All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
10 04, 2016

Spectroscopic Studies on Organic Matter from Triassic Reptile Bones

By | April 10th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

More Evidence of Organic Matter Preserved in the Mesozoic Fossil Record

Over the last few years, Everything Dinosaur has reported on a number of fascinating research projects from around the world that suggest that there may be more to the fossil record than first meets the eye.  As more and more sophisticated research methodologies are employed, so there has been an exponential increase in our understanding of ancient life.  On of the most controversial areas of research are those studies concerning the finding and identification of traces of organic material preserved in the fossilised bones of long-dead animals.  A team of Polish scientists have recently published in the on line academic journal “PLOS One” a paper detailing the discovery of blood vessels and traces in protein in the bones of Triassic reptiles.

As far as we are aware at Everything Dinosaur, this is the oldest organic material identified to date.

One of the Fossil Limb Bones Used in the Study

One of the limb bones used in the study of Triassic vertebrates from Poland.

One of the limb bones used in the study of Triassic vertebrates from Poland.

The scientists, which include researchers from the University of Silesia (Faculty of Earth Science), Jagiellonian University and the Polish Academy of Sciences report on the finding of preserved blood-vessel-like structures enclosing organic molecules that could be amino acids and fragments of other proteins including fibrils of collagen.   It is thought that the organic material had been preserved in the 247 million-year-old specimens as the bones were rapidly mineralised.

The Shores of the Ancient Tethys Ocean

For much of the Early and Middle Triassic, the central northern portions of Europe, including the countries of Poland and Germany were submerged under a shallow sea (the western edge of the mighty Tethys Ocean).  The limestone strata that was formed during this time preserve evidence of a rich and varied vertebrate fauna as a number of different types of diapsid reptile lived on the shoreline.  The most common large vertebrate fossils are Nothosaurs and the evidence of organic material preservation came from a study of Nothosaur limb bones.  In addition, the fossilised vertebrae (specifically a centrum) of an as yet unidentified Protanystropheus species was also studied.

A Model of a Triassic Marine Reptile a Nothosaurus

One of the models in the Safari Prehistoric Sealife Toob.

One of the models in the Safari Prehistoric Sealife Toob.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Protanystropheus is a member of the Tanystropheidae family of Archosauromorphs, a strange group of reptiles characterised by extremely long and stiff necks that in some species represent more than half their entire body length.  It is likely that both Nothosaurs and Protanystropheus were fish-eaters (piscivores).

An Illustration of a Typical Member of the Tanystropheidae (T. longobardicus)

A drawing of the bizarre Triassic reptile Tanystropheus.

A drawing of the bizarre Triassic reptile Tanystropheus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Finding Fossil Biomolecules

The team, some of which had identified potential organic material in the fossilised remains of dinosaurs from the Gobi Desert, used an array of advanced and highly sophisticated research methods to identify the biomolecules.  The team used several analysis methods including X-ray photo-electron spectroscopy (XPS), an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) and fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).  Amino acids including hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine were found.  This discovery provides the oldest evidence yet of preservation of complex organic molecules in vertebrate remains from a marine environment.

Commenting on the team’s findings researcher Dr. Andrzej Boczarowski (Faculty of Earth Science, University of Silesia) stated:

“Among other proteins, we managed to find collagen, one of the most important proteins in the bodies of animals in general and vertebrates in particular.”

Highly Magnified Images Showing Demineralised Blood Vessels from the Fossil Material

Organic matter potentially identified in Triassic vertebrae fossils.

Organic matter potentially identified in Triassic vertebrae fossils.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The pictures above show some of the images of demineralised blood vessels identified from the fossil samples.

  • Picture (a) – parallel-orientated fossilised blood vessels from the Protanystropheus centrum.
  • Picture (b) – fossilised “floating” blood vessels from the Protanystropheus centrum revealed during the demineralisation process (removing the calcium in a EDTA solution).
  • Picture (c) – and ESEM image of branching (bifurcated) blood vessels mounted on a carbon conductive tab – this organic material was identified from a Nothosaurus femur.
  • Pictures (d, e and f) – stereoscopic microscopic images of isolated branch-like blood vessels from the Nothosaurus femur.

Highly Magnified Fragment of Mineralised Blood Vessel with Tubular Morphology Preserved

Highly magnified image of a blood vessel-like object showing preservation of tube shape.

Highly magnified image of a blood vessel-like object showing preservation of tube shape.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above shows three ESEM images (g) a potential blood vessel mounted on a carbon conductive tab, (h) mineralised blood vessel showing preservation of a tubular shape from the Nothosaurus femur and (i) an image of a mineralised, damaged wall of a blood vessel from the Protanystropheus centrum.

