Early Cretaceous Crocodile from Brazil Subjected to Shrink Ray

Susisuchus anatoceps – Probably a Dwarf Crocodile

A team of Brazilian based scientists have concluded that the Early Cretaceous crocodile Susisuchus (S. anatoceps) may not have been as large as previously thought, writing in the on line, open access journal PLOS One, the researchers suggest that this species may have grown to less than one metre in length.  It had been thought that specimens collected to date represented juveniles but analysis of growth rings preserved in the fossilised bones of one individual, believed to have died when it was around seventeen years old, suggests that this reptile rarely exceeded seventy centimetres in length.

Early Cretaceous Crocodile Subjected to Palaeontologist Shrink Ray

Susisuchus anatoceps scale drawing.

A modified scale drawing of the Cretaceous crocodile Susisuchus.

Picture Credit: University of Queensland with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Originally described in 2003 from a partial skeleton representing an individual whose desiccated carcase probably laid out on an ancient riverbed for some considerable time before eventual burial, Susisuchus anatoceps is known from about ten fossil specimens, which from their small size were all thought to represent young animals.  However, the scientists, which included lead author of the scientific paper Juliana M. Sayão  from the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (north-eastern Brazil), analysed the internal structures of a two bones (a rib and a bone from the lower front limb – an ulna) from a Susisuchus and concluded that this specimen represented an animal that was a sub-adult and therefore nearly fully grown.  This research suggests that these crocodiles were small bodied and comparable to extant dwarf crocodiles.

The Fossil Specimen Studied Showing Location Where Bone Samples Were Taken and Close up Views of the Bone Structure

Calculating the age of Susisuchus anatoceps.

A close up of the rib and limb bone fragment used to assess the age of a Susisuchus anatoceps crocodile specimen.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above shows (A) the fossil specimen of Susisuchus (MPSC R1136), which is part of the vertebrate fossil collection of the Museu de Paleontologia da Universidade Regional do Cariri (Santana do Cariri, Ceará State, Brazil).  The scale bar for (A) is five centimetres.  The area in red (marked B) and green (marked C) with arrows (corresponding to rib and ulna respectively) indicate where the cuts were made for the bone sample collection. (B) View of the cross section of the ulna. (C) View of the cross section of the rib.  In the scientific journal the scale bar for B and C is reported as being 5 mm but we suspect that this scale is inaccurate for both photographs.

Susisuchus anatoceps

Fossils of this ancient crocodile come from the Crato Formation of Brazil and indicate that Susisuchus lived around 112 to 100 million years ago.  Similar crocodile fossils have been discovered in Australia suggesting that these types of crocodiles may have migrated using river systems that linked these parts of the super-continent Gondwana.  Although, now known to be small, when it comes to Crocodylomorphs Susisuchus punches way above its weight as it is one of the oldest crocodilians with a dermal skeleton very similar to that seen in extent crocodilians (members of the Eusuchia), comprising a dorsal shield comprising of at least six longitudinal rows of osteoderms (dermal armour).  This suggests that Susisuchus is phylogenetically very close to the origin of Eusuchia – modern day crocodiles, caiman, alligators and gharials.

Susisuchus anatoceps  – On the Road to Modern Crocodylians

The fossilised remains of the ancient crocodile Susisuchus anatoceps.

Susisuchus anatoceps fossil material.

Picture Credit: University of Queensland

Despite the wealth of vertebrate fossil material associated with the Crato Formation, crocodile fossils are relatively rare.  Many palaeontologists believe that the Crato Formation deposits, the majority of which represent a brackish, lagoonal type environment was not the natural habitat of Susisuchus, instead the bodies of animals were washed downstream into the lagoon and therefore the carcase may have travelled extensively before final deposition.  It is probable that Susisuchus lived in freshwater environments further inland and it fed on small fish, molluscs and amphibians.

Comparing the Size of Brazilian Cretaceous and Early Palaeocene Crocodiles

Scale comparison of Brazilian Cretaceous Crocodylomorpha.

Comparative size of Susisuchus anatoceps to other Brazilian Cretaceous and Palaeocene Crocodylomorphs.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The diagram above shows Susisuchus anatoceps (4) compared to three other Brazilian Crocodylomorphs from the Cretaceous and Early Palaeocene namely:

1).  Baurusuchus salgadoensis a 4.5 metre long terrestrial predator named in 2005 kwon from the Adamantina Formation of Brazil which lived around 90-83 million years ago.

