Ornithocheiridae – Enigmatic Pterosaurs

Ornithocheiridae – A Life on the Ocean Waves (Mostly)

With the introduction of the fabulous 1:4 scale Guidraco (G. venator) model by CollectA, Pterosaurs have been much discussed around the Everything Dinosaur offices.  We received an email a couple of days ago from a model collector, who asked why one of the pictures we had published featuring this excellent model showed a volcano in the background, when he thought such flying reptiles lived on the coast.  Well, volcanoes can be found close to the sea, ask anyone who has visited Pompeii or Mount Etna, for example.  However, fossil material assigned to the one species of Guidraco known was found in rocks that were laid down far inland.

A Pair of Colourful Guidraco Pterosaurs

A pair of colourful Pterosaurs.

A pair of colourful Pterosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/CollectA

Guidraco fossils come from north-eastern China, from the famous Liaoning Province.  The sediments in which this Pterosaur’s fossils were preserved were formed in a lacustrine (lakes) environment and laid down inland away from the coast.  Liaoning is famous for its exquisitely preserved fossils dating from the Early Cretaceous – birds, plants, fish, reptiles, Pterosaurs and of course feathered members of the Dinosauria (Microraptor, Sinosauropteryx, Sinornithosaurus and the recently described Zhenyuanlong and so forth).

To read an article about the recently described feathered, predatory dinosaur called Zhenyuanlong: The New Winged Dragon from Liaoning Province

The Ornithocheiridae family were widely geographically dispersed with ornithocheirid fossils described from strata found in North and South America, Australia, northern Africa, Europe as well as Asia.  Today, something like 120 genera of Pterosaurs have been described, of these more than 10% have been assigned to the Ornithocheiridae, although the exact number is a mute point.  Many of the European Pterosaur fossils are extremely fragmentary and their taxonomic relevance is hotly debated.

Most ornithocheirids are known from quite poorly preserved fossil material. The exceptions are those genera associated with the Santana and Crato Formations of north-eastern Brazil, Pterosaurs such as Ornithocheirus, Anhanguera, Cearadactylus and Coloborhynchus.

New for 2015 the Schleich Model of Anhanguera

A colourful model of the Pterosaur called Anhanguera by Schleich.

A colourful model of the Pterosaur called Anhanguera by Schleich.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Wing loading studies and reconstructions of the wing surface coupled with comparisons to living birds provides evidence that the ornithocheirids had wings which were adapted to soaring long distances.  Their wing shapes resembles those of long distance fliers today, the Albatross for example.  This evidence, as well as those toothy jaws which would have been ideal for catching slippery fish, suggest that the majority of the Ornithocheiridae were adapted to marine environments.

 Guidraco – An Inland Ornithocheirid?

So why the volcano in the illustration of a pair of Guidraco Pterosaurs?  Near to the lush forests and deep lakes of what was to become Liaoning Province back in the Cretaceous was a line of volcanoes.  The area was actively tectonic.  Devastating volcanic eruptions would occasionally occur wiping out a lot of the fauna and flora.  It was this fine volcanic dust burying the corpses that led to the fantastic preservation of many of the Liaoning specimens.  Most probably a fish-eater, Guidraco Pterosaurs would have found plenty to eat in the lakes and water courses that interspersed the temperate forests.  Although, palaeogeographical estimates suggest that this region was around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the sea, an accomplished flier like Guidraco could have migrated this distance relatively easily.  Perhaps young Pterosaurs (the holotype specimen of Guidraco represents a sub-adult), could have spent some time inland, especially during bad weather at the coast.

Another Fantastic Ornithocheirid Replica

Model has an articulated jaw.

Model has an articulated jaw.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the CollectA Guidraco and the other scale replicas in this series: The CollectA series of Scale Prehistoric Animal Replicas

With the introduction of the Schleich Anhanguera model along with the CollectA 1:4 scale Guidraco, it seems that ornithocheirids are as popular as ever.

Earth’s Magnetic Shield is Older than Previously Thought

Plate Tectonics Got Started Early in our Planet’s History

Our planet has a magnetic field, similar to the magnetic field that can be generated by a simple bar magnet.  This field is aligned close to but not directly with the Earth’s axis of rotation.  The magnetic poles lie some way from the geographic poles (separated by approximately eleven degrees).  Earth’s magnetism is powered by fluid motion inside our planet and this field protects all life from the harmful solar winds that are expelled by the sun.  When this field was first generated has remained a mystery.  It had been thought that the Earth’s magnetic field had been around for some 3.45 billion years, now new research conducted by scientists at the University of Rochester (New York) suggests that this magnetic field is actually much older.

John Tarduno, a geophysicist at the University of Rochester and lead author of a paper published in the journal “Science” estimates that the Earth’s magnetic field was formed at least four billion years ago.  This is much earlier in our planet’s history than previously thought, it is estimated that Earth was formed some 4.56 billion years ago.

Since 2010, the best estimate of the age of Earth’s magnetic field has been 3.45 billion years. But now a researcher responsible for that finding has new data showing the magnetic field is far older.

Why is a Magnetic Field Important?