Complex molecular analysis using highly sophisticated research techniques has yielded evidence of organic material in a number of Pleistocene specimens.  Some organic material including the remnants of blood vessels and collagen has been reported in studies of Cretaceous aged fossil material, but such findings have been questioned and contamination or an infiltration of bacteria have been put forward as more likely sources of organic material.  However, this new study further extends the age range of such potential organic material discoveries and may provide palaeontologists with further insight with regards to the biology of Early Triassic diapsid reptiles.

9 04, 2016

The Papo Baryonyx “The Marmite Model”

By | April 9th, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products|0 Comments

The New Papo Baryonyx Divides Opinions

The new for 2016 Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model has been in stock at Everything Dinosaur for about a month now and team members have been monitoring the feedback and model reviews that we have received.  The figure measures an impressive thirty-three centimetres long and that head is approaching seventeen centimetres high, however, some dinosaur model collectors have found it difficult to come to terms with the very distinctive look that Papo have chosen to give this Theropod.

The Papo Baryonyx Dinosaur Model Divides Opinions

Available from Everything Dinosaur in a few weeks.

Available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A “Marmite Model”

This replica is one of the largest models that Papo intend to release in 2016, it certainly is a very striking figure with its row of spikes running down its back from the long neck to the tip of the tail.  Some collectors have suggested that the chosen colour scheme with half the model painted with brown stripes overlying battleship grey and the orange top line, is just a little too showy and elaborate, some have even termed the paint scheme as “positively garish”.  One thing is for sure, the Papo Baryonyx certainly stands out from the crowd, particularly when the more toned down greens and browns of the Papo tyrannosaurids and the Papo Spinosaurus are considered.

Those clever people at JurassicCollectables provided a very insightful guide to this dinosaur model in their recent video review.  Everything Dinosaur featured this video in an earlier blog post, to see the video and the accompanying article click the link: JurassicCollectables Reviews the Papo Baryonyx

The “Wet Look” Dinosaur

The finish applied to the top half of the Baryonyx gives the model a sheen, an almost “wet look”.  This has been commented upon by many collectors, it may not be to everyone’s taste but it is very likely that Baryonyx made its home in low-lying flood plains with extensive rivers and many lakes in the vicinity and as a piscivore (fish-eater), it would have been very much at home in or near water.

Baryonyx May Have Specialised in Eating Fish

Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model - available from Everything Dinosaur.

Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model – available from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Correct Anatomical Features

The tripodal stance might annoy some, but there is a lot to admire in terms of the way in which the known anatomy of this Early Cretaceous dinosaur is reflected in the model.  For example, the nostrils are in the approximate correct place and the first digit has a large and strongly recurved claw (the thumb claw).  In addition, the jaw is elongated and care has been taken to give the upper jaw that distinctive notch.   The paintwork on the skull and in the very large mouth is quite exquisite, although we remain uncertain as to how wide this dinosaur could gape.  The folds of skin under the jaw give the impression that this dinosaur may have had a throat pouch, something that a number of palaeontologists have speculated upon.

To purchase the Papo Baryonyx and other prehistoric animal models in the Papo range: Papo Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

Manipulation of the Feet to Improve the Stance

Some models, with a little bit of care and persuasion can stand and support themselves without the tip of the tail resting on the ground.  We have heard of dinosaur model fans using hair dryers or hot water treatment to make the lower legs more pliable and then have them manipulated so that they can provide more support.  We note the pads on the bottom of the feet are somewhat splayed out, this will help with stability as well as giving the impression that this heavy biped was well adapted to walking on soft mud.

The new for 2016 Papo Baryonyx model has got people talking, that in itself is not a bad thing.  We have nicknamed this dinosaur the “marmite model” as some people love it some people dislike it.

We would love to hear what you think about it.

8 04, 2016

New Model to Help Find Fossils

By | April 8th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Serendipity Taken Out of Fossil Finding

Very often a major fossil find is attributed to serendipity, someone being in the right place at the right time.  Even the most experienced palaeontologist needs a little bit of luck, take for example the discovery of the ancient hominin Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores.  Had the research team excavated an area just one metre either side of that part of the cave they did excavate they would never have found the beautifully preserved skull and partial skeleton of an individual (the holotype LB-1).  Yes, “lady luck” does play a part in many new scientific discoveries.  However, an international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Adelaide, have created a mathematical model to help fossil hunters find the remains of long-extinct animals.

Combining Scientific Disciplines to Predict Where Fossils Can Be Found

The international team, that included researchers from Kiel University (Germany), as well as Australia, looked at the estimated ages of the fossils from a number of extinct Australian megafauna and plotted known fossil find locations for these creatures against data for the prehistoric climate of Australia.  This provided a guide to the maximum likely ranges of the animals in the study.  This information was then mapped against the geology of Australia to provide an indication of what suitably aged, likely fossil bearing strata was exposed.  Weighting for the erosion potential of the rocks was built into the mathematical model and this data set could then be used to help determine the best areas in the country to look for the animal’s fossil remains.

A paper detailing the research has been published in the on line journal PLOS One, the research team confidently state that their model can provide fossil hunters with guidelines on how to find fossils elsewhere in the world too.

