All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
//August
12 08, 2015

Tracking Down German Meat-Eating Dinosaurs

By | August 12th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Biologist Provides Fresh Insight into Early Cretaceous Dinosaur Tracks

Many of us, will this summer, go for a stroll along the beach whilst on a visit to the seaside.  It seems this pastime may have been popular with Theropod dinosaurs too.  Biologist Pernille Venø Troelsen of the University of Southern Denmark, has provided a fresh perspective on a set of fossilised dinosaur tracks, part of an extensive set of dinosaur trackways uncovered in Lower Cretaceous sediments at Münchehagen, twenty miles northwest of the city of Hanover (Germany).  The scientific paper on these footprints formed part of her Masters degree.

The exposed strata forms part of the Bückeberg Formation, which in turn is part of the Lower Saxony basin of northern Germany and the eastern Netherlands.  The rocks laid down represent sandstones and silts in a brackish environment as this part of Europe during the Early Cretaceous (Berriasian to Valanginian faunal stages), was on the coast of a shallow, tropical sea, which stretched up into the Arctic circle and covered most of what is now Germany, the Low Countries and parts of France.   The footprints have been dated to around 142 million years ago (Early Cretaceous) and they represent tracks made by a large Theropod dinosaur and a second, much smaller Theropod.

An Illustration of a Typical Theropod Dinosaur

The image above comes from the excellent "Dinosaurs of the  British Isles" book.

The image above comes from the excellent “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” book.

Picture Credit: Nobumichi Tamura

The image of a Theropod dinosaur strolling along a beach is from the front cover of the highly informative “Dinosaurs of the  British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura.

More details about this dinosaur book can be found here: Siri Scientific Press

Although many hundreds of dinosaur footprints have been uncovered in this part of northern Germany, for Pernille, these tracks give her the opportunity to infer aspects of dinosaur behaviour, that many people might not associate with ferocious predatory dinosaurs.  For example, the Theropods were ambling along, seemingly in no hurry.  The impressions made in the wet sand and now fossilised preserve a tiny fragment of life in the Early Cretaceous, from time to time, the dinosaurs skid on the wet sand and these slips and skids have been preserved in the sandstone.  The larger of the two meat-eaters, stood around 1.6 metres high at the hips, the smaller animal had hips that were around 1.1 metres high.  Hip height can be calculated by measuring the stride length of each dinosaur.  Both dinosaurs are moving in a south-easterly direction.

Mapping Dinosaur Footprints (Early Cretaceous Dinosaur Trackways)

T3 is the large Theropod track, T2 represents the smaller Theropod.  The Iguanodontid track is highlighed in green.

T3 is the large Theropod track, T2 represents the smaller Theropod. The Iguanodontid track is highlighted in green.

Picture Credit: Pernille Venø Troelsen (University of Southern Denmark) with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

In the picture above, the tracks of the large Theropod (T3) are highlighted in orange.  The smaller Theropod (T2) is in red.  Each footprint has been numbered, more than fifty individual footprints were included in the study under taken by Penille Venø Troelsen.  Her interpretation of the inferred behaviours was presented at the thirteenth annual meeting of the European Association of Vertebrate Palaeontologists, last month, in Opole, Poland.  The paper was presented to the conference on the 10th of July.

At some point, a large Ornithopod, probably an iguanodontid wandered across the beach.  The trackway has been mapped onto the photograph above by Everything Dinosaur team members and the direction of travel noted.  It is not known whether this big, plant-eating dinosaur walked over the beach, before or after the Theropods.  No interaction between the herbivore and the Theropods is inferred.

Trace fossils such as dinosaur footprints provide evidence of the activity of organisms.  Unlike body fossils, in which the carcase of an animal might be transported many miles after death (by river currents for example), most trace fossils show direct, in situ evidence of the environment at the time and the place where the animal lived.  If you were to step into the footprints made by these dinosaurs you would be literally “walking with dinosaurs”, but for the sake of preservation we would urge readers not to do this should the opportunity arise (take a photograph instead).

From a biologist’s perspective a lot of information can be obtained from such an extensive set of tracks.  Behaviour can also be inferred.  The average speed of the large Theropod has been calculated at around 6.3 km/hour, a comfortable walking pace for most people.  The lighter, smaller Theropod was travelling on average, a little faster, around 9.7 km/hour.  The footprints were first uncovered in 2009, they are part of a series of Early Cretaceous dinosaur tracks and individual footprints found in this part of Germany, more than 200 individual prints have been mapped to date.

The smaller Theropod occasionally crossed its legs as it trotted across the sand.  Pernille puts forward a number of possible explanations for this, perhaps the little dinosaur got buffeted by a strong inshore breeze or perhaps it had found something to eat or was snapping at an insect that was bothering it.  There is another intriguing possibility.  For a biologist, these two tracks could have been made a the same time, that is, this was a large dinosaur and a smaller dinosaur, possible the same species moving together.  Could these be the tracks of a mother and its young?

Pernille Venø Troelsen suggested:

“As a biologist, I can contribute with knowledge about behaviour of individual animals.  If so, this may illustrate two social animals, perhaps a parent and its young.”