It has to do with our sun and cosmic radiation.  As well as visible light, the sun sends out streams of charged particles into space, it is not the only source of cosmic radiation, any luminous body in the universe produces radiation, but since the sun is 93 million miles away, at the centre of our solar system and with a radius of approximately 700,000 kilometres it is the biggest contributor to the harmful cosmic rays that get sent our way.  Particles of different wavelengths and energies are being generated all the time by our sun and it is these higher energy radioactive particles that are dangerous to life forms.  Thankfully, those that make it to Earth are deflected away by our planet’s strong magnetic field.  This magnetism acts as a shield helping to protect our planet and the life that exists on it.

An Artist’s Illustration of the Earth’s Magnetic Field Deflecting Particles

Helping to keep our planet habitable.

Helping to keep our planet habitable.

Picture Credit: Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester

Professor Tarduno explained:

“A strong magnetic field provides a shield for the atmosphere.  This is important for the preservation of habitable conditions on Earth.”

This life saving magnetic field is also responsible for producing the Aurorae (northern lights – Aurora Borealis and southern lights Aurora Australis), spectacular light shows that are created when the solar wind and its charged particles interacts with our planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere.  As these particles approach Earth, they distort our magnetic field and allow some charged, high energy particles to enter our atmosphere at the magnetic north and south poles.  These charged particles interact with gases in our atmosphere and “excite” the gas particles which in turn glow, just like the gas in a florescent tube light you might have in your kitchen.

A Spectacular Light Show (Northern Lights Seen in North Yorkshire)

Aurora Borealis seen in northern England.

Aurora Borealis seen in northern England.

Picture Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

Our planets magnetism is generated in its liquid iron core.  It acts as a “geodynamo” and requires regular releases of heat from our planet to function.  This heat release is aided by plate movements at the Earth’s crust.  Convection allows the transfer of heat from the interior to our planet’s surface, but the origin of our tectonic plates is contentious, with many physicists suggesting that our planet lacked a magnetic field for more than a billion years after it was formed.

A study of the mineral magnetite found within zircon crystals collected from the ancient rocks of the Jack Hills of Western Australia has helped the Rochester University to determine that the Earth’s magnetic field is older than previously thought at around 4 billion years of age.

Magnetite is a naturally occurring magnetic iron oxide, it locks in information about the Earth’s magnetic field as it cools and forms from its molten state.  The ancient rock deposits of the Jack Hills represent some of the oldest strata on our planet and zircons from these rocks have already been used to help determine how quickly the Earth cooled after its initial formation.

To read more about this 2014 study by scientists from the University of Wisconsin- Madison: The Earth Cooled Earlier Than Previously Estimated

In order for the team to get reliable, accurate results, it was crucial that the minerals remained unchanged over the vast period of time since their formation.  Professor Tarduno’s study of the magnetic field strength preserved inside the pristine zircon crystals has enabled the team to build up a picture of the Earth’s magnetic field over time.  The microscopic zircons were analysed using a superconducting, quantum interference device, which is unique to the University, the sensitive instrument (called a SQUID magnetometer), showed that the intensity measurements recorded in the samples were indeed as old as four billion years.

Implications for Life on Earth and Other Planets

The intensity measurements reveal information about the presence of a “geodynamo” at the Earth’s core.  Tarduno explained that solar winds could interact with the Earth’s atmosphere to create a small magnetic field, even in the absence of this core dynamo.  Under those circumstances, it has been calculated that the maximum strength of a magnetic field would be 0.6 μT (micro-Teslas).  The values measured by Professor Tarduno and his colleagues were much higher than 0.6 μT, suggesting the presence of a “geodynamo” at the planet’s core, as well as indicating the existence of the active plate tectonics needed to release the built-up heat.

Professor Tarduno added:

“There has been no consensus among scientists on when plate tectonics began.  Our measurements, however, support some previous geochemical measurements on ancient zircons that suggest an age of 4.4 billon years.”

Four billion years ago, our sun was much younger and it was sending out much more powerful solar winds which were up to a hundred times stronger than today’s.  In the absence of this nascent magnetic field the high energy particles that make up the solar wind would have ionised and blasted away light elements (those with a relatively low atomic mass), from the atmosphere, elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon and oxygen.  The loss of these elements would have made the evolution of complex life on our planet almost impossible (probably completely impossible).

Our planet, may have come to resemble that of our second nearest planetary neighbour, Mars.  Mars is approximately half the size of Earth, the mass of Mars is around ten percent of the Earth, it may once have had an active “geodynamo” for a time after its formation, but due to the planet’s size, this active, convectional dynamo seems to have run out of energy and ceased.  This led to the Red Planet losing any magnetic field that it had.  The atmosphere was blasted away by the solar wind.  Today, scientists are confident that Mars once had liquid water but it is likely that this water was driven off along with most of the light elements in the atmosphere and on the surface of the planet.

Professor Tarduno believes that the loss of the “geodynamo” dramatically altered the history of Mars.  He stated:

“It may also be a major reason why Mars was unable to sustain life.”

Mars does have an atmosphere, it consists of nitrogen and carbon dioxide but it is just one percent the thickness of our own planet’s atmosphere.  Unmanned, robotic vehicles like the Mars Rover may have provided us with evidence that Mars may once have had vast amounts of liquid water – so much water in fact that there is evidence of global scale floods on its barren, rocky surface.

It seems we have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to our magnetic field and its early establishment may have assisted in the development of life on our own planet.