Determining the Best Places to Hunt for Fossils

Combining palaeoclimate data with erosion studies and known fossil finds to predict where fossils can be found.

Combining palaeo-climate data with erosion studies and known fossil finds to predict where fossils can be found.

Picture Credit: Sebastián Block, Frédérik Saltré,  Marta Rodríguez-Rey, Damien A. Fordham, Ingmar Unkel, Corey J. A. Bradshaw

The picture above provides an illustration of how the mathematical model was constructed and how to implement it.  For any given type of extinct animal (in this example, the giant marsupial Diprotodon), the red map at the bottom shows the likely places to hunt for fossils of that animal.  The darker the red shading the more likely that location is to be a “fossil finding hot spot”.   The red map has been created by looking at certain variables, namely:

  • Where the animal used to live – a map created by assessing ancient climate data and known fossil finds (the brown map).
  • Where the fossils could be preserved – using an assessment of the geology of the local area (blue map).
  • Where it is now possible to find the fossils of that particular animal, building in an assessment of erosion profiles of the likely fossil bearing strata (green map).

The scientists are confident that this systematic approach to fossil finding is more likely to be successful than random approaches to fossil hunts, even out-doing sophisticated approaches such as using satellite data to identify likely fossil bearing outcrops and exposures.

Five genera of Late Pleistocene megafauna were selected for this study.  All had an extensive and relatively widely distributed fossil record on the continent and since all had become extinct relatively recently there was plenty of evidence to support an assessment of the ancient climate.  The creatures studied were Thylacoleo (the marsupial lion), Protemnodon (a giant wallaby), the cow-sized, giant marsupial  Zygomaturus, the flightless bird Genyornis and Diprotodon, the largest marsupial known to science.

Diprotodon Played a Role in the Study

Diprotodonts - Giant Marsupials

Diprotodon – A Giant Marsupial.

Picture Credit: Australian Museum/James King

Although all these five genera are unique to Australia, the scientists had sufficient fossils to create an accurate map of the creatures prehistoric distribution.

Commenting on the reasoning behind their model, project leader, Professor Corey Bradshaw, (Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide) stated:

“A chain of ideal conditions must occur for fossils to form, which means they are extremely rare, so finding as many as possible can tell us more of what the past was like, and why certain species went extinct.  Typically, however, we use haphazard ways to find fossils.  Mostly people just go to excavation sites and surrounding areas where fossils have been found before.  We hope our models will make it easier for palaeontologists and archaeologists to identify new fossil sites that could yield vast treasures of prehistoric information.”

Lead author of the scientific paper Sebastián Block explained that the team made use of modelling techniques already used widely in ecology.  They looked at the past distribution of these prehistoric genera, where fossils were likely to have formed and the probability of making field discoveries.  The model may not make the back-breaking work of excavating fossils any easier, but at least palaeontologists will be looking in the most likely places.

The Probability of Finding Fossils

Combining disciplines increases the probability of finding fossils.

Combining disciplines increases the probability of finding fossils.

Graph Credit: Sebastián Block, Frédérik Saltré,  Marta Rodríguez-Rey, Damien A. Fordham, Ingmar Unkel, Corey J. A. Bradshaw

The bar chart above shows how the model increases the likelihood of fossil discovery for the five genera studied.  The chances of finding a fossil of that particular genus compared to a random search is plotted on the vertical (Y axis).  The blue bars represent the probability of finding a fossil based on an assessment of ancient climate.  The green bars show the probability of a successful fossil hunt using just geological data and erosion assessments.  The red bars show the increased likelihood of success after the application of the variables used in this assessment (ancient climate, preservation potential and known discoveries).  The dashed line outlines the probability of finding a fossil using a random search in a known fossil bearing locality.

Likely Fossil Preservation Sites Accounted For

The team added into their data relevant predictors for the likelihood of fossil discoveries.  For example, many Late Pleistocene fossils are found in caves so the number of caves in the areas studied were also plotted.  In addition, as Australian megafauna (indeed most terrestrial animal fossils), are found in association with ancient lakes and rivers, areas where sedimentary material can be built up were given greater weighting as indeed were areas that tended to be more open and devoid of extensive plant cover as this would make fossil finding easier.

Using the model, likely fossil “hot spots” identified include the area south of Lake Eyre (South Australia), the land to the west of Lake Torrens (also South Australia) and the Shark Bay locality in Western Australia.

Kiel University’s Professor Ingmar Unkel added:

“Our methods predict potential fossil locations across an entire continent, which is useful to identify potential fossil areas far from already known sites.  It’s a good “exploration filter”; after which remote-sensing approaches and fine-scale expert knowledge could compliment the search.”

Luck will still play a role in fossil discoveries but at least this mathematical model helps to swing the odds in the scientists favour.