There is an increasing amount of fossil evidence to suggest that dinosaurs were social animals that they exhibited complex behaviours.  For example, a number of dinosaur nest sites have been discovered indicating that many different types of dinosaur nested in colonies, just like many species of birds do today.  Other fossil evidence such as extensive trackways show that dinosaurs moved in herds and that these herds had a structure, adult animals moving on the outskirts of the group to protect the juveniles who were clustered towards the centre of the herd.

False Colour Image of One of the Smaller Theropod Dinosaur’s Footprints

The different colours signify different depths of the footprint.

The different colours signify different depths of the footprint.

Picture Credit: Pernille Venø Troelsen

The picture above shows a false colour image of one of the smaller Theropod dinosaur’s tracks.  The different colours illustrate the depth of various parts of the footprint.

Commenting on the study, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“It is intriguing to think of these footprints representing an adult and juvenile dinosaur moving together, exploring the beach, perhaps looking out for any unfortunate animals that may have been stranded.  Or maybe moving along the open beach was easier than having to make progress through the surrounding woodland and scrub.  Many large animals today, use beaches as natural highways, however, as far as we understand, it is not possible to state with any degree of certainty that these two separate tracks were made at the same time.  Given the parallel nature of the trackways and their relative sizes we can understand why the adult and juvenile dinosaur scenario has been inferred.”

As for the species of Theropod, the lack of any body fossils found in association with the tracks prevents any identification being made.  In these cases, when an organism is known from just trace fossils, an ichnogenus is erected, that is, any animal known from just trace fossils such as burrows, coprolites or in this case footprints.  The tracks of the meat-eating dinosaurs have both been assigned to the ichnogenus Megalosauripus (Megalosauripus maximus).  However, whether these fossils were made by megalosaurid Theropods remains open to debate, just like the dinosaur genus Megalosaurus, the ichnogenus Megalosauripus is a bit of a taxonomic waste basket when it comes to large, tridactyl Theropod tracks found in Europe.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the University of Southern Denmark in the compilation of this article.

11 08, 2015

Student Makes Exciting Marsupial Fossil Discovery

By | August 11th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Student and the Major Fossil Find in North Dakota

An intern with the North Dakota Geological Survey stumbled across a rare, fossil mammal jaw during a public fossil dig in south-western North Dakota last month.  The tiny fossil around two centimetres in length is a jawbone, complete with sixth teeth, it came from a Cretaceous marsupial mammal that scampered around along with the last of the dinosaurs.  The fossil has been identified as being from a Glasbius twitchelli, a mouse-sized marsupial that lived around sixty-five million years ago, it represents the most complete lower jawbone found for the species.

Sean Ternes was helping to explain fossil hunting and preservation techniques as part of a public outreach event taking place in Slope County, near to the town of Marmarth.  He wandered away from the group and began to explore an area where some of the techniques discussed could be practiced.  He found the bones of a rabbit, looked down to explore them further and then he noticed a very different coloured bone about thirty centimetres away from the rabbit’s carcase.

The Beautifully Preserved Fossilised Jawbone

Tiny jawbone fossil compared to one cent piece.

Tiny jawbone fossil compared to a one cent piece.

Picture Credit: Press Release

Commenting on the discovery, Clint Boyd, a senior palaeontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey team stated:

“This is an incredibly significant find!  This species has never been found in North Dakota before so this gives us new information when comparing faunas in neighbouring States.  Finding a complete mammal jaw from the Late Cretaceous is very rare, and the specimen Sean found may be the most complete lower jaw ever found for this species.”

Fossils of Glasbius twitchelli are known from Montana and Wyoming, but this is the first time a specimen has been discovered in North Dakota.

For Sean, finding the fossil was a really exciting experience, but he does not see himself forging a career in palaeontology.  He has ambitions to work as a field prospector for minerals rather than fossils, however, he certainly has a keen eye.

Sean stated:

“When I found out that it was the first of its kind in North Dakota, it was pretty surreal.”

Sean Explaining How He Found the Fossil

On knees searching for fossils.

On knees searching for fossils.

Picture Credit: Press Release

Looks like sharp-eyed Sean has got what it takes when it comes to field work.

10 08, 2015

Get Ready for School with Everything Dinosaur

By | August 10th, 2015|Educational Activities, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

Get Ready for School with Everything Dinosaur

A little under four weeks and then it will be the start of the new school year for much of the United Kingdom.  Summer holidays will be a thing of the past and school children will be preparing themselves for the rigours of the autumn term.  It does not seem that long ago since team members at Everything Dinosaur were safely and securely packing away all their fossils and other resources after completing their last teaching assignments of the summer term 2015.  Our dinosaur workshops and tactile sessions which involve the exploration of fossils are as popular as ever, but now we can look forward to the new school year.

For mums and dads and other grown-ups looking to inspire and enthuse the next generation of scientists, look no further than Everything Dinosaur’s “Back to School Dinosaur Themed Range”.  We stock a huge range of prehistoric animal and dinosaur themed school kits, pens, pencils and stationery.  Whether it’s a dinosaur lunch box, dinosaur drinks bottle or dinosaur school bag Everything Dinosaur has it covered.

Back to School With Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur stocks an amazing range of dinosaur themed back to school items.

Everything Dinosaur stocks an amazing range of dinosaur themed back to school items.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

See Everything Dinosaur’s back to school range by clicking on the image above.