Research to Get Your Teeth Into

Structural Secrets of Theropod Teeth

Theropod dinosaurs, the majority of which were carnivorous, had a distinct advantage over other Mesozoic predators.  Their teeth had a deeply folded, serrated tooth structure that allowed them to rip and tear into the bodies of their victims.  This crucial, layered structure to the teeth has been identified by researchers from the University of Toronto Mississauga, with the assistance of colleagues from Taiwan and published today in the academic journal “Scientific Reports.”

A Specialised Tooth Structure for Feeding on Large Prey

Gorgosaurus feeding - thanks to its specialised teeth.

Gorgosaurus feeding – thanks to its specialised teeth.

Picture credit: Daniele Dufault

The picture above shows a feathered Gorgosaurus, a member of the Tyrannosauridae family, feeding on a young Corythosaurus.  The research team used scanning electron microscopes and a synchrotron located in Taiwan to study a wide variety of Theropod teeth from the collections of Canadian museums, including the Royal Tyrrell, and the Royal Ontario Museum.  Meat-eating dinosaurs in the study, included Gorgosaurus, the Triassic predator Coelophysis, Tyrannosaurus rex, Allosaurus, and the giant African Theropod Carcharodontosaurus.  Other non-Dinosauria creatures involved in the teeth study were Smilodon spp. and the shark C.  megalodon, as well as early Archosaurs, as the scientists tried to identify the evolutionary origins of these rather unique inter-dental folds.  Extant animals were also included in the research.  The only living animals with similar dentition and internal teeth structures are the Monitor Lizards, most notably the formidable Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis).  It is the largest lizard alive today and specialises in hunting large animals, thus reinforcing the theory put forward by the Canadian research team that these inter-dental folds evolved specifically to assist with predation of large herbivores.

Dr. Kirstin Brink, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Biology, one of the authors of the paper commented:

“What is so fascinating to me is that all animal teeth are made from the same building blocks, but the way the blocks fit together to form the structure of the tooth greatly affects how that animal processes food.  The hidden complexity of the tooth structure in Theropods suggests that they were more efficient at handling prey than previously thought, likely contributing to their success.”

Dr. Kristin Brink with one of the Theropod Teeth Examines the Evidence

A special arrangement of layers of dentine at the base of each serration in the tooth.

A special arrangement of layers of dentine at the base of each serration in the tooth.

Picture Credit: University of Toronto Mississauga

The picture above shows Dr. Brink examining the special arrangement of layers of dentine at the base of the each tooth serration (denticle).  She is holding a tooth from the giant Theropod Carcharodontosaurus.

A lot of research has been undertaken into the bite forces of extinct animals, but this is the first time a study of this type has been carried out.  The teeth may have an outer coating of enamel, just like our teeth, but the tough dentine inside has a unique configuration of dental folds and this gives the teeth of Theropod dinosaurs enlarged serrations, ideal for tearing into flesh.

The shape of the teeth (morphology) and their development, both in terms of their evolution and how they develop in an individual. can provide palaeontologists with a lot of information on the evolution of extinct animals and provide insights into feeding behaviour.  Theropod teeth, the only group of the Order Dinosauria, known to have produced meat-eaters, are characterised by the presence of serrations, known as denticles on the cutting edges of their teeth.  These serrations vary between genera, with troodontids for example, having relatively large denticles, whilst spinosaurids have proportionately much smaller ones.

Teeth that are serrated along the cutting edge are referred to as ziphodont teeth.  In a study, Everything Dinosaur reported upon last year, the same University research team, examined the ziphodont teeth of Dimetrodon (D. grandis).  They concluded that the serrations gave this Pelycosaur an evolutionary advantage over other Permian predators.

To read more about this study: Dimetrodon with Teeth Like a Steak Knife

In this new paper, the researchers conclude that the structures previously thought to prevent tooth breakage, instead, first evolved to shape and maintain the characteristic denticles throughout the life of the tooth.  The relatively novel and complex dental folds produced at the base of the teeth characterises the Theropods, with the exception of those genera that evolved a modified diet and a less meat intensive diet.  The scientists conclude that these teeth structures are vital for allowing the predation and consumption of large prey animals.

A Close up of a Gorgosaurus Tooth (Royal Ontario Museum Collection)

A close up of the tooth of Gorgosaurus

A close up of the tooth of Gorgosaurus – G. libratus

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The picture above shows an illustration of the skull of the tyrannosaurid Gorgosaurus (A), drawing by Danielle Dufault.  The complete tooth (ROM 57981) is shown in (B) with extreme close ups of the denticles on the cutting edges of the tooth.  The tooth illustrated is from the upper jaw (maxilla).

Key

  • dej = dentine/enamel junction
  • e = enamel (outer coating of the tooth)
  • if = inter-dental fold
  • is = inter-dental sulcus
  • pd = primary dentine

The Sharp Edges of Predators Teeth Viewed Under Scanning Electron Microscopy

c

Theropod teeth have two sharp edges these are called carinae.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The cutting edges (carinae) of various predators (all are examples of ziphodont teeth).  Pictures are from scanning electron microscopy images.  Note the scale bars and the pictures to the right of the black and white images are thin cross sections showing internal structure.