7 04, 2016

Stolen Dinosaur Fossils Returned to Mongolia

By | April 7th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Looted Dinosaur Fossils Returned Home to Mongolia

This week saw another success in the fight against illegal fossil smuggling and the black market in rare artefacts such as prehistoric animal fossils.  Officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs returned a number of dinosaur skeletons and other fossils to the Mongolian government.  In a ceremony held in New York, investigators from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) handed over fossils that had been recovered from Wyoming and the “big apple”.

An Articulated Psittacosaurus Dinosaur Skeleton Part of the Haul Being Repatriated

A Psittacosuaurus skeleton part of a haul being returned to Mongolia.

A Psittacosaurus skeleton part of a haul being returned to Mongolia.

Picture Credit: ICE

A law passed in the 1920’s forbids the removal of artefacts deemed to be of significant cultural value from Mongolia, the returned items include nearly complete skeletons of the basal horned dinosaurs Protoceratops and Psittacosaurus, along with a beautifully preserved nest of Protoceratops eggs.  In addition, the fossils of the duck-billed dinosaur Bactrosaurus and the skull of a tyrannosaurid Alioramus as well as the skull of Psittacosaurus were returned.

Commenting on the significance of the returns, Peter Edge, (HSI’s Executive Associate Director) stated:

“Today’s ceremony is an excellent demonstration of the co-operation between HSI, our colleagues at the Department of Justice and our foreign counterparts with the Government of Mongolia.  A successful repatriation requires extensive co-operation among all parties involved, which is rewarded by the knowledge that we’ve returned what rightfully belongs to the people of Mongolia.”

Building on the Success of the Tarbosaurus bataar Repatriation

U.S. customs most noteworthy success came in 2013 with the high profile repatriation of a mounted Tarbosaurus bataar skeleton that had originally been put up for auction in New York the year before.  Tarbosaurus, like Alioramus was a member of the Tyrannosauridae family, this case resulted in the prosecution and eventual jailing of Florida fossil dealer Eric Prokopi.

To read more about this:  American Fossil Dealer Jailed for Dinosaur Smuggling

The Tarbosaurus case brought to the world’s attention the problem of illegal fossil dealing, it laid the foundation for much greater co-operation between governments and other federal bodies and sent a very clear message to the unscrupulous dealers and their middle men.  In this latest ceremony, a total of twenty-three dinosaur fossils were handed over to the Mongolian government.

The Mounted Skeleton of the Hadrosaur Bactrosaurus

Bactrosaurus fossils repatriated to Mongolia

Bactrosaurus fossils repatriated to Mongolia

Picture Credit: ICE

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the parties involved in achieving such a successful conclusion.  These efforts will further strengthen cross-border co-operation and bilateral ties between nations as authorities attempt to reduce the level of fossil smuggling and the illegal removal and export of rare artefacts from Asia.”

An Almost Complete Protoceratops Skeleton

Protoceratops fossil skeleton returned to Mongolia.

Protoceratops fossil skeleton returned to Mongolia.

Picture Credit: ICE

HSI’s specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities.  They also train investigators from other nations and agencies to investigate crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.  Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to twenty years, fines and possible restitution to the purchasers of the items.

This is just the latest success for the HSI, since 2007 this American organisation has repatriated more than 8,000 items to more than thirty countries.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement media team for the compilation of this article.

6 04, 2016

“Egg-citing” Dinosaur Egg Discovery from China

By | April 6th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaur Eggs from the Early Cretaceous

Parts of China have provided palaeontologists with ample evidence of dinosaur nesting behaviour, fossils of nests, eggshells and complete eggs themselves have been excavated from a number of locations.  Guandong Province (southern China) in particular is famous for the relative abundance of dinosaur egg fossils that have been found.  However, the vast majority of these egg fossils from China come from Upper Cretaceous deposits, indeed from a global perspective, dinosaur eggs that date from the Lower Cretaceous are much rarer than their Upper Cretaceous counterparts.  Up until now, the only confirmed dinosaur egg fossils from Lower Cretaceous age deposits from China have been excavated from sites in Liaoning Province in the north-east of the country.

A Variety of Dinosaur Eggs Seized in a Customs Raid

Confiscated dinosaur eggs taken from smugglers by Chinese customs.

Confiscated dinosaur eggs taken from smugglers by Chinese customs.

Picture Credit: Chinese News Agency

A press release from the Chinese Academy of Sciences which provides information on a new paper published in the academic journal “Vertebrata PalAsiatica” changes all that.  A new type of dinosaur egg is described, although the fossils are fragmentary, the largest piece of eggshell found to date in only a few centimetres in diameter, a microscopic analysis of the eggshells structure has revealed new characteristics indicating that this is a new type of dinosaur egg, but as to which dinosaur laid the eggs, that remains a bit of a mystery.

