can have a go at making fossils for themselves.  Each of these little models is around ten centimetres in length and as there are twelve in the series they are very useful when it comes to playing sorting and counting games, for example:

  • Sort out all the skeletons of animals that have horns
  • Group the skeletons into those that walk on four legs and those that walk on just two
  • Split the plant-eaters from the meat-eaters – can you work out which is which?

The models have a remarkable level of detail on them, the children can easily work out which model is which.  The other day, a five-year-old pointed out the Dimetrodon (not a dinosaur) to us.  We were most impressed!

To view the range of educational products available from Everything Dinosaur including these skeleton models: Educational Dinosaur Themed Learning Resources from Everything Dinosaur

We Even Used Our Dinosaur Skeletons to Make Footprints

A cheap but very effective learning resource.

A cheap but very effective learning resource.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To see the full range of educational toys, games and models that Everything Dinosaur offers: Everything Dinosaur

Chilesaurus – A Dinosaur Designed by a Committee!

 Chilesaurus diegosuarezi – A Theropod that Took a Very Different Path

It may have been little more than three metres long and if it had been included in the forthcoming dinosaur film “Jurassic World”, this little dinosaur would not have lingered long in the film goers memory but the publication of a scientific paper on the newly described Chilesaurus (C. diegosuarezi) represents a very big deal for the scientific community.   Here is a member of the Theropod dinosaur family, distantly related to the likes of Allosaurus, Velociraptor, Spinosaurus and T. rex that evolved into a plant-eater and what a bizarre looking dinosaur Chilesaurus is.  It does look like a dinosaur designed by a committee.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Patagonian Dinosaur C. diegosuarezi

A curious little dinosaur from southern Chile.

A curious little dinosaur from southern Chile.

Picture Credit: Gabriel Lio

Theropod dinosaurs were the dominant land predators throughout most of the Mesozoic era.  It is thought that the very first dinosaurs, those that evolved perhaps as early as 240 million years ago, had very similar body plans.  They were small, fast running, agile predators that had long tails, slender legs and for the most part were entirely carnivorous.  These were the lizard-hipped dinosaurs, the Saurischia, one of two great divisions into which all the dinosaurs are divided, the other division being the bird-hipped dinosaurs, the Ornithischia.  It was a British scientist, Harry Govier Seeley, who in 1888, classed the then known dinosaurs into one of two clades based on the structure of the bones that make up their hip girdles.  Lizard-hipped forms which include the Theropods have their pubis bone projecting forward (usually see below), in contrast to the bird-hipped forms that have the pubis bone pushed backwards.

Chilesaurus is a member of the lizard-hipped clade.  It is a Theropod and palaeontologists know that the Theropoda are perhaps the most diverse Sub-order of all the Dinosauria, but no one quite anticipated such a bizarre looking dinosaur from one of the southern most parts of the South American continent.

 Classifying Dinosaurs by their Hip Structures

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The beautiful, mountainous and sparsely populated Aysén region of southern Chile was being explored by a Chilean couple, both of whom are geologists (Manuel Suarez and Rita de la Cruz), back in 2004 when the fossils of this strange dinosaur were discovered. This remote part of Chile is renowned for its extensive mineral deposits, but whilst exploring a rocky exposure near General Carrera Lake, the son, Diego, who was seven at the time, picked up a couple of odd looking objects.  The parents recognised these as a partial rib and a vertebra and the family set about searching the immediate area to find more fossilised bones.  Sister Macarena joined in and in a short while the family had collected quite a number of bones representing several individual animals.  Over the last decade or so, a team of South American scientists have been piecing together the evidence and this has led to the naming of this new and very unusual genus.

One of the lead authors of the scientific paper published in the journal “Nature”, Dr. Fernando Novas (Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales (Buenos Aires, Argentina), explained:

“I don’t know how the evolution of dinosaurs produced this kind of animal, what kind of ecological pressures must have been at work.  What’s surprising is that in this locality the most bizarre dinosaur is not the exception, but the rule.  It is the most abundant animal we find.”

 A Skeletal Drawing and Illustration of Chilesaurus diegosuarezi

Light, agile plant-eating dinosaur.