Key

  • C = unknown Phytosaur
  • D = Coelophysis bauri
  • E = Allosaurus fragilis
  • F = Carcharodontosaurus saharicus
  • G = Gorgosaurus libratus
  • H = Tyrannosaurus rex

This adaptation may have played an important part in the initial radiation and subsequent success of the Theropoda as terrestrial apex predators.  After all, the Theropod body shape and bauplan, especially those teeth, permitted them to dominate terrestrial ecosystems for the best part of 160 million years.

Just 48 Hours Left to Enter Everything Dinosaur’s Guidraco Competition

Win a 1:4 Scale Flying Reptile Model with Everything Dinosaur (Contest is Closed)

WIN! WIN! WIN! with Everything Dinosaur!  Just 48 hours left to enter Everything Dinosaur’s competition to win an amazing 1:4 scale replica of the Pterosaur called Guidraco.

We have got another super, prehistoric animal replica to win in a fantastic, free to enter contest.  CollectA have already brought out some amazing dinosaur models this year and to celebrate this and the fact that Everything Dinosaur will be 10 years old on August 1st we are holding a special competition, a chance to win a wonderful 1:4 scale replica of a Pterosaur.  CollectA have added to their “Supreme” range of big scale models and the new for 2015 Pterosaur replica (Guidraco), with its moveable, articulated jaw is super and it makes a great prize in our special tenth birthday competition.

Contest to Celebrate Everything Dinosaur’s Tenth Birthday 
Win this 1:4 scale model!

Win this 1:4 scale model of a Guidraco Pterosaur!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur 

Our tenth anniversary prize giveaway is this beautiful Guidraco with an lower articulated jaw.  The replica measures more than twenty-five centimetres in height and more than twenty-six centimetres in length.  Its colouration is based on a modern sea bird, a puffin and our replica needs a name.  What name will you come up with?

To enter Everything Dinosaur’s competition, all you have to do is “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, share, then comment on the picture (either here or on Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page) don’t forget to include a suggestion for a name for this fabulous flying reptile.

Please note, this competition is now closed.

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

For instance, if you believe our Guidraco Pterosaur should be called “Glenda”, then put your comment on our Facebook page or underneath this article in the comments section of this blog!

We will draw the lucky winner at random and the name caption competition closes on Friday, July 31st at midnight.  Good luck to everyone who enters our contest.

Just visit Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook page, give our page a “like” and then leave a comment on the picture showing the Guidraco Pterosaur replica.  What flying reptile names can you think of?

“Like” Everything Dinosaur’s Page on Facebook

Like our Page (please).

Like our Page (please).

 

A Fantastic CollectA Guidraco Replica to Win Thanks to Everything Dinosaur
Just like our Facebook page to enter.

Just like our Facebook page to enter this competition.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur 

To view Everything Dinosaur’s huge range of CollectA prehistoric animals: CollectA Dinosaurs and Other Replicas

To see the full range of CollectA scale prehistoric animal replicas: CollectA Scale Prehistoric Animals

Terms and Conditions of the Everything Dinosaur Tenth Anniversary Contest

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 tenth anniversary competition runs until midnight on Friday 31st July 2015 (don’t forget the competition closes at midnight on 31st July).

Winner will be notified by private message on Facebook.

Prize includes postage and packing.

For full terms and conditions contact: Contact Everything Dinosaur

Please note, this competition is now closed!

Dinosaur and Science Speed Stacking Memory Game (Key Stages 3 and 4)

Speed Stacking Memory Game – Science Learning (Key Stages 3 and 4)

With a greater emphasis on factual recall enshrined within the new national curriculum here’s a simple idea to help young scientists remember terms and sequences as part of their science studies.  Create a fun speed stacking memory game that will help pupils to memorise key points and key items of information.  This idea can be modified to fit all sorts of teaching objectives and best of all, it gives teachers and home educationalists a wonderful opportunity to introduce how data can be plotted and shown visually.

Dinosaurs and Science Speed Stacking Game

Simple memory game to help young scientists.

Simple memory game to help young scientists.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Resources

  • Plastic cups (raid the water cooler)!
  • Sheet of labels (Everything Dinosaur supplies various sets of labels – size of dinosaurs, sorting out geological periods and for older students, Linnaean hierarchy labels on the “dinosaurs for schools” website).
  • Sticky tape to secure labels to the bottom of the plastic cups.
  • A stop watch or other timing device (Ipad, Smart phone and so forth).

To access the free, downloadable Everything Dinosaur school resources: Dinosaurs for School Website visit the downloads section for the free, teaching and educational resources.

Let’s imagine that you have to explain about deep time and the geological periods as part of the teaching involved at Key Stage Three (genetics and evolution).  To help reinforce learning, challenge the students to create a stack of plastic cups in the correct geological order, mapping out the fossil record of visible life.  Just stick labels to the bottom of the cups – Cambrian, Cretaceous, Jurassic and so forth and once having explained about geological time challenge the class to stack the cups in the correct order in the fastest possible time.  As an extension you can plot the results and the class to work out the best way to make a visual representation of the data – bar charts, line graphs perhaps?

Handy Labels for the Speed Stacking Game?

Learn how animals are classified, learn the geological timescale with this speed stacking game.