A Fragment of the Dinosaur Egg Fossil (Eggshell)

The scale bar = 1cm

(A) scale bar = 1 cm and (B) scale bar = 1 mm

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The picture above shows the largest eggshell fragment discovered to date (A), the second picture (B) is a close up of the highly weathered surface of another piece of dinosaur eggshell from the same location.  The fossils come from the uppermost siltstone layer of exposed Lower Cretaceous sediments in Gansu Province.  These rocks make up the Lower Cretaceous Hekou Group in the Lanzhou-Minhe Basin, north-western China.  Exposed Lower Cretaceous strata in Gansu Province has yielded extensive dinosaur and bird tracks, but these are the first dinosaur egg fossils to have been found in this part of China.

To read an article about some intriguing Sauropod tracks found in the same area as these egg fossils: Swimming or Walking Sauropods

Important Implications for the Geological and Geographical Distribution of Early Cretaceous Dinosaur Eggs

The eggs have been assigned to a new oogenus, a new oospecies has been erected.  Just like fossilised animal tracks, palaeontologists can establish a scientific name for egg fossils, such names have the prefix “oo”, from the ancient Greek for egg, placed in front of them to indicate these names refer to an egg.  With trace fossils the prefix “ichnos” is used, this too comes from ancient Greek, (ichnos means track).  The oogenus is Polyclonoolithus and the oospecies is Polyclonoolithus yangjiagouensis, the dinosaur eggs can be distinguished from other Chinese dinosaur eggs as under the microscope the eggshell  showed unique features such as highly branched eggshell units not having a compacted layer near the outer surface of the shell and very irregular pore canals.

Microscopic Study of the Eggshell Revealed Unique Features

Microscopic analysis of the eggshell structure revealed unique features in this Lower Cretaceous dinosaur egg.

Microscopic analysis of the eggshell structure revealed unique features in this Lower Cretaceous dinosaur egg.

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The authors of the scientific paper conclude that the eggshell fossils represent a more basic type of dinosaur egg, especially when compared to the highly diverse forms of dinosaur egg found in Upper Cretaceous deposits.  Its taxonomic relationship to other oogenera is not known, but these fossils might represent an early form of egg that led onto the evolution of more rounded, spherical eggshell shapes (spheroolithid eggs).

Polyclonoolithus yangjiagouensis

As for the name Polyclonoolithus yangjiagouensis (pronounced Pol-ee-klon-ooh-lith-us yang-gee-ah-gou-en-sis), the oogenus name is derived from the Greek for “egg stone with many small branches”, the oospecies name honours the town of Yangjiagou, in the border region of Lintao and Yongjing counties, Gansu Province, which is close to where the fossils were found.  By honouring the local town in this way the scientists hope to deter pilfering of fossil material, unfortunately, there is an extensive illegal trade in fossils in China and although the authorities have worked hard to stamp out the black market, many hundreds, if not thousands of rare artefacts such as dinosaur fossils are smuggled out of China each year.

Trade in unlawfully gained fossil material is significant, dinosaur eggs are particular favourite of unscrupulous traders as they are relatively small , portable but retain a high resale value.  Last year Everything Dinosaur reported on the seizure of huge haul of stolen dinosaur eggs from Guandong Province, to read more about this: Chinese Authorities Seize Hundreds of Dinosaur Eggs in Raid

Which Dinosaur Laid These Eggs?

The eggs were probably little more than ten centimetres in diameter, not huge when compared to the eggs of Sauropods for example.  However, the palaeontologists cannot be certain as to which type of dinosaur laid the eggs.  Only a handful of dinosaurs are known from the siltstone strata (late Early Cretaceous).  Evidence of basal Titanosaurs have been found along with the fossils of an iguanodontid Lanzhousaurus magnidens.  The eggshell fragments come from the same locality where fossils of an armoured dinosaur, a nodosaurid (Taohelong jinchengensis) have been discovered.  It is not possible at this time to identify which type of dinosaur produced these intriguing eggs.

5 04, 2016

Extinct Bird of New Caledonia Mystery Solved

By | April 5th, 2016|Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Giant Bird Mystery Solved But Heaps of Problems

Scientists including researchers from Flinders University (South Australia), have solved the mystery of an extinct flightless bird that once roamed the island archipelago of New Caledonia.  For the first time, the post cranial skeleton has been reconstructed using fossils from a number of cave sites, however, the strange heaps found on the island may not have been nesting mounds created by this large bird, the mounds remain a mystery.

The bird named Sylviornis neocaledoniae, was about the size of a Dodo, but with much longer legs and a longer neck, large individuals may have reached 80 centimetres tall and weighed as much as 34 kgs.  It survived on these isolated islands until very recently, there is evidence to suggest that these birds were around 2,500 years ago.  The arrival of humans in New Caledonia led to the extinction of Sylviornis, but a mystery remained.  Large earth mounds were believed to be nesting sites excavated by these flightless birds but an analysis of foot bones reveals that this extinct New Caledonian resident was not a member of the Megapodiidae (incubator birds), if it did not build these mounds than what or who did?