Everything Dinosaur stocks a wide range of back to school items, all supported by our much admired customer service.  Send your budding young palaeontologists off to school with this brilliant range of dinosaur themed school stationery, lunch boxes, kit bags, pens, pencils and other dinosaur themed school items.  Take a dinosaur to school or out on your own prehistoric adventures with Everything Dinosaur’s inexpensive range of back to school supplies and back to school stationery.

We even have a beautiful dinosaur alarm clock to help you get your little monsters up in the morning.

Dinosaur Themed Alarm Clock

Rise and shine with dinosaurs.

Rise and shine with dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Buy dinosaur themed back to school items on line. Everything Dinosaur stocks a very wide range of back to school items, which are ideal for primary school children.

In the meantime, Everything Dinosaur team members are busy preparing a whole new set of dinosaur workshops and other school activities as our autumn term teaching schedule is being finalised.  Staff are already working on a number of new palaeontology themed teaching assignments, including creating suitable lesson plans for key stages one through to four.

In the meantime, check out Everything Dinosaur’s comprehensive range of back to school items by clicking on the “Back 2 School” image above, or simply visit our website.

Back to School Merchandise from Everything Dinosaur: Dinosaur Themed Back to School Stationery, Backpacks, Pens etc.

9 08, 2015

Study of Teeth Hints at Late Cretaceous Theropod Diversity

By | August 9th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Theropod Diversity Study (Upper Cretaceous South Pyrenees Basin of Spain)

Large dinosaur bones might make the headlines and attract the most media attention, but an analysis of shed Theropod teeth, some of them tiny, indicate that there were potentially many more different types of Theropod dinosaur roaming around Spain in the Late Cretaceous.   Dinosaurs were able to replace teeth that they shed.  A meat-eating dinosaur for example, could lose hundreds of teeth over its lifetime and although no other part of it might be preserved as a fossil, these teeth could potentially provide an insight for palaeontologists as to the diversity of Theropod dinosaurs in a given area.  That’s exactly what has happened as researchers from Spain and Canada have identified a further six non-avian dinosaurs in Upper Cretaceous strata from the South Pyrenees Basin (Spain).  Only two Theropod dinosaurs had been known from this region prior to this new study.

Isolated Teeth Fossils Hint at Theropod Diversity on the Iberian Peninsula

scale bar = 5mm

scale bar = 5mm

Picture Credit: Acta Palaeontologica Polonica

Publishing their work in the academic journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, the research team, which included lead author Angelica Torices, (University of Alberta) and famous Canadian palaeontologist Professor Phil Currie, have quadrupled the Theropod dinosaur diversity in the areas studied.  At least one of the new types of Theropod would have been “large”, although it is difficult to classify down to little more than taxonomic family level.  It has been speculated that the teeth indicating a large predator could represent either an abelisaurid like Tarascosaurus, (it has been proposed that the fragmentary fossil material assigned to this genus shows affinities to the Abelisauridae), known from Upper Cretaceous strata of France or a possible tyrannosaurid.

The area of study consists of eight localities from Treviño County, Huesca and Lerida, including the exceptional site of Laño, an abandoned sand quarry, strata of which represents Upper Cretaceous and Early Palaeogene deposits.  The study of 142 isolated teeth suggests that Theropod numbers may have been underestimated elsewhere in the world.

Commenting on the research, Angelica Torices, (University of Alberta), explained:

“Studying these small parts helps us to reconstruct the ancient world where dinosaurs lived and to understand how their extinction happened.”

The post-doctoral fellow in biological sciences added:

“Teeth are especially important in the study of Upper Cretaceous creatures in Spain and the rest of Europe because we don’t have complete skeletons of Theropods from that time in those locations.  We have to rely on these small elements to reconstruct the evolution of these dinosaurs, particularly the Theropods.”

This study shows the value of isolated and fragmentary teeth fossils in helping to reconstruct the fauna in an ancient environment, when more other, more complete material, such as skeletal material is not present.

Locations of the Fossil Sites in the Study and Their Stratigraphical Sequence

The fossil study localities.

The fossil study localities.

Picture Credit: Acta Palaeontologica Polonica

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We have long suspected that the dinosaurs were more diverse than previously thought at the end of the Mesozoic.  However, the lack of fossilised bones that can provide an identification down to genus level has hampered scientists in the study of European dinosaurs.  It is this “under storey” of prehistoric life that can provide palaeontologists with a more complete understanding of the palaeofauna.  Tiny teeth can be just as important as the largest dinosaur bones.”

The research will have implications for the way in which the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous is viewed.  If this study is typical, then Theropod diversity in the north of Spain does not experience a significant decline over the Campanian to Maastrichtian faunal stages.

Small Dinosaurs such as Dromaeosaurids were Present

A typical "raptor".

A typical “raptor”.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lead author Angelica Torices stated:

“It completely changes the vision of the ecosystem.  We now understand that these dinosaurs disappeared very quickly in geological time, probably in a catastrophic event.  Climatic models show that we may reach Cretaceous temperatures within the next Century, the only way we can study biodiversity under such conditions is through the fossil record.”

The study of 142 Late Cretaceous Theropod teeth reveals that Theropods were much more diverse in northern Spain towards the end of the “Age of Dinosaurs” than previously thought.