2).  Guarinisuchus munizi a 3 metre long marine crocodile known from the Early Palaeocene.

3).  Mariliasuchus amarali a  one metre long, highly terrestrial crocodile known from the  upper part of the Adamantina Formation indicating a Late Cretaceous age (possibly Campanian or perhaps Maastrichtian faunal stage)

Everything Dinosaur Prepares for Daresbury Open Day

Everything Dinosaur Starts Preparations for the Daresbury Open Day

What do laser beams, a supercomputer, Tyrannosaurus rex, the Large Hadron Collider and fossil shark teeth have in common?  Answer – these items and so much more are going to part of the fabulous Daresbury Open Day taking place on Saturday, July 9th, at the prestigious, world-renowned science park.  This year, a fantastic Dino-Zone has been added to the mix of family themed science attractions at the Sci-Tech Daresbury and Everything Dinosaur team members have been asked to take part.

Daresbury in Cheshire, is home to one of the UK’s world leading science campuses and some of our planet’s best engineers and scientists.  As a working science facility it is not usually open to the public, however, on the 9th July the campus will be throwing its doors open and providing visitors with an opportunity to explore, learn and take part in some fun science activities.

The Dino-Zone Could be a Hair Raising Experience

Getting involved in science.

Get up close to science with a hands on public day at Daresbury Sci-Tech.

Picture Credit: STFC

Amongst the attractions,  Everything Dinosaur team members will be inviting members of the public to dig for fossils amongst the gravels of our “Jurassic beach”, what you find, if you like, you can keep.  Our fossil experts will be on hand to identify fossil finds and to explain about life in the past.  Over the last few days, we have been sorting through our vast treasure trove of specimens, all collected from various dig sites around the world.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We will be on hand to help identify the fossils found in our own exhibit and no doubt, we will be able to help identify the specimens dug out from the large sandpit in the Dino-Zone as well, although we suspect the range of fossils that we will be offering will be a little more diverse.  For example, we have thousands of fossil shark teeth that we have excavated as part of our fossil sieving work at various locations, these too will be given away”.

Hands on Science Hands on some Prehistoric Shark Teeth!

fossilised shark teeth.

A successful fossil hunt.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

An Interactive Dino-Zone

Come and meet REX, a walking, running, blinking animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex and if you are a fan of “Jurassic World” have a go at controlling a life-size digital dinosaur or learning how amazing synchrotron technology and the energy emitted from electrons is shedding new light on dinosaur research.  For dino-bird enthusiasts, Samantha Sportun, (Collections Care Manager and Senior Conservator, Manchester Museum), will be showing off a wonderful stone replica of one of the best examples of Archaeopteryx yet found.

Examine the Archaeopteryx Specimen

With bird-like features and reptilian features is it a bird or a dinosaur?

With bird-like features and reptilian features is it a bird or a dinosaur?

Picture Credit: Stanford University

Samantha will be explaining about Archaeopteryx research using one of the best preserved of all the Archaeopteryx fossils found to date, the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx!

For more information about this exciting public event: Daresbury Sci-Tech Open Day

There are bound to be lots of fossils on display including a few dinosaur bones for visitors to explore.  There might even be a few pieces of dinosaur bone to be discovered in our fossil gravel beds, one thing for sure, team members at Everything Dinosaur have already begun sorting through the various fossil collections in the company’s warehouse in preparation for this big event.

Sorting Through Hundreds of Different Fossils

Sorting fossils at Everything Dinosaur.

Some of the fossils being sorted by Everything Dinosaur as they prepare for the Daresbury Laboratory public outreach science event.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Spectacular Science

As well as the Dino-Zone, members of the public will be able to explore virtual worlds or star in their own mini feature film using Matrix-style, bullet time special effects or test their nerve and accuracy aiming to shoot balloons with laser beams.  Visitors on the day will be able to explore one of the most advanced particle accelerators dedicated to cancer therapy research, or the world’s most powerful supercomputing facilities dedicated to industry, where new car models are designed.  They will also be able to visit one of the most powerful microscopes in the world that formed part of the Nobel Prize winning graphene research and walk through a life-sized, section of the Large Hadron Collider tunnel.