Scientists have Reconstructed the Skeleton of Sylviornis neocaledoniae

Scale bar = 50 cm, a skeletal reconstruction of the giant, flightless bird from New Caledonia Sylviornis.

Scale bar = 50 cm, a skeletal reconstruction of the giant, flightless bird from New Caledonia Sylviornis neocaledoniae.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Known bones are shaded white in the illustration above, bones not associated with known remains are shaded grey.  Previously, only the skull had been reconstructed, this robust bird probably fed on small animals including invertebrates.

The islands of New Caledonia in the south-west Pacific lie some 750 miles to the east of the coast of Queensland.  Dinosaur enthusiasts might remember that New Caledonia was the location chosen to shoot episode three of the ground-breaking BBC television series “Walking with Dinosaurs” that first aired back in 1999.  The exotic fauna of these tropical islands contains a number of unique trees and plants, that are descended from species that once existed on the super-continent Gondwana.  The isolation of the islands permitted several types of ancient flora to survive, for example the New Caledonia Pine (Araucaria columnaris) is descended from ancient trees once grazed by dinosaurs.  The islands became Oxfordshire in the Late Jurassic some 149 million years ago, for the purposes of episode three of the television series – “The Cruel Sea”.

The research, published in the on line journal PLOS One suggests that S. neocaledoniae is not closely related to megapodes, birds such as the Australian Brush Turkey (Alectura lathami) or the Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), it had feet more like a chicken than the feet of birds that construct large mounds of earth and vegetation which they then lay eggs in, relying on the mound to incubate the eggs.

Comparison of Foot Bones S. neocaledoniae (left) with a Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata)

Sylviornis foot bones (left) compared to the extant, mould building Malleefowl of Australia (right).

Sylviornis foot bones (left) compared to the extant, mould building Malleefowl of Australia (right).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The two black bars are scale bars, each one equates to ten centimetres.  The foot of Sylviornis may have been much bigger than the extant Malleefowl, but the toes are proportionally much smaller, the claws less sharp and indeed, the pedal unguals (bones that make up the digits) are also proportionally smaller than that found in the Malleefowl.  The scientists conclude that these feet were not adapted to creating nesting mounds and that S. neocaledoniae probably incubated its eggs by sitting on the nest in the same way as Ostriches and Emus.

Commenting on the study, one of the authors of the scientific paper, Miyess Mitri (Flinders University) stated:

“I was privileged to study this amazing bird, whose large legs and tiny wings made it look like a turkey on steroids.  The tell-tale muscle scars showed that the muscles for the toes were weak and the claws were just like those of chickens — nothing like the mini-spades of mound-builders.”

A phylogenetic analysis using characteristics observed from more than 600 bones studied, suggests that the closest relative of Sylviornis neocaledoniae was Megavitiornis altirostris, colloquially known as the Noble Megapode, that was once resident on the island of Fiji some 850 miles east of New Caledonia.  Sadly, the flightless Megavitiornis seems to have suffered the same fate as Sylviornis, it too became extinct once humans settled on Fiji.  It is likely that both birds, believed to be from the same bird family as the chicken, were hunted to extinction because they tasted good and being flightless they would have been relatively easy to catch.

As for those strange heaps of earth, the research team suggest that they could have been caused by a phenomenon of natural erosion.

4 04, 2016

The “Kite Runner” from the Silurian of England

By | April 4th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Aquilonifer spinosus – Meet the “Kite Runner” from the Silurian

A team of international researchers including scientists from Leicester University, Oxford University, Imperial College London and Yale have published a paper on a two centimetre long, ancient Arthropod that once scuttled around an ancient Silurian sea floor.  The fossil, preserved in almost three-dimensions has slowly emerged from its volcanic ash matrix and the specimen is not only a new species but it reveals a novel way of brooding its young.

The new species is named in honour of the best selling 2003 novel “The Kite Runner” by Khalid Hosseini, as the young are tethered to the adult’s body in capsules or pouches that reminded the research team of kites.

A Computer Generated Three-dimensional Image of A. spinosus

The capsules or pouches to carry young look like squashed lemons in this image.

The capsules or pouches to carry young look like squashed lemons in this image.

Picture Credit: D Briggs/D Siveter/M Sutton/D Legg

The fossil comes from a remarkable site in Herefordshire (England), close to the Welsh borders.  The limestone strata is interrupted by a finely grained bedding plane that represents the ash from a volcanic eruption that settled on the seabed some 430 million years ago.  This ash choked, buried and killed a lot of the Arthropods and other creatures that lived on or around the sea floor, and the Silurian Herefordshire Lagerstätte has provided palaeontologists with an unique opportunity to study microfossils in exquisite detail.

The genus name Aquilonifer comes from the Latin “aquila” for eagle or kite and the suffix “fer” which means to carry.  The paper describing the study has been published in the academic journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.