Light, agile plant-eating dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Gabriel Lio

 Chilesaurus ran around on long legs, each foot had four toes.  The forelimbs were less than a third the size of its hind legs, so it retained the bipedal stance of its meat-eating ancestors, but the neck was long and slender and the skull small.  The teeth had evolved, squared-off tops, adaptations to a diet of plants.  The jaw supported a beak, very reminiscent of those beaks seen in bird-hipped dinosaurs like Stegosaurus and Triceratops.  The hands were reduced and only two fingers had claws, the third finger was little more than a stump and effectively vestigial.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Chilesaurus, shows anatomical characteristics quite unlike any other Theropod dinosaur.  For example, the pubis bone is projecting backwards, which is similar in orientation to the layout of the pelvic girdles of Ornithischian dinosaurs, but other features identify this as a member of the lizard-hipped Theropoda.”

All four toes of the hind feet supported the weight of the animal, whilst in the Theropoda, the vast majority of these animals have a tri-dactyl (three-toed stance).  It seems that this plant-eater, not having the need to pursue prey was slowly evolving a foot morphology similar to the early plant-eating Prosauropods.

Excavating Fossil Bones in the Beautiful Aysén Region of Southern Chile

A beautiful but very remote fossil dig site.

A beautiful but very remote fossil dig site.

Picture Credit: Dr. Fernando Novas

The strata in this region of southern Chile is part of the Upper Jurassic Toqui Formation and dates to around 145 million years ago.  Apart from the numerous fossils of Chilesaurus, which represent a number of individual animals at various stages of growth, the site has yielded a number of Archosaur remains as well as several Crocodyliforms and highly fragmentary remains of a few Sauropods tentatively assigned to diplodocid and titanosaurians.

How to classify this little dinosaur with its strange mix of features?  The scientists have described this dinosaur as a basal Tetanuran, a distant relative of the likes of the Tyrannosaurs, Dromaeosaurs and the Therizinosauridae, a Family of Theropods associated with Cretaceous deposits that also adapted to a herbivorous diet.  The genus name reflects the location of the fossil discovery.  Chilesaurus is the first complete dinosaur from the Jurassic geological period found in Chile and the fossils represent one of the most complete and anatomically documented Theropod dinosaurs known from the southern hemisphere.

Dr. Novas added:

“Although plant-eating Theropods have been recorded in North America and Asia [Therizinosauridae], this is the first time a Theropod with this characteristic has been found in a southern landmass.”

A Fragment of Jaw from a Juvenile Showing the Bizarre Teeth

Teeth adapted for cropping plants.

Teeth adapted for cropping plants.

Picture Credit: Dr. Fernando Novas

This bizarre Late Jurassic Theropod dinosaur really looks like it has been designed by a committee!

Win, Win, Win with Everything Dinosaur!

Vote for Your Favourite Soft Toy Dinosaur to Win?

Just twelve days or so to go until the general election in the UK and for a little bit of light relief Everything Dinosaur has come up with a free to enter competition, the chance to win your very own political dinosaur!

Having heard the phrase “political dinosaur”, with many people who hold public office being referred to as “dinosaurs”, we thought it would be fun if we gave everyone the chance to vote for a dinosaur soft toy – #vote dinosaur!  Our lucky winner will be sent their very own dinosaur soft toy, the one that wins Everything Dinosaur’s “dinosaur election”.

Everything Dinosaur team members have sorted through our range of soft toys and identified our candidates.   We have tried to represent the leaders of seven political parties with a dinosaur soft toy, each soft toy being in the colours of their respective political parties.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED

Vote Dinosaur! Which Political Dinosaur will you Vote For?

Vote Dinosaur! #votedinosaur

Vote Dinosaur! #votedinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In alphabetical order we have:

Ed – the red Spinosaurus.

Dave – the blue Tyrannosaurus rex.

Leanne – the green and red Spinosaurus hat (closest item we have that looks like a dragon), for the Party of Wales.

Natalie – the green Stegosaurus.

Nick – the yellow Velociraptor.

Nicola – the Utahraptor.

Nigel – the purple Triceratops.

We apologise for not including all the political parties/candidates that are standing on the 7th of May, remember this is only just for a bit of fun!

Vote Dinosaur for the Chance to Win a Dinosaur!

Voting is easy to do, just visit Everything Dinosaur on Facebook (see logo/link below), like our page and comment under the picture of our seven dinosaur candidates telling us which dinosaur soft toy you want to see at Number Ten.  Competition will close when the polling booths close at 10pm on May 7th and we will announce the winner the next day.   A prize draw will be held and one lucky voter will receive the winning soft toy.