In total, there will be something like seventy different exhibits and activities on offer for children and grown-ups during the open day.  For further details and booking information: Daresbury Sci-Tech Public Open Day and Events

Examining Lasers at the Daresbury Sci-Tech Public Open Day

Science fun at Daresbury Sci-Tech Open Day.

Science fun at Daresbury Sci-Tech Open Day.

Picture Credit: STFC

Let’s Hear It for Pawpawsaurus

Pawpawsaurus Provides Insight Into Armoured Dinosaur Evolution

A new study of the skull Pawpawsaurus (a member of the Nodosauridae), is helping palaeontologists to gain an insight into the senses of Cretaceous armoured dinosaurs and providing evidence of the evolution of sensory capabilities amongst these herbivores.  With a head close to the ground, it seems that its sense of smell was its primary sense and although it was not as highly developed as later Ankylosaurs like Euoplocephalus and Ankylosaurus, Pawpawsaurus’s nose kept it out of trouble.

Computer Models were Generated of the Skull Material

Pawpawsarus skull analysis.

Various computer generated views of the Pawpawsaurus skull.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above shows various computer generated views of the Pawpawsaurus skull (A) right lateral view, (B) posterior, (C) dorsal view, (D) ventral view.  The scale bar represents five centimetres.   The skull is the only known fossil ascribed to this species (Pawpawsaurus campbelli), the fossil was discovered by teenager Cameron Campbell in 1992 and described as a new species by one of the co-authors of this braincase study,  Yuong-Nam Lee, (Seoul National University, South Korea), who was then a PhD student under Louis Jacobs, (Southern Methodist University), one of the other authors of this new study.

Pawpawsaurus campbelli – A Floating Armoured Dinosaur

Estimated to be about 4.5 metres in length (based on comparisons with more complete nodosaurid specimens), only the skull and part of the upper jaw is known.  This dinosaur was named after the Formation in which it was found, the Pawpaw Formation, a series of marine deposits dating from around 100 million years ago (Late Albian faunal stage), exposed in Texas, the species name honours the discoverer of the fossil material.  It is likely that the corpse of this armoured dinosaur was washed out into the large inland sea that covered much of North America during the Cretaceous.  The carcase may have been scavenged before finally settling on the seabed.  Elements from a second nodosaurid named Texasetes pleurohalio have also been found in this Formation, at the same location (Tarrant County), as the Pawpawsaurus fossils.   Yuong-Nam Lee has proposed that the material ascribed to Texasetes which includes vertebrae, dermal armour, a partial ilium and elements from the limbs, may actually represent Pawpawsaurus and as such Texasetes would be a senior synonym of Pawpawsaurus.

An Illustration of a Typical Nodosaurid Dinosaur

A drawing of a Nodosaur.

A typical illustration of a large nodosaurid dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The skull of Pawpawsaurus, part of the vertebrate collection at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, was subjected to a detailed CT analysis and from these images a three-dimensional computer model could be generated.  The skull is one of the best preserved and most complete of any armoured dinosaur known and the analysis showed that although Pawpawsaurus probably did not have such a keen sense of smell as the much later Ankylosaurus, it had, in all likelihood a better sense of smell compared to other dinosaurs, including predators that shared its environment.

Lead author of the scientific paper Ariana Paulina-Carabajal (Biodiversity and Environment Research Institute CONICET-INIBIOMA, Argentina), stated:

“Pawpawsaurus in particular, and the group it belonged to the Nodosauridae had no flocculus, a structure of the brain involved with motor skills, no club tail, and a reduced nasal cavity and portion of the inner ear when compared with the other family of Ankylosaurs, but its sense of smell was very important, as it probably relied on that to look for food, find mates and avoid or flee predators.”

Most dinosaurs do not have bony ridges in their nasal cavities to guide airflow, but Ankylosaurs are unique in that they do.

Ariana Paulina-Carabajal added:

“We can observe the complete nasal cavity morphology with the CT scans.  The CT scans revealed an enlarged nasal cavity compared to dinosaurs other than Ankylosaurians.  That may have helped Pawpawsaurus bellow out a lower range of vocalisations, improved its sense of smell, and cooled the inflow of air to regulate the temperature of blood flowing into the brain.”