Learn how animals are classified, learn the geological timescale with this speed stacking game.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Perhaps, you are working with Key Stage 4 and you are covering how changes in biology have led to a better understanding of the process of evolution.  You want to explain how life is classified and introduce Linnaean classification, from a Domain down to a Species a simple stacking game can help to reinforce learning and to introduce a fun element into the lesson plan.  Record how long it takes each student to stack the cups in the correct sequence.  As an extension, can the class calculate the mean, mode and median stacking times?

Getting to Grips with Scientific Classification

Just add the labels to the plastic cups to make a fun memory game.

Just add the labels to the plastic cups to make a fun memory game.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

This is a very simple but effective science speed stacking game.  It is great for helping students to memorise terms and sequences such as geological periods.  Lots of different labels can be created, perhaps even leading to the development of a dinosaur themed speed stacking game.

Extension Ideas

  • Challenge the students to create the best way of visually displaying the data
  • Can the class calculate the mode, median and mean
  • Plot a distribution curve of the timing results, what are the variances?
  • Can the students devise science themed speed stacking games of their own?

For prehistoric animal themed teaching resources including model kits, crafts and real fossils: Dinosaur Teaching Resources

Dinosaur Themed Speed Stacking Game

Dinosaur Themed Speed Stacking Game

With many primary schools undertaking a term topic on dinosaurs and fossils or perhaps incorporating prehistoric animals as a subject area in a special science week, here’s a simple and fun memory game which can help budding palaeontologists memorise facts.

As part of Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools we have devised a speed stacking game, which challenges children to sort out and order a dinosaur themed food web.  In addition, we have added a speed stacking game whereby children are challenged to sort out dinosaurs by size.  No need to worry teachers, and teaching assistants!  In the free, download we also provide a guide to the correct size order of the various dinosaurs we have chosen.  Most of the children will be very familiar with the likes of Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex.  Perhaps as an extension activity you might challenge the class to do some independent research to find out about the dinosaurs we feature in our speed stacking games.

Dinosaur Themed Speed Stacking Game Labels

A great speed stacking memory game.

A great speed stacking memory game.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the set of speed stacking labels created by Everything Dinosaur.  There is a five stage, dinosaur themed food web, based on meat-eating dinosaurs, which is ideal for reinforcing learning when it comes to teaching about food chains, herbivores, carnivores and so forth.  In addition Everything Dinosaur team members have added an eight stage, dinosaur sizing, speed stacking game.  Can the children stack the plastic cups in the correct order?

To access dinosaur themed learning resources and for more information about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Everything Dinosaur for Schools

Resources Required

  • Plastic cups
  • Sheet of labels (Everything Dinosaur supplies various sets of labels on the company’s “dinosaurs for schools” website).
  • Sticky tape to stick the labels to the bottom of the plastic cups.
  • A stop watch or an Ipad, Smart phone or such like to time how long each child takes to stack the cups correctly.

Record How Long it Takes for Each Child To Stack the Cups Correctly

Time how long it takes to stack the cups correctly.

Time how long it takes to stack the cups correctly.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The class can be split into teams to encourage small group work.  The children can take turns to stack the cups and measure the time taken.

Extension Ideas

  1. Challenge the class to carry out some independent research on the dinosaurs featured in the game
  2. Record the times taken by the children, can they work out the best way to display this data – tables, bar chart, graph etc?
  3. Can the children design their own speed stacking game with a dinosaur theme?

This is a simple and very easy activity for the classroom.  It helps develop hand/eye co-ordination and motor skills, as well as being an excellent way for children to memorise information.

For further information on dinosaur themed teaching resources and Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools and to access the free, downloadable teaching resources including the speed stacking game: Dinosaurs for Schools Website

For dinosaur themed teaching resources including models, sets of plastic dinosaurs as well as real fossils and fossil replicas ideal for craft activities: Everything Dinosaur

Take Care When Fossil Hunting on the “Jurassic Coast”

Warning Issued to Holiday Makers

Dorset is one of the prettiest and most majestic of all the English counties.  This summer, there are going to huge numbers of holidaymakers heading down to England’s “Jurassic Coast” and we expect there are going to be great many visitors to picturesque Lyme Regis.  However, as the school holidays have started, we at Everything Dinosaur, think it appropriate to issue a warning about straying too close to the cliffs that occur along the Dorset and Devon coast.

Beautiful Charmouth and Lyme Regis – Very Popular Holiday Destinations

Photograph taken in 2009.

Photograph taken in 2009.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Many locals tell us that this part of the world has its own “mini climate”, it most certainly has lots of sunshine and there is always plenty to do and see in this, in our opinion, one of the most attractive parts of southern England, but we would advise visitors to the beach, especially would-be fossil hunters in the Lyme Regis and Charmouth areas to steer well clear of the cliffs. Rock falls and mudslides are very common and sadly serious accidents and even fatalities can occur.

On July 25th 2012, Everything Dinosaur reported on a fatal incident that occurred at Hive Beach, near Bridport just a few miles east of Charmouth.   Last month, we reported on another landslide fatality, this time from the popular Llanwit Major area of South Wales, another favourite location with fossil hunters.