So to enter Everything Dinosaur’s competition, all you have to do is “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then comment on the picture (either here or on Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page)  voting for the dinosaur that you want to be the next Dinosaur Prime Minister.

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

For example, if you think that the purple Triceratops called Nigel is your favourite, just comment “Nigel” either here or in the comments section on Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page.

We will draw the lucky winner at random and our #VoteDinosaur competition closes at 10pm Thursday, May 7th.  Good luck to everyone who enters!

Don’t forget to “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s Page on Facebook!

Like our Page (please).     Like our Facebook Page!

 

To view Everything Dinosaur’s huge range of dinosaur soft toys: Dinosaur Soft Toys

Terms and Conditions of the Everything Dinosaur #VoteDinosaur Competition

Automated entries are not permitted and will be excluded from the draw.

This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.

Only one entry per person.

The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative will be offered.

The Everything Dinosaur #VoteDinosaur competition runs until 10pm on May 7th 2015.

Winner will be notified by private message on Facebook.

Prize includes postage and packing.

For full terms and conditions contact: Contact Everything Dinosaur

It’s just for a bit of fun, but we thought we would give everyone the chance to vote for a real “political dinosaur” !

#Vote Dinosaur!

For a chance to win with Everything Dinosaur Toys and Games.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED

Feedback from Everything Dinosaur Customers

Customers Praise Everything Dinosaur

More comments and feedback from Everything Dinosaur customers.  We have had a very busy April, what with squeezing in lots of dinosaur workshops and other teaching commitments in between the spring term holiday.  In addition, we have added a number of new items to our vast, prehistoric animal themed range and we are preparing for more new products, including the Rebor Ceratosaurus “Savage” dinosaur replica.

However, we always have time for our customers and we respond to all the emails, letters and contact forms that require a reply.

Here is some more feedback from recent Everything Dinosaur customers:

“Very nice to find a company that gives such personal attention to their customers!   Very much appreciated!   Given how efficient you are at Everything dinosaur, you probably already know that I have ordered (and received, in perfect condition) a couple of Wild Safari Ceratopsians, since ordering and receiving my Papo dinosaurs.  Thank you!”

“Hi,  just to let you know it [my parcel] has arrived OK.  Grandson loves it and  thanks for the fact sheets too.”

“Richard asked me to let you know that the models arrived safely.  Thank you for your efficient service as always :-).”

“Thanks a lot for your assistance!”

“You are awesome!  This is the fastest response I have ever had to an enquiry regarding purchases.”

“You guys are literally the best!  Thank you!”

“I’d just like to say thank you for the dinosaurs which arrived at 9 am this morning.  Incredible service considering we are at the very top of the map in the far North of Scotland and I  only ordered this yesterday.  It’s a pleasure doing business with you and we will look to doing so again should the need arise.  Thank you again.”

We try our best to help all our customers and to respond as quickly as we can to queries and enquiries.

Woolly Mammoth Genome is Sequenced

Scientists Sequence the Mammoth Genome, not Once but Twice

A new study of the genomes of two Woolly Mammoths has been published in the scientific journal “Current Biology”.  An international team of researchers have been able to sequence the complete genome of two of these iconic, ancient elephants.  The researchers are not involved in experiments to resurrect a Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), the focus on this research has been on how Mammoth populations declined and the stress the last few Mammoths may have been under before the final population became extinct.  Knowing the genetic diversity of isolated populations and searching out evidence of in-breeding as the numbers of a species dwindles, can provide scientists with valuable data to help support conservation efforts for severely endangered species around today.

Dr Love Dalén, from the Swedish Museum of Natural History (Stockholm), commented that the first ever publication of the full DNA sequence of the Woolly Mammoth could help those trying to bring this Ice Age creature back, a sort of “de-extinction of the Mammoth”.

The doctor stated:

“It would be a lot of fun [in principle] to see a living Mammoth, to see how it behaves and how it moves.”

However, when one considers the suffering of any surrogate Asian elephant females that may be involved in any attempt to genetically engineer a Woolly Mammoth, he added that he would rather not see the research used for this purpose:

“It seems to me that trying this out might lead to suffering for female elephants and that would not be ethically justifiable.”

Bone and Occasionally Tusks are Used to Extract Genetic Material

Great care is taken to prevent contamination of any genetic material recovered.

Great care is taken to prevent contamination of any genetic material recovered.