The Sensory Tools of Pawpawsaurus

Having lived some thirty-four million years earlier than the likes of Ankylosaurus, it is not surprising that Pawpawsaurus shows a number of more primitive traits.  However, the paucity of the fossil record amongst Thyreophoran dinosaurs (the armoured dinosaurs), prevents the researchers from drawing too many conclusions, however, Louis Jacobs stated:

“We don’t know if their sense of smell also evolved and improved even more, but we do suspect that scenting the environment was useful for a creature’s survival, and the sense of smell is fairly widely distributed among plant-eaters and meat-eaters alike.”

The team’s conclusions are reported in the scientific journal PLOS One, this is the first CT scan of the Pawpawsaurus skull bones.  The scans permitted the computer programme to build up a three-dimensional image of the skull complete with indications where major blood vessels and soft tissue would have been inside the head.  From the scans and resulting computer models, the palaeontologists were able to digitally reconstruct the inner ear and brain.

The Brain and Inner Ear of Pawpawsaurus

Once a three-dimensional model has been created then all sorts of internal measurements can be taken in this non-destructive piece of analytical research.  For example, the team were able to estimate the size of the lagena, a region of the inner ear that perceives sounds.   The lagena of P. campbelli was about the same size of living crocodiles, so from this, the range of sounds that Pawpawsaurus could detect and its hearing abilities can be inferred to be roughly the same as an extant crocodile.

How good a sense of smell this dinosaur may have had (olfactory acuity), can be ascertained from studying the size of the olfactory bulb in the brain and comparing its volume as a proportion of overall brain volume.  The bigger the olfactory bulb the more significant the sense of smell is to the animal.

Ariana Paulina-Carabajal has specialised in endocranial research and she commented:

“In Pawpawsaurus, the olfactory ratio is somewhat lower than it is in Ankylosaurus, although both have high ratios when compared with most carnivorous dinosaurs.  They are exceeded only by carcharodontosaurids and tyrannosaurids.  The olfactory ratios of Ankylosaurs in general are more or less similar to those calculated by other authors for the living crocodile.”

Endocranial Morphology of the Primitive Nodosaurid Dinosaur Pawpawsaurus campbelli

Endocranial study of Pawpawsaurus.

Endocranial study of the Cretaceous nodosaurid Pawpawsaurus.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above shows two views of the endocast of Pawpawsaurus (A) dorsal view and (C) right lateral view.  The inner ear is marked in pink.

Abbreviations: cer, cerebral hemisphere; dhv, dorsal head vein; fo, fenestra ovalis; ic, internal carotid artery; ie, inner ear; lag, lagena; med, medulla; ob, olfactory bulb; ocv, orbitocerebral vein; ot, olfactory tract; pit, pituitary;; rmcv, rostral middle cerebral vein; sph. sphenoid artery; I–XII, Cranial nerves; ve? vein?

Strange Tusked Dicynodont from Brazil

Rastodon procurvidens – A Permian “Tusker” from Brazil

Palaeontologists wanting to learn more about a bizarre group of Permian/Triassic therapsids known as Dicynodonts usually head to the famous Karoo Basin of South Africa, a part of the world famous for its reptile fossils.  So abundant are the various Dicynodont fossils in the strata that make up the Permian and Triassic components of the Karoo Basin Supergroup, that their fossil remains are used to date the rocks in which they are found.  There is no doubting that the Dicynodonts were a very successful group, but what about the rest of Pangaea and their fossil record?

An Illustration of a Typical Dicynodont

A Dicynodont model.

A model of a Dicynodont (therapsid).

Scuttle forward Rastodon procurvidens, only the second Permian Dicynodont to be identified from the Paraná Basin of Brazil.  A team of international scientists writing in the on line, open access journal PLOS One describe Rastodon from a beautifully preserved, albeit slightly crushed fossil skull that was found on a private residence (Boqueirão farm outcrop), located in the municipality of São Gabriel (Catuçaba district), approximately in the central part of the Rio Grande do Sul State, in south-eastern Brazil.

The researchers, which include scientists from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin, Germany), studied the holotype material, which consists of most of the skull with attached lower jaws and named the animal “Rasto – tooth” in honour of the Rio do Rasto Formation from which the fossils came.  Ironically, as a synapsid reptile, Rastodon is more closely related to mammals such as ourselves than it is to modern reptiles like crocodiles, snakes and lizards.

Left Lateral View of the Skull of Rastodon procurvidens

Rastodon fossil skull from Brazil.

A view of the skull of the therapsid Rastodon.