8 08, 2015

Alaska’s First Elasmosaur

By | August 8th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

First Elasmosaur Specimen Found in Alaska

Alaska may be famous for many things, but in palaeontological circles it is the Dinosauria that usually grab the headlines when it comes to the largest and most sparsely populated U.S. State.  However, an expedition to the remote Talkeetna Mountains by scientists from the University of Alaska Museum of the North have discovered cervical vertebrae from a large plesiosaurid, an Elasmosaur, the first marine reptile of this type to have been discovered in the most northerly part of the USA.

Life in Alaska some Seventy Million Years Ago

Elasmosaurs illustrated.

Elasmosaurs illustrated.

Picture Credit: James Havens

Elasmosaurus was one of the last and the largest of the long-necked plesiosaurids.  During the Late Cretaceous, North America was divided by a huge inland sea (the Western Interior Seaway), Elasmosaur fossils have been found in a number of U.S. States as well as in Canada, this new discovery is significant as not only is it the first Elasmosaur to be found in Alaska, it supports the theory that large marine reptiles lived at very high latitudes.  Although, Late Cretaceous Alaska was much milder than it is today, it would still have been cold with surface sea temperatures dropping to near freezing at times and for much of the year there would have been very little daylight.  This isolated fossil discovery provides evidence that large marine reptiles (the specimen is believed to exceed eight metres in length), did indeed live in the far north, and it tantalises palaeontologists who can speculate on whether this creature was a permanent resident or whether Elasmosaurs were seasonal migrants.

The most striking feature of the elasmosaurids were their extraordinarily long necks.  Approximately, fifty percent of the animal’s entire body length was made up of its neck.  These reptiles had over 70 cervical vertebrae, ten times the amount than in the neck of a human being (Homo sapiens).  Described back in 1868 from fossil remains found in Kansas, only one species is regarded as valid at the moment, E. platyurus.

The story of the first Alaskan elasmosaurid, began a few years ago.  Curvin Metzler a keen, amateur fossil collector who enjoyed hiking and exploring the slopes of the Talkeetna range found several fragments of fossil bone close to a steep hillside.  These were the first vertebrate fossils that he had found in the area and knowing that they could represent something important he contacted the Earth Sciences curator at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, Patrick Druckenmiller and persuaded him to visit the location.

Patrick and a couple of colleagues duly visited in June and they were able to follow the bone erosion trail leading back to a section of strata in the hill where a good portion of the skeleton including some beautifully preserved, articulated cervical vertebrae lay exposed.

A Cervical Vertebrae (arrowed) Eroding out of the Surrounding Matrix

The red arrow points to a neck bone eroding out of the cliff.

The red arrow points to a neck bone eroding out of the cliff.

Picture Credit: Patrick Druckenmiller/additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Commenting on his discovery, Mr Metzler stated:

“I’m mostly interested in finding invertebrates, so when I saw the first vertebra I knew it was a bone from something. I didn’t want to disturb anything in the cliff so it was exciting to talk to Pat.  We are lucky to have someone in the State who works with fossils.”

Identifying the Last Resting Place of a Marine Reptile

Curvin Metzler (left), who discovered the Elasmosaur fossil and Patrick Druckenmiller examine the spot where bones were found sticking out of the cliff in the Talkeetna Mountains.

Curvin Metzler (left), who discovered the Elasmosaur fossil and Patrick Druckenmiller examine the spot where bones were found sticking out of the cliff in the Talkeetna Mountains.

Picture Credit: Patrick Druckenmiller

This could represent a new species, but it is too early to tell.  Although the team were able to collect a substantial portion of the exposed remains, there is probably more of the fossil specimen buried in the rock face, trouble is, there is more than ten metres of overburden on top and the fossil collecting season this far north is very short.

Undeterred Dr. Druckenmiller explained:

“We got a good chunk of the animal but there is still more to excavate.” 

A field team will return to the site next summer to complete the extraction work.

Preparing Elasmosaurid Vertebrae in the Field

Wrapping the articulated cervical vertebrae in burlap and plaster to protect the fossils dring removal.

Wrapping the articulated cervical vertebrae in burlap and plaster to protect the fossils during removal.

Picture Credit: Patrick Druckenmiller

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur outlined the importance of this discovery, explaining that there were a number of Mesozoic aged formations in Alaska, many of which had yielded marine reptiles, but the rocks that had provided marine reptile fossils from this State were much older than the Talkeetna strata.

To read about the discovery of a Triassic marine reptile from Alaska: Thalattosaur discovered in Alaska at Low Tide

In the press release from the Museum, the strata is estimated to be around 70 million years of age (Maastrichtian faunal stage), whereas, most Elasmosaurus fossils from North America are associated with older Campanian faunal stage deposits.

A Model of an Elasmosaurus

Cretaceous Plesiosaur

Cretaceous Plesiosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Many models of Elasmosaurus depict this creature with a flexible, snake-like head.  This is inaccurate, Elasmosaurus had a very stiff neck, however, it still was a very effective hunter of fish.  The enormous neck enabled it to get up close to shoals before the bulk of the body came into view.  The sharp, interlocking teeth made an efficient fish grab.