Picture Credit: Swedish Museum of Natural History/Current Biology

The genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, the information needed to build and maintain an organism, be it a fungus, a tulip or indeed a Woolly Mammoth.  The genome includes all the genes involved with coding proteins and all the non-coding elements of the DNA or RNA.  In the case of the Woolly Mammoth, the genome is extremely long, consisting of several billion base pairs or nucleotides (A’s with T’s, C’s with G’s and so forth).

The two Mammoths studied came from both geographically and chronologically distant places.  The first of the Mammoth genomes sequenced represents a Woolly Mammoth from Wrangel Island dating from approximately 4,300 years ago, one of the very last of the Mammoths to have been alive.  The second Mammoth genome represents a specimen from north-eastern Siberia.  This one dates from the Late Pleistocene and is estimated to be about 44,800 years old.  The genetic research shows that the last remaining Mammoths on the very remote and isolated Wrangel Island suffered from inbreeding.  The authors of the scientific paper cannot state categorically that the inbred population was the cause, or contributed to the extinction of this species, however, although inbreeding sometimes does not have a detrimental effect on a population it can do and therefore the results of this study make inbreeding a potentially significant factor in the demise of the Woolly Mammoth.

The 40,000 year time difference between the two samples enabled the molecular clock of the Woolly Mammoth to be re-calibrated.  A molecular clock for an organism is a very simple concept.  If it is assumed that the rate of genetic change (mutation) is relatively constant, then by comparing the genomes of two animals which died at different times will show the amount of difference in the genetic material over this time period.  The research team describe two “bottlenecks” that occurred in the history of the Woolly Mammoth, each bottleneck leading to a reduction in animal numbers and a reduction in the genetic diversity of the Woolly Mammoth.

We note that Associate Professor Beth Shapiro (University of California, Santa Cruz) has commented on this particular piece of Mammoth research.  Beth is an evolutionary biologist and a pioneer in ancient DNA research, and one of Everything Dinosaur’s team members is currently reading her newly published book “How to Clone a Mammoth”.

How to Clone a Mammoth

The science of de-extinction by Beth Shapiro.

The science of de-extinction by Beth Shapiro.

Picture Credit: Princeton University Press

In this excellent book, Beth, discusses the joys of hunting for Mammoth remains in the Arctic tundra.  She recounts an amusing tale when Dr. Dalén was asked to participate in a television documentary all about the hunt for Woolly Mammoth fossils.  It seems that sometimes, documentary makers have to have quite a bit of poetic licence when it comes to programme making, fossils, even those of three tonne elephants don’t always appear when they are supposed to.

You can read more about “How to Clone a Mammoth” and order the book here: Princeton Press

Associate Professor Shapiro explained that there was a lot more work to be done before a Woolly Mammoth, or at least an elephant with Mammoth characteristics capable of surviving in the high Arctic could be born.  When explaining the significance of the genome sequencing she stated:

“We’ll probably find answers to questions that we’ve yet to think of.  Genomes are rich sources of information, and we have only tapped the surface of that information.”

This might be an important step, but scientists remain a long way from Woolly Mammoth cloning and for the moment Mammoth de-extinction will require a number of other important breakthroughs in genetic research before we can see these ancient elephants roaming the Arctic tundra.

Last month, Everything Dinosaur reported on research carried out by Harvard Medical School that resulted in genetic material from a Woolly Mammoth being inserted into the skin cells from an Asian elephant which were being grown in a petri dish.

To read more about this research: Woolly Mammoth Genes Inserted into Asian Elephant Skin Cells

Did Boy Stegosaurs have Bigger Plates than the Girls?

Evidence for Sexual Dimorphism in the Stegosaurs

Show most five year olds, a picture of a Stegosaurus and the chances are they will be able to name it.  The plated plant-eater with its small head, stout limbs and its tail spikes is one of the most recognisable of all the dinosaurs.  However, palaeontologists still know remarkably very little about this Late Jurassic herbivore.  A new paper, written by a researcher from Bristol University and published in the on line academic journal PLoS One (public library of science), suggests that the shape and size of those famous back plates varied between the males and females.  If the researcher’s conclusions are correct, male Stegosaurs had back plates that were more rounded and up to 45% bigger than the females.

One of the Best Loved but Not that Well Understood Dinosaurs

Still lots to learn about this Ornithischian dinosaur.