Lead author, Professor Derek Briggs (Yale University and Royal Society Fellow), commented:

“Modern crustaceans employ a variety of strategies to protect their eggs and embryos from predators, attaching them to the limbs, holding them under the carapace or enclosing them within a special pouch until they are old enough to be released, but this example is unique.”

Strategy for Raising Young

No member of the Arthropoda, alive today (as far as we at Everything Dinosaur are aware), adopts such a strategy towards raising the next generation.  As only one fossil specimen has been found and since no Arthropod known to science has evolved this behaviour, the fossil may record one reproduction strategy that ultimately proved to be unsuccessful, or at least less successful than other strategies employed by competing organisms.

Revealing the Tiny Fossil

The scientists were able to identify A. spinosus using a process whereby high intensity scanning photographs are taken, in a virtual slice by slice of the specimen.  The results are then fed into a powerful computer programme that generates a three-dimensional image of the animal, including soft body parts such as, in this case, the pouches or capsules that held juveniles.  The picture in this blog article is therefore an image of the “virtual fossil” that has been generated by this process.

The “Kite Runner” shows ten juveniles attached at various stages of development, all connected to the adult.  The researchers suggest that the adult delayed its moult until the juveniles were old enough to hatch, otherwise, the juveniles would have been cast adrift as the exoskeleton was shed.  It had been considered that the strange capsules/pouches with their tethers were some form of parasite, but the attachment seemed too uniform and the attachment position was not very favourable when it came to trying to access nutrients from the host.

Aquilonifer spinosus shared its marine environment with a host of other invertebrates including ostracods, brachiopods, worms, gastropods (snails), sea stars, and various shrimp-like creatures.  The scientists suggest that this animal was a mandibulate, belonging to a clade of the Arthropoda that includes crustaceans, and modern insects.  It lacked eyes and probably relied upon its long, robust antenna to find its way about, the trunk had eleven body segments which all had tiny jointed limbs to help it scuttle along the seabed.

Co-author, Dr. Legg of Oxford University stated that this bizarre creature that seems to have kept its babies close to it by thin threads may have had a segmented body and an exoskeleton but deciding where in the Order Arthropoda it fitted proved a tricky task.

Over the last few years, Everything Dinosaur has covered a number of fossil discoveries from the Silurian Herefordshire Lagerstätte made using the same techniques employed in this study.

To read about the discovery of a strange ostracod fossil: Ancient Ostracod from Herefordshire

To read about a rather nasty surprise revealed by this fossil preparation process: Prehistoric Parasites from the Silurian

3 04, 2016

Euoplocephalus “Well Armoured Head”

By | April 3rd, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Euoplocephalus tutus – “Well Armoured Head”

The first fossils ascribed to this armoured dinosaur were discovered in 1897 by an expedition mapping the Red Deer River area in Alberta (Canada), led by the famous Canadian palaeontologist Lawrence Lambe. This locality now forms part of the famous Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of southern Alberta. It was Lambe who named this dinosaur Stereocephalus tutus in 1902, on the basis of a partial skull and five pieces of dermal armour, however the genus name had already been given to a type of beetle from South America that had been named in 1884, so a new genus name was erected in 1910.

Everything Dinosaur’s Scale Drawing of Euoplocephalus tutus

A scale drawing of Euoplocephalus tutus.

A scale drawing of Euoplocephalus tutus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Significant ankylosaurid specimens are relatively much rarer in the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation when compared to other Ornithischian dinosaurs.  Given the robust nature of the bones of these large animals and the amount of tough, dermal armour, this suggests that in the absence of a fossilisation bias, that Ankylosaurs may have inhabited areas that limited the potential for any remains to become fossils, or that these armoured dinosaurs made up only a small proportion of the total dinosaur population at any one time.  Euoplocephalus tutus, is, we at Everything Dinosaur think, the only ankylosaurid known from this formation.   A study undertaken in 2003 provided a detailed analysis of Euoplocephalus cranial anatomy providing further evidence that this genus was indeed, distinct from Ankylosaurus.  Early research examining the post cranial skeleton of Euoplocephalus identified subtle differences in the shape and size of the bony tail club.  Euoplocephalus tail clubs could be grouped into three general categories:

  • Rounded tail clubs
  • Bluntly pointed at the end of the club
  • Elongate tail clubs

The scientist responsible for this study (Coombs 1995) suggested that this individual variation might be accounted for by the fact that as these dinosaurs grew so their tail clubs altered shape.  Or it might be to do with allometric factors.  When an animal changes shape in response to size changes, it is said to scale allometrically.  In a discussion regarding tail club function in the same scientific paper, it was proposed that the tail club would have made a very effective defensive weapon against tyrannosaurids.  If the tail club was swung and made contact with an attacking Theropod’s ankle joint then it was likely to have broken bones and caused an immense amount of damage.

Last year, Everything Dinosaur wrote a short article on the talented Victoria Arbour, a leading specialist in the study of Ankylosaurs and armoured dinosaurs in general.  Thanks to Victoria many young women are looking to palaeontology and other related sciences for a career.