Recently, Safari Ltd introduced an updated replica of Elasmosaurus, to view this model and others in the Safari Ltd range: Safari Ltd Models and Collectibles

7 08, 2015

Preparing for a Trip to the Jurassic

By | August 7th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Educational Activities, Teaching|0 Comments

Going on a Trip to the Jurassic

As part of Everything Dinosaur’s summer school commitments team members have spent the day preparing for trip into the east Midlands to help a group of Key Stage two children explore fossils.  Our plan is to set up in the school an artificial beach and to populate it with various fossils from our recent digs and field work.  Most of the fossils we will be using come from marine sediments and consist of lots of invertebrates, although there is some fossilised wood and even shark teeth.  Over the last year or so, we have been involved in a number of trips to explore highly fossiliferous sediments and as a result we have plenty of fossils to use in this fossils and dinosaur workshop session.

Lots of Fossils “on hand”

A successful fossil hunt.

A successful fossil hunt.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It is going to be a dinosaur workshop with a difference.  Having populated the beach with various fossils, we are going to challenge the children to find them.  What they find they can keep, so long as the mums, dads and teachers present are OK with this.  In addition, we will be challenging the children to help us with some fossil identification.  This will involve lots of tactile fossil handling and helping them with their reading and writing.

We have also created a range of drawing materials so that the children can take home a drawing to colour in depicting what life was like in their part of the world during the Middle Jurassic.

A “Jurassic World”

Life in the Jurassic Seas.

Life in the Jurassic Seas.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture we have created is a composition consisting of many of the illustrations of Jurassic marine fauna we have stored in our database.  The drawing materials reflect the sort of fossils that the children will be able to discover on our artificial beach. There will be fragments of coral, bivalve shells, including some nice examples of “devil’s toenails” – Gryphaea.  As well as the various bivalves, there are Belemnite guards to find and pieces of fossilised Ammonite shell.  We have gastropods, fish scales, crinoids (sea lilies) and lots of lovely brachiopods, especially those that superficially resemble old lamps (often referred to as lampshells).

It should be a fun dinosaur workshop with lots of fossils to collect and to identify.

6 08, 2015

Chinese Authorities Seize Hundreds of Dinosaur Eggs in Raid

By | August 6th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaur Skeleton and 213 Fossilised Eggs Recovered in Raid

Chinese police seized a total of 213 dinosaur egg fossils and an almost complete fossil of a small herbivorous dinosaur in a raid on a house in Guangdong Province (southern China).  Despite there being strict laws about the illegal removal and sale of ancient artefacts such as fossils in China, there is a significant trade in fossils from China, most of which are smuggled out of the country destined for the more lucrative markets for illegally sourced fossils in Europe and the United States.

A Huge Haul of Illegally Obtained Fossil Material

The Psittacosaurus was crated, either this is how it was sent from northern China or it was being prepared for illegal export.

The Psittacosaurus was crated, either this is how it was sent from northern China or it was being prepared for illegal export.

Picture Credit: Xinhua News Agency

The seizure took place on July 29th and was reported by the State run news agency – Xinhua.  The eggs come from a local construction site close to Heyuan City (Guangdong Province), they were looted by locals after workers uncovered a series of dinosaur egg fossils, discoveries of which have been reported over the last three months or so.  The eggs date from the Late Cretaceous, and this part of southern China is famous for its extensive dinosaur nesting site deposits.  Unfortunately, thefts of fossils are common as it is difficult for the authorities to keep track of each new fossil discovery.  Back in 2011, Everything Dinosaur team members reported on the return to China of a number of dinosaur eggs that had been illegally smuggled into the United States.

To read more about this: The Return of Stolen Dinosaur Eggs to China

Chinese officials believe that local residents raided the construction site where a number of dinosaur egg fossils had recently been uncovered.  The fossils were being stored at a local address, most likely prior to being sold onto a middle man who would then forward the illegally obtained items onto other dealers for sale to private collectors abroad.  The skeleton found at the address has been identified as being that of a Psittacosaurus, fossils of which have been found throughout northern China.  Although Everything Dinosaur has no specific information on this specimen, it has been suggested that this fossil comes from the Liaoning Province (north-eastern China), perhaps from the Yixian Formation.  The Psittacosaurus fossil specimen is much older than the eggs, the strata that makes up the Yixian Formation is cited as being Lower  Cretaceous, the Psittacosaurus may be more than 120 million years old.

An Illustration of the Dinosaur Psittacosaurus

A typical psittacosaurid.

A typical psittacosaurid.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Although China has some of the strictest legislation in the world in a bid to stop the exploitation of its rich fossil heritage, policing dig sites, many of which are found as a result of building projects and not by scientific fieldwork, is extremely difficult.  Illegal excavations for dinosaur fossils are believed to be common in Guangdong Province.  Some locals steal the fossils and keep them at home, whilst others are part of a network which smuggles the material out of the country, destined for the black market in fossils overseas.

The Fossils were Scattered All Over the House

Police raid house and discover hundreds of dinosaur eggs.

Police raid house and discover hundreds of dinosaur eggs.

Picture Credit: Xinhua News Agency

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This raid by the Chinese authorities might just deter would-be fossil thieves and make them think twice about the illegal removal of fossils. Sadly, we suspect that despite prompt police action in this case the smuggling and illegal sale of fossils from China is widespread and much more international co-operation is required in order to bring an end to this practice.”