Still lots to learn about this Ornithischian dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In Everything Dinosaur’s annual survey of popular prehistoric animals, Stegosaurus is nearly always recorded in the top five.  It seems most popular with girls.  In this new research, University of Bristol MSc student Evan Saitta proposes that skeletal evidence from a bone bed in central Montana referred to as quarry JRDI 5ES, suggests sexual dimorphism in a Stegosaur species known as S. mjosi.  Evan spent a total of six summers working as part of a field team from Princeton University (New Jersey), excavating the Stegosaurus fossils as part of his undergraduate thesis.

To view the results of Everything Dinosaur’s most recent prehistoric animal survey: Top Ten Prehistoric Animals of 2014 (Part 1)

The top five in our most recent survey can be found here: Top Five Most Popular Prehistoric Animals of 2014

Professor Michael Benton, Director of the Masters in Palaeobiology at Bristol University commented:

“Its very impressive when an undergraduate makes such a major scientific discovery.”

This is certainly true, but let’s not get too carried away for the moment at least.  Take for example the species name Stegosaurus mjosi, there is some uncertainty whether the fossils represent a Stegosaurus.  About thirty years ago, palaeontologists discovered the fossilised remains of a large Stegosaur during field work on the oldest part of the Morrison Formation exposed in Montana.  This dinosaur was formally named in 2001 as Hesperosaurus mjosi.  Although there have been many fossils found, including an almost complete skull, it is still debated whether these fossils represent a distinct Stegosaur genus or a species of Stegosaurus.  The strata from which the fossils come from has been estimated to be around 155 million years old, it has been suggested that Hesperosaurus mjosi, or if you prefer the junior synonym Stegosaurus mjosi, is a basal member of the Stegosaur family.  Its exact phylogenetic place in the Stegosaur family tree remains controversial.

However, this issue does not detract from the research carried out into the shape and size of the plates.  The dig site known as JRDI 5ES, as it is one of the sites managed by the Judith River Dinosaur Institute, provides a fascinating and tantalising glimpse into the lives of these large, Late Jurassic plated dinosaurs.  The site contains the remains of at least five individuals preserved in mudstone.  Although two distinct types of plates can be observed, the rest of the bones indicate that this group of Stegosaurs represent a single species.  The bones, although disarticulated for the most part, are found within the same stratigraphic horizon and they were probably not transported very far prior to burial.  This is indicated by the presence of many smaller bones such as unguals and skull elements as well as a lack of wear on the bones from transportation.  The absence of shed crocodilian and Theropod teeth indicate that the corpses were not scavenged and so burial must have been quite rapid.  It could be inferred that this was a group of Stegosaurs that died together, could this species of Stegosaur have lived in social groups?  Does this suggest Stegosaur co-existence?

Suggested Silhouettes of a Male and Female

Females may have had reduced plates that were more spiky.

Females may have had reduced plates that were more spiky.

Picture Credit: Evan Saitta (additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur)

Detailed measurements and quantitative analysis indicated that there were two distinct types of plates present.  Of the fairly complete plates found within the bone bed, four could be described as large and wide, whilst five more could be classified as being taller and more spiky in appearance.  These are distinct characteristics and what is more, Mr Saitta’s analysis suggests that there are no plates present that show traits of both wide and spiky characters.

Evan commented:

“Simply looking at them by eye, you can identify two varieties.  But then you can also measure them and do a more quantitative analysis and demonstrate that, yes, there are two distinct varieties of plates, and that there don’t appear to be any clear-cut intermediates.”

Two Distinct Plate Morphologies have been Described

The widest plate morph compared to the tallest plate morph (scale = 10cm)

The widest plate morph compared to the tallest plate morph (scale = 10cm)

Picture Credit: PLoS One

The plate shapes suggest sexual dimorphism in Stegosaurs, males and females evolved different shaped plates.  But which is which?  The Bristol based scientist cannot say for sure whether the males or the females had the broader, larger plates however he speculates that the boys had the bigger more rounded plates.

“We know from modern animals that males typically invest more into their ornaments than do the females.  In this case, the broader variety reaches sizes 45% larger in surface area than do the tall plates.  And I argue that these wide plates would create a great ‘billboard’ for male Stegosaurs if they were using them to attract a mate.”