To read more about this tragic event: Woman Killed by Rock Fall at Popular Fossil Hunting Site in Wales

Whilst areas such as the famous “Ammonite Pavement” that can be seen to the west of the town (Lyme Regis), is located quite far from the cliffs, any rocks and other material that fall are likely to travel quite a distance so it is sensible to heed the advice of locals and ensure that you are a safe distance away from any hazards.  It is also good advice to familiarise yourself with the tide times.  As landslides have altered the shape of the coastline it is all too easy to find yourself getting cut off during an incoming tide.  Everything Dinosaur team members advise always go fossil hunting at a beach location on an outgoing tide.  With so many fossils to be found at Lyme Regis and Charmouth along the foreshore, there is no need to approach the cliffs and a lot of fun can be had searching along the shoreline for fossils in a couple of hours or so as the tide recedes.

Lots of Fossils to Spot Away from the Jurassic Coast Cliffs

A big fossil close to the Ammonite Pavement.

A big fossil close to the Ammonite Pavement.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 Lyme Regis fossil expert Brandon Lennon commented that there was glorious weather in the Lyme Bay area yesterday, but today, (Sunday), there was quite a gale blowing.  Despite this, large numbers of tourists were on the beach and many of them were too close to the cliffs.

Brandon said:

“People are right up under the cliffs looking for fossils and they should definitely not do this as it is incredibly dangerous.  I think it is going to be very busy in Lyme Regis this summer, even with the occasional little bit of bad weather at times.”

With the popularity of the film “Jurassic World”, the Lyme Regis area can expect record numbers of fossil hunters to visit the area over the summer, but just like Brandon, we advise visitors to the beaches to take care and heed any council notices.

Brandon conducts organised fossil hunting walks and these are a great way to go fossil hunting safely as well as learning about the amazing local geology.  These walks take place on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays and private bookings can also be made, to learn more about organised, conducted fossil hunting tours: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

 The Amazing Ammonite Pavement (Monmouth Beach)

Falling tides reveal the extensive Ammonite Pavement sometimes referred to as the Ammonite Graveyard.

Falling tides reveal the extensive Ammonite Pavement sometimes referred to as the Ammonite Graveyard.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Whilst fossil hunting can be a very enjoyable experience for families, we do urge all visitors to take great care when visiting locations such as Charmouth and Lyme Regis.  Landslides are a very common occurrence and going fossil collecting with an expert is a sensible option.”

A Review of Prehistoric Times (Issue 114)

Prehistoric Times (Issue 114 Summer 2015) Reviewed

An opportunity to unwind from our busy Summer Term schedule of dinosaur workshops, writing lesson plans for schools and so forth with the latest edition of the quarterly magazine Prehistoric Times, that dropped through our office letterbox earlier this week. The timing of this super magazine’s arrival could not have been better as next week our fieldwork and summer school commitments start, so let’s jump straight in.

Naturally the summer has been a very “dino heavy” one, what with the release of a certain film starring Chris Pratt et al.  Prehistoric Times does not disappoint, the editor Mike Fredericks, takes time out from his own busy schedule to provide a short review of “Jurassic World” and to discuss the huge range of collectibles and other merchandise that have flooded onto the market.  The focus is on the American market, but the article is well written and we loved his short, concise movie review:

“Plenty of dinosaurs and plenty of action.”

We could not have put it better ourselves,  just be careful, if you haven’t seen the film yet, the article does have a plot synopsis and therefore it contains a few spoilers.  With Universal Studios having announced a sequel, conveniently (at least until a better title comes along), entitled “Jurassic World 2″ scheduled for June 22nd 2018, or thereabouts, we can expect Mike to provide another merchandise overview but this time in issue PT#126!

The Front Cover of Prehistoric Times (Issue 114)

Concavenator features (Sean Cooper)

Concavenator features (Sean Cooper)

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks/Prehistoric Times

The front cover features a spectacular model of Concavenator (C. corcovatus) created by the very talented Sean Cooper.  A lengthy interview provides an insight into Sean’s work and showcases some of his amazing dioramras (built/painted by Martin Garratt).  If you look carefully you can spot another Concavenator replica by Sean but with a different colour scheme inside the magazine.

Phil Hore provides part two (a sequel)? to his excellent series on the resurrected Brontosaurus and there is some wonderful reader’s artwork on display.   Special mentions to Kurt Miller, Julius Csotonyi and Russell J. Hawley for their contributions.  Tracy Lee Ford keeps us in the Morrison Formation as he explains how to tell the boys and girls apart when it comes to the Stegosauridae.  A very insightful article it is too.  He draws upon the recently published paper on Hesperosaurus, a summary of which you can find here: Did Boy Stegosaurs Have Bigger Plates Than The Girls? If you want to know the difference between different Stegosaur species this article is a great place to start.  Also, look out for a short review of Tracy’s “How to Draw Dinosaurs Volume 1″ in the book review section.

The enigmatic Auroch features, a prehistoric cow responsible for more human fatalities than the whole of the Dinosauria, no matter what you might see at the cinema.  Phil Hore does a great job in explaining what the Auroch was and reports on the potential to make this bovine “de-extinct”.  He even manages to squeeze a photograph in of a few Nazis, you have to subscribe to Prehistoric Times to learn about this historical connection.

Amongst all the dinosaur and fossil news, look out for Britain’s Mike Howgate and his feature on the Wisbech Museum and the story of perhaps the very first prehistoric animal models ever made.  Nice one Mike, keep flying the flag for those of us on this side of the Atlantic, after all, the word Dinosauria was first coined by a Lancastrian!