Picture Credit: Felipe Lima Pinheiro

Odd Tusks

Many types of Dicynodont had enlarged tusks in the upper jaw.  The tusks of Rastodon seem to be extremely unusual, even for this bizarre group of ancient herbivores.  They are very small and curve forwards with the tip of each tusk angled towards the front of the snout.  Phylogenetic analysis indicates that R. procurvidens is the earliest and most basal member of Bidentalia, a cosmopolitan clade that includes Permian and Triassic Dicynodonts whose dentition is usually reduced to a pair of maxillary tusks.   The authors of the scientific paper note that the shape and position of the tusks were not due to post-mortem crushing of the skull bones or due in any part to the fossilisation process.   Both tusks look symmetrical when the skull is viewed from the front end (anterior view) and in addition, each tooth fits neatly into a groove in the lower jaw.  The presence of this embayment or recess confirms that the teeth position and morphology are just about unchanged from when this quadruped scuttled around this part of Brazil the best part of 260 million years ago.  The odd tusks of Rastodon have inspired the trivial name which means “curved forward tooth”.

To read an article about another bizarre Therapsid from BrazilBizarre Sabre-Toothed Permian Herbivore from Brazil

As to the specific function of these strange teeth, well, that remains somewhat of a mystery.

JurassicCollectables Reviews the Papo Green Velociraptor

Papo Green Velociraptor Video Review

Those clever people at JurassicCollectables have made a video review of the new for 2016 green Papo Velociraptor dinosaur model that we sent them.  In the brief video, it lasts a little under ten minutes, the narrator discusses the history of Papo Velociraptor model production and compares and contrasts the various versions made by the French manufacturer.  Look out for the model line up, the “Raptor squad” as the narrator calls them or as we prefer, the “boy band from Hell”!

JurassicCollectables – Papo Green Velociraptor Video Review

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

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 Green Velociraptor Dinosaur Model

The Papo green Velociraptor figure.

The Papo green Velociraptor figure.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Very Informative Video

The video is extremely informative and points out some of the fine details on the model as well as subtle differences between this replica and the rare 2005 version.  We particularly enjoyed the use of a Rebor hatching Velociraptor model to show the scale.  For those who don’t have a hatching Velociraptor handy to assess the size of this new for 2016 replica, its vital statistics are – length 18 cm approximately with a head height of around 8 cm.

To see the range of Papo prehistoric animal models available from Everything Dinosaur (including the Papo green Velociraptor): Papo Prehistoric Animals

Don’t Get Confused Between the New for 2016 Green Velociraptor and the Original Brown One

With the introduction of this new replica, unscrupulous dealers might try and pass off this green version as one of the very rare and extremely valuable original brown Papo models.  The brown Velociraptor was retired by Papo some years ago now, we sold out of our last stocks a long time ago, but we still receive enquiries from collectors hoping to pick up a bargain from us.  After all, as model collectors ourselves it is against our company policy to exploit the rarity of a figure by charging exorbitant prices for it.  A case in point is the Battat Terra Nanshiungosaurus.  This figure has been retired by Battat and is getting rarer and rarer, but at Everything Dinosaur, it is priced exactly the same as the other nine models, that are roughly the same size in that range.  We value our customers and don’t believe in ripping people off.

Tips to Avoid Getting Stung!

So how to avoid getting stung by an unscrupulous dealer who tries to pass off a new green Papo Velociraptor for the very scarce, brown Velociraptor figure?  The colour scheme is quite similar, so your best bet is to insist on purchasing a model with the GTIN limb sticker intact.  If the GTIN limb sticker ends 550585, it is a new model and not the original brown version (which we think had a GTIN number ending something like 55021).

Papo Models have GTIN Labels, Normally Attached to a Limb

The Papo green Velociraptor dinosaur model.

A new Velociraptor figure from Papo for 2016.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows one of our studio shots of the new for 2016 green Papo Velociraptor.  The GTIN number is displayed on a white sticker that, in this case is attached to the left leg.  Note how in our photograph, the green colouration of this model looks quite muted.  It could easily be mistaken for the rare and difficult to obtain Papo brown Velociraptor.

The very helpful JurassicCollectables video also gives a few pointers on how to tell the two models apart.  If you come across an amazing offer from someone on an on line auction site, in such instances, the old adage comes into play, if it sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t.