If the fossils represent a single species, then sexual dimorphism seems the “best fit” for an explanation.  Analysis of the fossil material indicates that the animals were fully grown and so the shape of the plates cannot be put down to dinosaurs at different stages of growth.  Plates from all positions on the body can be classified as being of the rounded or taller shape so the variation cannot be due to the location of the plate on the animal.  Other isolated Stegosaur fossils found in Wyoming and ascribed to the same genus/species support the idea of sexual dimorphism in plate shape as these specimens too show only one plate shape.

Evan Saitta Cutting a Thin Section of Stegosaur Plate for Ontogenetic Analysis

Evan Saitta prepares a section of plate for cross-sectional study.

Evan Saitta prepares a section of plate for cross-sectional study.

Picture Credit: Judith River Dinosaur Institute

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is a remarkable study.  We made one of our “palaeontological predictions” that 2015 would bring Stegosaurus into the limelight once more and this new research provides tantalising evidence of sexual dimorphism in Ornithischian dinosaurs.  We can speculate that the plates evolved as defensive armour or possible temperature regulators and over countless generations of females selecting mates with the most impressive plates, two distinct sets of plates formed in the species.  At first glance the spiky, taller plates associated with the females may have offered better defence against predator attack.  The more rounded plates ascribed to the males may not have been as effective.  The male Stegosaurs sacrificing some defensive capability in order to have a more impressive visual display to woo a female.  Although sexual dimorphism is not common in extant reptiles and birds, there are examples seen today.  For instance, the male peacock has sacrificed the ability to camouflage itself from predators by evolving a very obvious, huge tail feather display, all for the purpose of attracting a mate.”

Female peacocks may have influenced the tail length and plumage of the males by selecting males in the peacock population that had slightly longer tails and more flamboyant plumage. These traits are then passed onto offspring and this form of sexual selection by females leads to more ornate tail feathers in males as they have an advantage in terms of mating success.  It could be inferred that sexual selection by female Stegosaurs led to the evolution of larger, broader plates on the backs of the males.  The bigger more rounded plates providing the males with an advantage when it comes to mating, despite being less helpful when it came to fending off an attack from a Theropod.

The conclusions from this study are likely to be debated for a very long time.  This new paper provides a new “angle” on the purposes of those enigmatic plates and further research into “Sophie” the Stegosaurus stenops specimen at the Natural History Museum in London may help to “round off” the debate.

To read more about “Sophie” the Stegosaurus specimen exhibited at the Natural History Museum: All about “Sophie”

To see the list of Everything Dinosaur’s “palaeontology predictions” for 2015: Palaeontology and Fossil Predictions for 2015

A Sixth Mass Extinction Event?

Capitanian Extinction Event – Suggested by Northern Hemisphere Study

A team of geologists have published a paper in the prestigious Geological Society of America Bulletin postulating that there was a major global extinction event that took place in the Permian geological period.  To be more precise the evidence for the extinction can be found in rocks laid down approximately 262 million years ago (the Capitanian stage of the Guadalupian epoch of the Permian).  The idea that there was a major extinction event amongst both marine and terrestrial organisms in the Middle Permian is not new.  Studies of the diversification of marine invertebrates recorded in Mid Permian strata from lower latitudes indicated that several families of mollusc and Brachiopod had died out during this time in Earth’s history.  It had been thought that global cooling had resulted in the loss of so many types of marine animal from the tropics.  However, this new study indicates that the Middle Permian extinction is manifested in the fossil record preserved at higher latitudes.

To assess the extent of the extinction, the research team, led by Dr. David Bond (University of Hull) travelled to the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen to explore the Kapp Starostin Formation, a layer of marine strata that is up to four hundred metres thick.  These rocks were laid down over a period of around 27 million years and cover the crucial period of the Guadalupian epoch.   By assessing the number and type of Brachiopod fossils found in the rock layers, the scientists were able to demonstrate that there were two severe extinctions amongst Brachiopods in northern latitudes in the Middle to Late Permian.  These extinction events are separated by a recovery phase, a time when the diversity of Brachiopods increased.

Many Rhynchonellid Brachiopod Fossils Found Together

Study suggests global mass extinction event in the Permian.