Chinese Officials Inspect and Catalogue the Seized Fossils

Inspecting and sorting the fossilised eggs.

Inspecting and sorting the fossilised eggs.

Picture Credit: Xinhua News Agency

When asked to speculate on the type of dinosaur that laid the eggs, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated that the red sandstone around Heyuan City has yielded tens of fossils of dinosaur egg specimens.  The larger eggs in the photograph were most likely laid by duck-billed dinosaurs.  The smaller eggs were probably laid by oviraptorids.

“Although we cannot be certain, the smaller eggs may have been laid by a dinosaur known as Heyuannia huangi.  This small, Theropod, believed to be a member of the oviraptorids, a group of very bird-like dinosaurs, was named and described back in 2002 from a number of fossils found in the same strata as the eggs.”

5 08, 2015

Dinosaurs Inspire at Summer School

By | August 5th, 2015|Educational Activities, Main Page, Teaching|0 Comments

Kingswood Primary Academy Summer School – Its All About Dinosaurs!

The start of the week (Monday) and an Everything Dinosaur team member was dispatched to Northamptonshire to visit Kingswood Primary Academy to help kick-off their summer school with its theme all about dinosaurs.  The enthusiastic teaching team have developed a two week summer school with a focus on literacy to help the children (mainly Key Stage 2), to get to grips with composition, transcription and sentence construction.  With a topic like dinosaurs, there is certainly a great deal to write about.  For example, there are over 1,200 different types of dinosaur (genera) and new fossil discoveries are being made all the time.

The busy morning started with a short assembly which commenced immediately after registration.  In the assembly, Mr Bark (class teacher Year 5), outlined what the children would be doing during the course of the day and introduced our dinosaur expert who explained that fossils of prehistoric animals get discovered in the East Midlands of England and he demonstrated that fossils can even be found in the gravel outside of the classrooms.

Then it was on with the activities.  The children were split into three groups (Stegosaurs, Brachiosaurs and the Triceratops group) and each group was given the opportunity to participate in a very tactile fossil exploration and dinosaur workshop led by Everything Dinosaur.  This session helped to reinforce learning whilst retaining the focus on literacy.  The kinaesthetic nature of the dinosaur workshop supported the other two sessions offered over the course of the day.  The children were challenged to create a prehistoric animal timeline, jam-packed with lots of information and useful facts researched and prepared by the groups, many of the children demonstrated a surprising amount of knowledge.

A Very Informative Dinosaur Themed Timeline Created by Kingswood Primary Academy Pupils

Lots of facts and dinosaur information.

Lots of facts and dinosaur information.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Kingswood Primary Academy

Lots of Prehistoric Animal Themed Writing was Evident

Amazing facts all about Prehistoric Life.

Amazing facts all about Prehistoric Life.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Kingswood Primary Academy

Everything Dinosaur had supplied lots of dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed resources to help support the teaching aims and objectives.  The lesson plan we devised for our tactile fossil handling and exploration session helped to support the work of the teachers.  There were lots of examples of writing on display and some great use of adjectives too.

In addition to supplying the resources for the timeline exercise, our expert, during his dinosaur workshop challenged the children to have a go at designing their very own dinosaur.  He used a modern reconstruction of Triceratops (T. horridus) to help inspire the children.  There were some amazing creations on display by the end of the afternoon, with names like “beastiesaurus” and “feathersaurus”, with once again, lots of evidence of labelling, independent research, comprehension and sentence construction.

Amazing Dinosaur Designs on Display

Very creative dinosaurs!

Very creative dinosaurs!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Kingswood Primary Academy

Super labelling on the diagrams and we were really impressed to see that many of the budding young palaeontologists had thought about the animal’s colours, what it might have eaten and how big it may have been.  There was just time at the end of the day to answer some of the many questions from the children (and from the teachers too).

The summer school is running for a fortnight and next week our dinosaur expert will return to the school to help out further.  For the next visit we are going to try to take each group on a seaside fossil hunt, quite a challenge when you consider how far from the sea Northamptonshire is!

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s dinosaur workshops in school: Contact Everything Dinosaur

4 08, 2015

Four-Legged Snake Fossil Slithers into Legal Dispute

By | August 4th, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Tetrapodophis amplectus Fossil Provokes Legal Action

Back on July 24th, Everything Dinosaur reported on the publication of a scientific paper that provided an insight into how snakes evolved from limbed ancestors.  The fossil of a snake-like creature with four tiny legs had been spotted on a tour of a German museum quite by chance.  It’s significance had not been realised until Dr. David Martill (University of Portsmouth), spotted the beautifully preserved fossil whilst taking a party of his vertebrate palaeontology students on a visit to Germany to explore some of the country’s natural history museum fossil collections.

The unique specimen is believed to have been excavated from the Crato Formation of north-eastern Brazil.  The animal has been named Tetrapodophis amplectus , the name means “four-legged” embracing snake”, as the limbs probably did not have much of a locomotive function but probably served as claspers in mating or helping to control and manipulate prey.