Bizarre Ant “Unicorn” From Burmese Amber

Amber Provides Insight into Ant Evolution

Burmese amber has provided scientists with some remarkable evidence of some of the smaller creatures that co-existed alongside the dinosaurs during the Cretaceous.  Trapped in, what was once tree resin, insects, mites, seeds, spiders, pollen grains and such like have enabled scientists to build up a fascinating picture of life in miniature at a time when the Earth was dominated by huge reptiles.  Writing in the academic journal “Current Biology” a team of scientists including researchers from Rennes University, Kansas University and the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (Chinese Academy of Sciences), have shed light on the evolution of the humble ant.

Preserved in 99-Million-Year-Old Amber

Ceratomyrmex ant fossil in amber

The preserved remains of a new species of basal ant (Ceratomyrmex) in Burmese amber.

Picture Credit: Wang Bo/Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology

The Unicorn Ant

Measuring around one centimetre in length, the ant possessed a bizarre horn-like structure on the head and super-sized mandibles that probably evolved to tackle prey at least as large as the ant itself.  The new species of Cretaceous insect has been named Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri (pronounced Sera-to-my-ah-mex) and the genus name is from the Greek for “ant with a horn”.  Most ants today live in colonies and are eusocial, that is, the colony exhibits a great deal of co-operative behaviour and organisation.  However, not all extinct ants were likely to be colonial, just like a few specialist genera around today, some were probably solitary hunters and the researchers suggest that Ceratomyrmex was a solitary, specialist hunter preying on Arthropods.  The evolutionary history of the ant family is not well known, however, specimens preserved in amber, have, over last two decades, been extensively studied and it is now believed that the first ants evolved from wasps sometime between 110 and 130 million years ago.

Described as a stem group ant and assigned to the Haidomyrmecini clade, Ceratomyrmex demonstrates that relatively early on in their evolutionary history ants evolved into highly specialised forms.  The presence of such a bizarre horn-like structure and the oversized mandibles that actually extended over the animal’s head, features unseen in extant or any other extinct ant species known, provides evidence for more complex and highly diversified Cretaceous ant genera than previously thought.

An Illustration of Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri 

A drawing of the Cretaceous ant  Ceratomyrmex.

An illustration of the basal Cretaceous ant Ceratomyrmex.

Image credit: Yang Dinghua

Commenting on the discovery of a new species, Vincent Perrichot (University of Rennes), a specialist in ant evolution and one of the authors of the scientific paper stated:

“The horn is covered with long bristles along its anterior surface, plus a brush with short spines on the end part spatula.  In insects, such bristles or thorns always have a sensory function, we then deduce that this sensory system needed to properly assess the size and position of the object seized between the jaws and the horn or even stabilise the friction with thorns.”

Big Game Hunter

It is not known whether Ceratomyrmex was an arboreal hunter or whether it lived amongst the leaf litter.  With such large jaws it probably was a formidable hunter, but what did it eat?  For Vincent Perrichot, a specialist in the study of ancient insects, the answer is quite clear, the presence of the bizarre horn and the huge jaws had a macabre not mundane purpose.

He added:

“These structures were used for predatory purposes, rather than to manipulate twigs or eggs and larvae of the colony.  The additional presence of two pairs of very long bristles projecting forward, the mandibles, similar in every way to those observed in trap-jawed, modern ants that hunt alone, indicates a mechanism for the fast-closing of the jaws.  This ant could not catch small prey as it would have escaped, it probably preyed on all kinds of crawling Arthropods at least equal in size to itself – millipedes, arachnids, cockroaches and why not other ants.”

The “Black Sheep” of the Ichthyosaur Family

Making Heads or Tails of Sclerocormus parviceps

No sooner has the likes of Oliver Rieppel, (Rowe Family Curator of Evolutionary Biology at the Field Museum, Chicago) and Nick Fraser (National Museums of Scotland), in collaboration with scientists from China “unzipped” the bizarre Triassic marine reptile Atopodentatus unicus*, another academic paper comes along introducing the equally peculiar looking Sclerocormus parviceps to the world.  A number of media outlets have already covered this news story, but in this article we will take a slightly different approach, focusing on the rapid evolutionary changes that seem to have taken place in marine ecosystems following the End Permian mass extinction event.

The Complete Specimen of Sclerocormus parviceps (Holotype Reference AGB6265)

Sclerocormus parviceps fossil material.

Sclerocormus parviceps fossil material.