Study suggests global mass extinction event in the Permian.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Brachiopods, superficially resemble shelled molluscs like clams and mussels, but they have a very different body plan.   They are not closely related to the Mollusca and the Brachiopoda is an entirely separate phylum.  These little creatures first evolved in the Cambrian and they are still around today.  Most can be found in deep water and they are benthic (live on the sea floor), they are not found in freshwater.  There are more than a dozen or so species to be found in the waters surrounding the British Isles.  Brachiopods are sometimes called “lamp shells” as some of them resemble the shape of oil lamps used by the Romans.  Shells are usually made from calcium carbonate, but some form phosphatic shells.  The shells which protect the soft tissues consist of two parts (valves), one part is always bigger than the other part.  They are often the commonest fossil to be found in Palaeozoic marine limestones that represent shallow water deposits, as a result there are a number of Brachiopod biostratification zones.

An Illustration of a Group of Brachiopods

Brachiopods anchored themselves securely using a pedicle.

Brachiopods anchored themselves securely using a pedicle.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Strontium isotope analysis coupled with examination of trace metals and magnetic polarity preserved within the strata, correlated the time of the formation of the layers that show a distinct decline in Brachiopod diversity to about 262 million years ago (Capitanian stage).  Older rocks show that Brachiopods dominated the fossil record, but there is an 87% fall in fossil Brachiopod diversity in the middle of the Capitanian-aged rocks.  Younger rocks do have preserved remains of Brachiopods but they are different from the ones in the Capitanian strata, in addition, the younger rocks show a change in the fauna, there are many more bivalves (molluscs) preserved as fossils.   This suggests that there was a catastrophic event that lasted tens of thousands of years which led to a dramatic change in the benthic  invertebrate populations, as recorded by the fossil evidence.  The research team visited Spitsbergen three times to conduct the research from 2011 to 2013, working in the month of July, taking advantage of the 24 hours of daylight available and the slightly warmer weather.  Polar bears were still a danger and the expedition had to be on the look out in case a curious bear came into their camp.

The existence of a separate and distinct global extinction event around 262 million years ago, remains controversial.  Just a few million years ago, the biggest mass extinction event known occurred, resulting in the loss of something like 96% of all sea-dwelling creatures.  The event is known as the end Permian mass extinction.   The vast majority of the invertebrates recorded in the rocks after the Capitanian event became extinct.  The authors of the paper, published in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, suggest that their research shows that the Capitanian extinction event devastated fauna in both the tropics and in northern latitudes.  They conclude that this extinction was not limited to the warmer areas of the planet but much more wider ranging, deserving the status of a global mass extinction event.

What Caused this Extinction?

Molluscs and Brachiopods need calcium to make their shells (most of them), Dr. Bond believes massive volcanic eruptions in what is now the Chinese Province of Sichuan released huge amounts of carbon dioxide which in turn, acidified the oceans locking up the calcium.  In addition, depletion of oxygen on the sea floor may also have contributed to the extinction event.

Today, April 22nd is designated “Earth Day”, a day in which we recognise the plight of our planet, issues like global warming, extinction and loss of habitat.  It is apt for us to be considering the evidence for a sixth mass extinction event recorded in the Phanerozoic Eon (visible life).

Providing Prehistoric Animal Drawing Materials for Foundation Stage 2

EYFS Create an Underwater Prehistoric Scene

A recent trip to a primary school to conduct a dinosaur workshop resulted in a request from one of the teaching assistants.  They had lots of blue crepe paper and they wanted to create a prehistoric scene that could be posted up onto the walls of the corridor outside the classroom for Foundation Stage 2.  However, she had not got any pictures of “sea monsters”, (her words not ours), for the children to colour in to help create the picture.  No worries, amongst all the other extension resources we supplied, we sent over a number of emails with fact sheets and drawings of a vast array of prehistoric creatures which were typical fauna of Jurassic marine environments.

Providing Pictures of the Plesiosauria to Primary Schools

Plesiosaurs and other prehistoric animals featured in the picture.

Plesiosaurs and other prehistoric animals featured in the picture.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We sent over pictures which included:

  • Jellyfish
  • Ammonites
  • Belemnites
  • Coelacanth (fish)
  • Ichthyosaurus
  • Mixosaurus (another type of Ichthyosaur)
  • Attenborosaurus (Pliosaur)
  • Liopleurodon (Pliosaur)

Lots of other prehistoric animal pictures were also sent over.  We even supplied the teaching team with an outline of a seascape that could be used as a back drop as the children in Foundation Stage 2 explored a prehistoric, undersea world.

For information on Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools and to contact our experts for a school visit quotation: Request a Quotation for a School Visit (UK only)

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