To read more about Tetrapodophis: First Fossil Snake with Four Limbs Described

With the paper published, a legal dispute has arisen with the Brazilian authorities and an investigation has begun to try to understand more about the provenance of the fossil material.  Brazil made it illegal in 1942 to sell or export fossils without the express permission of the Government.  The snake fossil was part of a private collection on display at the famous Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum in Solnhofen.  This museum, based in southern Germany, has amongst its fossil collection, spectacular Late Jurassic fossil specimens preserved in fine-grained, lithographic limestone. By chance, during Dr. Martill’s visit, the museum was putting on an exhibition of Cretaceous fossils from similar strata, but this time from Brazil.  Both the slab and the counter slab are known, but their exact provenance remains a mystery.  That’s the problem, it may have been collected prior to the Brazilian legislation, or perhaps it was collected after 1942, nobody is really sure.

The Beautifully Preserved and Extremely Significant Tetrapodophis 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

The Brazilian officials are keen to investigate to try to determine whether the snake fossil was taken out of Brazil illegally.  If this is the case, then they may have grounds for repatriation.

Commenting on the situation Felipe Chaves, (Head of the Fossil Division of the Brazilian National Department of Mineral Production, based in Brasilia), stated:

“We will formalise the request for an investigation with the Brazilian Federal Police, in order to ascertain how this fossil specimen left Brazil.  We know some details that merit being investigated.”

The twist in the tale highlights a major problem in palaeontology.  How much responsibility can scientists take when it comes to upholding the legality of the fossil specimens that they study?

Unfortunately, fossils, especially those of vertebrates, can fetch high prices.  There is a black market of illegal fossil material and many collectors are prepared to pay large sums for exquisite specimens.  This encourages the illegal excavation and trading of such artefacts.  There are a number of countries that have established tough laws to try to prevent the smuggling of fossil material, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that illegal selling is still widespread.

To read an article about the seizing of a dinosaur fossil skeleton (T. bataar) that was put up for sale at a New York auction: U.S. Authorities Seize Dinosaur Fossil at the Centre of Auction Row

Dr. Nicholas Longrich, a palaeontologist at the University of Bath and a co-author of the fossil study stated:

“Personally, I would have liked to see the fossil go back to Brazil, but it wasn’t my fossil and so it wasn’t my choice.  We did discuss at length whether the specimen should be returned, given that we were uncertain about when it left, but the counterargument was that there was no evidence to suggest that any laws had been broken.”

It was only when the scientific paper describing the snake fossil was published in the academic journal “Science”, that Brazilian Government officials became aware of the fossil’s existence. Felipe Chaves suggests that the research team should have informed the relevant authorities when they considered that this specimen most probably came from Brazil.  However, Dr Martill, the lead author of the Tetrapodophis scientific paper sees no need to do this.

He stated:

“There are hundreds, if not thousands of Brazilian fossils [in museum collections] all over the world.  It is a bit distracting if scientists have to mess about with the legality of fossils before they study them.  I see thousands of fossils every year from all over the planet.  I am not going to write to the governments of all those countries just to check each and every fossil.”

Looking at the Wider Point of View

Protectionist laws are in place in a number of countries, most notably China, where significant steps have been taken to try to reduce the smuggling of fossil material out of the country.  Such restrictions can hamper the collection and study of fossil specimens, but at the same time there is a need to protect a country’s heritage and to crack down on criminal activities.

A Seizure of Dinosaur Fossil Eggs (China)

Confiscated dinosaur eggs taken from smugglers by Chinese customs.

Confiscated dinosaur eggs taken from smugglers by Chinese customs.

Picture Credit: Chinese News Agency

Fossils from private collections often cause the greatest concern.  It can prove very difficult to establish how or when a fossil specimen was acquired.  However, should researchers publish data on fossils that may have been obtained illegally.  A number of academic journals produce guidelines to help clarify the situation, at least in so far as publishing a scientific paper.  For example, the academic journal “Cretaceous Research”, provides assistance to authors by noting in its author guidelines that papers on fossils of uncertain origin will not be accepted for publication, even if they are part of a museum’s collection.  The specimens must have unambiguous collection or ownership data associated with them.

Given the wealth of vertebrate fossil material from the Crato and Santana Formations of Brazil in museums, it is doubtful whether the Brazilian investigation will make much progress.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“We can see both sides of the argument. Firstly, there is the desire to have controls on the exportation of fossil material and other artefacts from a country.  Retaining fossils in their country of origin can do much to encourage science education and research in that part of the world.  However, it is important to allow the continuation of research into fossils housed in various collections around the world even if their provenance can be described as a bit “murky”.  The important thing is to deter illegal collecting whilst at the same time encouraging a more open attitude towards scientific study.  Owners of private collections may be tempted to hide their collections away, thus denying scientists the chance to access them and to conduct research.”

To read an article about the return of Chinese fossils by American Customs officials following a number of seizures: Returning Contraband to China

3 08, 2015

Earliest Evidence of Reproduction in a Complex Organism

By | August 3rd, 2015|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Unravelling the Secrets of Fractofusus

There has been much debate over the origins of life on Earth and over the last two decades our understanding of that “slow burning fuse” leading to complex multi-cellular life forms has greatly improved, but many mysteries still remain.  During the latter stages of the Proterozoic Eon, referred to as the Neoproterozoic, the very first ecosystems were established with bacteria, algae and protists (single-celled organisms with a nucleus), still dominating but slowly and surely more complex life began to evolve and to play an increasingly important role in these food webs.  A team of scientists led by researchers from Cambridge University have identified the earliest example of reproduction in a complex organism, opening a window into life in deep water marine environments some 565 million years ago.