To read more about Victoria’s contribution to our understanding of armoured dinosaurs: Helping to Inspire Young People to Study Earth Sciences

2 04, 2016

JurassicCollectables Reviews the Papo Baryonyx

By | April 2nd, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page|0 Comments

A Video Review of the Papo Baryonyx by JurassicCollectables

The first of the new for 2016 Papo prehistoric animal models is now in stock at Everything Dinosaur, and those clever people at JurassicCollectables have already produced a very informative video review of this, one of the largest models to be added to the Papo portfolio this year.  It is twenty years since Baryonyx was formally named and described (Charig and Milner – 1986) and since then, our understanding of the Spinosauridae and the sub-family Baryonychinae, which includes B. walkeri and its closest relatives, has altered quite dramatically.  The sculpt, the glossy, “wet look” given to this model and those dermal spines have certainly intrigued dinosaur model fans and divided opinions but it cannot be doubted that the model definitely has the look of a Papo replica about it.

The Video Review of the New for 2016 Papo Baryonyx Dinosaur Model

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

In this short video, (the video lasts for eight and a quarter minutes), the narrator guides the viewer over some of the finer points of this new replica – the attention to detail around the skull, the superb paintwork on the inside of the cavernous jaws (notwithstanding the rather too white of the dentition) and so forth.  JurassicCollectables show this new model from a number of angles, this really gives the viewer and any would-be model collector the opportunity to appreciate this replica and to make a proper assessment of it.  This is so much better than having to rely on just photographs.  The size of the new Papo Baryonyx can be appreciated when it is compared next to the classic Papo Spinosaurus and the now, ever so rare, green standing Tyrannosaurus rex figure (also Papo).

To see the range of Papo prehistoric animals available from Everything Dinosaur (including the Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model): Papo Prehistoric Animal Models

In the video, the Papo Baryonyx model has a tripodal stance (the hind feet and the tail resting on the ground), this too has irked some model collectors and at Everything Dinosaur we have tried to find models that balance on their hind feet for collectors, although this has not always been possible.  Hopefully, given the fact that a number of Papo Theropods also have a tripodal stance this will not detract too much from the overall enjoyment of the model.

JurassicCollectables have produced video reviews of every prehistoric animal replica that Papo have made, to see these videos and to subscribe to their excellent YouTube channel: Subscribe to JurassicCollectables on YouTube

The Papo Baryonyx Dinosaur Model

The Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model.

The Papo Baryonyx dinosaur model.  Come and get me!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

There is much to be admired about this new Papo dinosaur.  We suspect that it will prove to be very popular with collectors and dinosaur fans alike, but it will, no doubt have its detractors.  We shall see what reviews and feedback we get from our customers and we look forward to welcoming into our warehouse the rest of the new for 2016 Papo dinosaur and prehistoric animal models.

1 04, 2016

Preview of Prehistoric Times (Spring 2016)

By | April 1st, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Magazine Reviews, Main Page, Prehistoric Times|2 Comments

Prehistoric Times Magazine Previewed

Team members at Everything Dinosaur are looking forward to receiving the next edition of the quarterly magazine ” Prehistoric Times”.  Issue 117 (spring 2016), is due to arrive in the next couple of weeks or so and what an exciting edition this promises to be.  The two featured prehistoric creatures Carnotaurus and the enigmatic “Bear Dogs” are amongst our favourite prehistoric animals preserved in the fossil record, we expect it to be jam-packed with lots of amazing reader submitted artwork showcasing “meat-eating bull” and all things Amphicyonidae – the correct term for the “Bear Dog” taxonomic family.

The Front Cover of Prehistoric Times – Spring 2016

The front cover of the next edition of "Prehistoric Times" magazine.

The front cover of the next edition of “Prehistoric Times” magazine.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks (Prehistoric Times)

For further information on Prehistoric Times and to subscribe to this magazine: Visit Prehistoric Times Website

Inside, readers will find updates on dinosaur and other fossil discoveries, reviews of the latest dinosaur books, plus an interview with American freelance researcher, author and illustrator Greg Paul.   On the subject of great artists, issue 117 will conclude the special two-part feature on Zdeněk Burian, a man regarded by many as one of the pioneers of modern palaeoart.  Don’t forget to check out Tracy L. Ford’s amazing article on feathered members of the Dinosauria, it’s bound to be compulsive reading.

Also a Digital Magazine

Prehistoric Times is also available as a digital download for your favourite mobile device.  Handy dinosaurs downloaded to your phone, laptop, tablet etc.

Amongst the book reviews, new prehistoric animal models and model making tips there will be a special feature on the the Philadelphia Museum of Natural Science, so much is crammed into the sixty or so pages it’s like looking at an over stuffed vertebrate collections draw at the Natural History Museum.

The spring edition of Prehistoric Times magazine should be with us in a few days, we can’t wait, bags I get first read!

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