The National Geographic Channel’s recent documentary “T. rex Autopsy”, is featured with a very informative interview with palaeontologist Matthew T. Mossbrucker and look out for an imaginative and well-written story all about Tyrannosaurus rex – The Super Predator written by Mike Kelley.

Eagle-eyed fans of Everything Dinosaur will also be able to spot a number of familiar drawings of prehistoric animals in the What’s New in Review section.  These drawings are some of the illustrations that we commission editor Mike Fredericks to create for us to illustrate our exclusive range of prehistoric animal fact sheets.

Can you Spot the Rebor Utahraptor (Wind Hunter) Illustration

The illustration on the Everything Dinosaur Utahraptor fact sheet.

The illustration on the Everything Dinosaur Utahraptor fact sheet.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For further information on Prehistoric Times and to subscribe to this excellent magazine: Prehistoric Times Magazine

 As ever, this is a jam-packed edition with so many highlights.  Fans of Marx toy dinosaurs won’t be disappointed as will anyone with a passing interest in Acrocanthosaurus and a special mention to Allen A. Debus for his fascinating article on the first representations of evolution in the cinema and the legal spat between Willis O’Brien and Herbert M. Dawley, that occurred at a time when stop-motion triumphs such as the Lost World and King Kong had yet to be made.

All in all great stuff!

First Fossil Snake with Four Limbs Described

How Snakes Lost Their Legs

Serendipity can play a huge role in science, for Dr Dave Martill a chance encounter with a 115 million-year-old fossil whilst taking a group of third year students around a German museum, has led to a breakthrough in our understanding of how snakes evolved.   A beautifully preserved fossil snake with four limbs, the first snake fossil with four legs ever found, making this specimen a transitional form between limbed lizards and the snakes we know today, is helping scientists to piece together the puzzle of how snakes lost their legs.

Over the last fifteen years or so the University of Portsmouth has arranged a tour of German natural history museums for their third year vertebrate palaeontology students.  On a visit to one such museum, the famous Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum in Solnhofen (Southern Germany), to view the spectacular Jurassic limestone fossils including Archaeopteryx, by chance, the Museum was hosting an exhibit of much younger Cretaceous fossils from Brazil.  Dr. Martill, took his students around the exhibit and to his amazement he spotted on display a small, exquisitely preserved fossil of a snake, but this snake had tiny legs.  Enquiries were made and Dr. Martill working with Dr. Helmut Tischlinger (Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum) and Dr Nicholas Longrich (University of Bath), have published today in the academic journal “Science” a description of this unique fossil specimen.

The Four-Legged Snake Fossil

A beautifully preserved early, limbed snake.

A beautifully preserved early, limbed snake.

Picture Credit: Dr. Dave Martill/University of Portsmouth with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

This new snake species has been named Tetrapodophis amplectus (pronounced Tet-tra-poe-doh-fis am-pleck-tus), and it means “four-legged embracing snake”, the embracing element as the limbs were too small to be used in locomotion, they may well have served a function in holding prey or embracing mates.

Both the slab and counter slab are known but their exact provenance remains a mystery.  The fossil specimens were collected many decades ago and held in a private collection.  The fine-grained limestone matrix is dotted with occasional coprolites from an ancient fish called Dastilbe, bedding plains associated with these coprolites come from the Nova Olinda Member of the Crato Formation found in north-eastern Brazil.  The exact age of this Formation is contentious, the lack of marine zonal fossils make dating extremely difficult, but scientists estimate that this important, highly fossiliferous strata dates from between 126 to 113 million years ago (Aptian to Early Albian faunal stages).

The snake measures around twenty centimetres in length and it was very probably a juvenile.  Just how big this snake could grow to remains unknown.  The fossil is preserved in almost complete articulation indicating a low energy fossil preservation environment and a lack of disturbance by scavengers.  This little snake ended up in a hyper saline salt lake and this is what aided its fantastic preservation.

An Illustration of the Early Snake Tetrapodophis (T. amplectus) with Prey

The tiny limbs may have been used to hold prey.

The tiny limbs may have been used to hold prey.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

Evidence of the snake’s last meal was also preserved, however, it was not a small mammal as depicted in the excellent illustration by renowned palaeoartist Julius Csotonyi.  Dr. Tischlinger, is an expert in the use of UV light to help expose hidden details of fossil specimens, a technique he has used to great effect on the finely-grained, lithographic limestone specimens of Solnhofen.  When viewed under ultraviolet light, the fossil revealed the remains of a small vertebrate, most probably a salamander.

Abdomen Viewed under Ultraviolet Light Reveals Gut Contents

Viewed under UV light the stomach contents are revealed.

Viewed under UV light the stomach contents are revealed.

Picture Credit: Journal Science 

The photograph above shows the position of the gut contents (fluorescing white) – (a) and (b) phosphatised gut contents (also fluorescing white) with tiny fragments of bone (orange).

It is generally accepted that snakes evolved from lizards at some point in the distant past.

Commenting on the significance of this fossil Dr. Martill stated:

“What scientists don’t know yet is when they evolved, why they evolved and what type of lizard they evolved from.  This fossil answers some very important questions, for example it now seems clear to us that snakes evolved from burrowing lizards, not from marine lizards.”