An Illustration of the Bizarre Ediacaran Fauna Fractofusus

An illustration showing how Fractofusus colonisised new territory.

An illustration showing how Fractofusus colonised new territory.

Picture Credit: Cambridge University

Fractofusus (two species F. misrai and F. andersoni) was the organism studied.  Fractofusus, which belonged to a group of bizarre organisms that show links to both the Plantae and Animalia Kingdoms called Rangeomorphs, thrived in marine habitats during the Ediacaran, a geological period that marked the end of the Proterozoic Eon, that lasted from around 635 million years ago to 542 million years ago.  Ediacaran fauna represent a transition from the microbially dominated food chains of the early Earth towards the modern biota that can be identified in Cambrian fossils.  More than thirty different Ediacaran faunal types have now been described providing scientists with the oldest known record of diverse, complex creatures.  Fossils of these ancient communities have been found in Russia, the Ediacaran Hills of South Australia (from which this geological period was named) and in Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador).  The Fractofusus fossils in this study come from the Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve on the coast of Newfoundland.

The research team discovered that Fractofusus took a bilateral approach to reproduction.  These lozenge shaped fossils were benthic (live on the sea floor) and sessile (attached to rocks), in addition, they were not mobile.  This means that fossils showing these strange organisms preserve them in situ, as they would have been when they were alive.  If an area is dotted with these fossils, then the scientists have a spatial map of how these organisms were distributed.  It is from these spatial maps that ideas about their reproduction strategy can be inferred.

Looking like fern fronds, Fractofusus was related to Charnia masoni, fossils of which were first identified from rocks exposed at Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire (Midlands of England).  These bizarre life-forms probably lived in deep water, far below the Epipelagic Zone of the ocean (the first two hundred metres of sea, where sunlight can penetrate).  At depth, no sunlight could reach, so these organism were not true plants as they could not photosynthesize.  They are difficult to place in the Kingdom Animalia as well.  They were fractual forms, with frond-like structures with no mouths, alimentary canal, anus or any method of locomotion.  It is likely that their large surface areas, (some of these organisms were up to two metres in length), allowed them to absorb nutrients directly from the sea water.  They probably grew extremely slowly.

Fractofusus Fossils Used in the Study

(a) = Fractofusus andersoni and (b) = Fractofusus misrai

(a) = Fractofusus andersoni and (b) = Fractofusus misrai

Picture Credit: Cambridge University

Fractofusus colonies dominate the fossil assemblage found along the coast of Newfoundland.  Two main species were analysed in this study.  Firstly, there is the more oval form (a) F. andersoni, pictured above and then there is the elongate form Fractofusus misrai (b).  Both these species exhibit the typical structures of this ancient organism, as preserved in the negative, epirelief external moulds formed in silts which were covered in volcanic ash deposits.

Analysis of the cluster patterns of the fossils revealed the likelihood of two methods of reproduction.  In one method, the organism sprouted “runners” from its body similar to the stolons produced by plants such as strawberries (asexual reproduction).  The second reproduction method (asexual or sexual reproduction), involved the release of waterborne propagules (simple buds or seeds released into the water column).  Such reproduction habits would have allowed this immobile organism to rapidly colonise a local area as well as to move to new territory.  The capacity of Fractofusus to derive the next generation by two distinct reproductive modes is a testament to its sophisticated biology.

Unfortunately, Fractofusus seems to have become extinct during the start of the Cambrian geological period around 542 million years ago, a time when more complex organisms were involving including animals with hard shells and armour with the establishment of the first complex predator/prey based ecosystems.

A Diagram Illustrating How Fractofusus Spread

Simplified diagram showing spatial distribution of Fractofusus.

Simplified diagram showing spatial distribution of Fractofusus.

Picture Credit: Cambridge University

The dual method of reproduction is illustrated in the above diagram.  Larger “grand-parent” organisms were the product of ejected waterborne propagules, while the “parents” and “children” grew from stolon like structures sent out by the older generation.

Lead author of the scientific paper, which has just been published in the journal “Nature”, Dr. Emily Mitchell (Cambridge University) stated:

“It [Fractofusus] has a very distinct body plan that is totally unique. There is nothing like Fractofusus around today, which makes trying to understand anything about it really, really difficult.  We knew very little about it, apart from the fact that it lived in the deep sea, it has a relatively large surface area, so it got its nutrients from the water column.  We literally had no idea how it reproduced prior to this study.”

Dr. Mitchell went onto add:

“Fractofusus doesn’t exhibit any of the features you associate with animals.  It certainly wasn’t a plant.  It belonged to a now extinct eukaryotic group known as Rangeomorphs.  But how Rangeomorphs relate to animals and the origins of animals is incredibly difficult to work out.”

This statistical, spatial mapping approach to the study of Ediacaran fauna is in its infancy.  The research team hope to employ this technique to explore how Fractofusus interacted with its environment and how colonies interacted with each other.

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