 Dr. Longrich who has extensively studied the evolution of snakes, commented:

“It is a perfect little snake, except it has these little arms and legs, and they have these strange long fingers and toes.  The hands and feet are very specialised for grasping.  So when snakes stopped walking and started slithering, the legs didn’t just become useless little vestiges – they started using them for something else.  We’re not entirely sure what that would be, but they may have been used for grasping prey, or perhaps mates.”

Those Hands and Feet were Not for Walking

At just 4 mm and 7 mm long respectively, the tiny hands and feet were not aiding locomotion, but the well-defined claws suggest that they might have helped Tetrapodophis grasp and hold prey.  They may also have served a role as “claspers” in mating.

A Close Up of the Left Forelimb (Tetrapodophis amplectus)

A close up of the left forelimb.

A close up of the left forelimb.

Picture Credit: Science Journal

The photographs and illustrations above show the T. amplectus holotype (BMMS BK 2-2), specifically a close up view of the left forelimb and hand (manus).  Photograph (a) shows the forelimb, whilst (b) is a close up view of the manus (scale bar 1 mm).  Illustrations (c) and (d)  show the layout of the bones, the dotted line in (d) indicates a missing bone.

Key

  • hu – humerus
  • man – manus
  • ra – radius
  • ul – ulna

A Close Up of the Hindlimbs (Ventral View – Looking from Underneath)

Probably used to help grasp prey or mates.

Probably used to help grasp prey or mates.

Picture Credit: Science Journal

The pictures and diagrams above show the arrangement of the hindlimbs (ventral view), as seen from underneath the body.  Photograph (a) shows the hindlimbs, (d) an illustration of the hindlimbs, (b) is a close up of sacrum and pelvic area, illustrated by diagram (e).  Photograph (c) shows the delicate hind foot which measures approximately 7 mm long.  Diagram (f) shows a layout of the bones in the foot.

Key

  • fem – femur
  • fib – fibula
  • tib – tibia

The fossil suggests that snakes may have lost their limbs to help them burrow, either through sediment of through leaf litter, speculated a member of the Everything Dinosaur team.  Cladistic analysis places the origin of the snakes close to the Iguana and the Anguimorpha families, (the Anguidae family includes limbless lizards such as slow worms), although the exact phylogenetic relationship remains disputed.  The discovery of this fossil suggests that the snake family, a very widespread and diverse group of reptiles today, probably first evolved on the southern super-continent of Gondwana.

Dinosaur Workshops Aid Reading and Literacy

Dinosaur Workshops Aid Reading and Literacy in Schools

A dinosaur themed term topic might be introduced into a school’s scheme of work with Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 to help the children learn about the properties of light, rocks, the age of the Earth and to gain an appreciation of scientific working.  However, as dinosaurs and prehistoric animals fire the imagination, this term topic can also do wonders for a child’s confidence in reading and their writing skills.  As Everything Dinosaur team members visit schools to deliver dinosaur and fossil themed workshops, we are keen to add activities and extensions that encourage children to write.

Thank You Letters to Everything Dinosaur

An example of our work with schools, a typical extension activity, is to ask the children to send in thank you letters to our dinosaur expert.  They can also include questions that they think of as well.  Writing a thank you letter dovetails nicely into the PSHE (personal, health and social education) of the national curriculum and it helps children gain confidence with sentence construction and the layout of written communications.  Letter writing also permits individual working and the teacher can see how much a child has learned as he/she has followed the term topic.  Letter writing makes a good, follow up exercise for the children immediately after any recall and recount activity once the dinosaur workshop has finished.

A Thank You Letter from Jayden

Everything Dinosaur team members encourage letter writing.

Everything Dinosaur team members encourage letter writing.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Jayden at Southglade Primary School

Dinosaur Definitions – Practice with Labels and Vocabulary Development

Another simple activity that involves independent learning is to have the children research individual prehistoric animals.  Explain to the children what the term dinosaurs actually means (fearfully great or terrible lizards).  Then, use an example such as Tyrannosaurus rex (pronounced tie-ran-oh-sore-us rex), which means “Tyrant Lizard King”.  Set an exercise for the children where they can research different dinosaurs and write an explanation as to how that dinosaur got its name.

Here is an example from Amy (Year 2)

  • Triceratops (Try-sera-tops)
  • Means: Three Horned Face
  • Explanation: “This big plant-eating dinosaur had three horns on his face, two big ones over his eyes and a little one over his nose.”

A picture of the dinosaur can be provided, feel free to contact Everything Dinosaur, as our experts are happy to email over drawing materials and fact sheets to schools and home educators.

The picture of the prehistoric animal can be labelled by the child and perhaps more capable learners can provide additional facts and information on that dinosaur via discovery learning.

* More confident and capable learners can be challenged to design their own dinosaur and to come up with an explanation for the name that they give it, here’s an example from Matthew:

  • Boneahsaurus (Bone-ah-saw-us)
  • Means: Very Bony Lizard
  • Explanation: “When scientists found this dinosaur they were amazed at how many bones it had in its skeleton.”

Matthew even provided a lovely drawing of his dinosaur, it did look very bony.  Glad we did not have the job of assembling all those bones.

As dinosaurs are rarely out of the media these days and with most children having a fascination for these prehistoric animals, dinosaurs as a term topic provides plenty of scope for a creative, imaginative and very rewarding scheme of work for the class.

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools, visit our special “dinosaurs for schools” website: Dinosaurs for Schools

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