Picture Credit: Da-yong Jiang (Peking University)

The photograph above shows the various components that make up the holotype specimen.  The scale bars to the left and in the centre each  measure 25 centimetres in length.  The long, thin, whip-like tail is on the left of the photograph, the skull on the right.

The specimen was excavated from Bed 719 in the Majiashan Quarry, near the city of Chaohu in Anhui Province (eastern China).  These, predominately limestone beds are highly fossiliferous and a huge variety of invertebrate and vertebrate fossils are known from this location.  The strata was laid down in a shallow, tropical sea environment not long after the End Permian extinction event and as a result, the fossils found in these rocks have provided palaeontologists with a unique opportunity to examine how marine fauna bounced back after the extinction that is believed to have wiped out around 95% of all marine life.

Sclerocormus parviceps – Not Your Typical Ichthyosauriform

Writing in the on line journal “Scientific Reports”, the researchers describe this new type of marine reptile as a basal member of the ichthyosauriforms.  The fossil material dates from around 248 million years ago (Olenekian faunal stage of the Lower Triassic), it suggests that if a long-tailed, short-snouted marine reptile existed at this time, then these reptiles must have diversified rapidly during the Early Triassic.  Although, related to the Ichthyosaurs, those dolphin-like, super sleek animals with their long jaws and fishy tails, as S. parviceps was so different from the typical Ichthyosaur body plan it indicates that there must have been a period of very rapid evolution.

A Scale Drawing of Sclerocormus parviceps

A scale drawing of Sclerocormus parviceps.

A scale drawing of Sclerocormus parviceps.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur modified from an illustration by Nicolay Zverkov

Measuring around 1.6 metres long from that stubby snout to the end of the serpentine tail Sclerocormus parviceps is one of the largest types of marine reptile known from the Lower Triassic.  Based on an analysis of the fossil material, in comparison to Late Triassic Ichthyosaurs, Sclerocormus would have been a relatively poor swimmer.  In addition, whilst many of the later Ichthyosaurs evolved into apex predators, the short -snouted Sclerocormus seems to have specialised in eating small, soft-bodied creatures.  The scientists speculate that the toothless Sclerocormus used its short snout to create pressure and suck up food like a syringe.  It looks very different from its relatives and it probably behaved very differently too.  Sclerocormus could be considered the “black-sheep” of this particular group of marine reptiles and as it was so very different from its relatives it tells palaeontologists a lot about the rapid exploitation of ecosystem niches by vertebrates after the mass extinction event.

The Skull of Sclerocormus parviceps (b) and a Line Drawing Illustrating the Individual Bones (b2)

The skull of Sclerocormus parviceps (b) with an explanatory line drawing identifying individual bones (b2).

The skull of Sclerocormus parviceps (b) with an explanatory line drawing identifying individual bones (b2).

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The picture above shows (b) a close up of the skull material and (b2) a line drawing indicating the individual position of the bones.  Although, crushed the palaeontologists can make out a lot of detail regarding the skull morphology of this marine reptile.  The scale bars represent 1 cm (b) and 2 cm (b2).

Key

Skull elements. Abbreviations: a?, angular; ar?, articular; d?, dentary; f, frontal; j?, jugal, l?, lacrimal; m, maxilla; n, nasal; p, parietal; pm, premaxilla; po, postorbital; pof, postfrontal; prf, prefrontal; q, quadrate; sa?, surangular; scl, scleral ossicles; sq, squamosal and st, supratemporal.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, Dr. Rieppel stated:

“Sclerocormus tells us that ichthyosauriforms evolved and diversified rapidly at the end of the Lower Triassic period.  We don’t have many marine reptile fossils from this period, so this specimen is important because it suggests that there’s diversity that hasn’t been uncovered yet.”

The Triassic Timescale and Marine Reptile Diversity

Although, the marine reptile fossil record for the Lower and Middle Triassic is poor, scientists have been able to use recent fossil discoveries from China to help plot the evolution of this important group of marine reptiles.  The authors of the scientific paper plotted the diversity of species during the Triassic and their evidence suggests that there was not a single burst of evolution during the Early to the Middle Triassic, but at least two waves of marine reptile diversification, separated by a decline in speciation.  In addition, the scientists conclude that the first burst of evolution led to a rapid increase in the Ichthyosauromorpha, the ichthyosauriforms such as  Sclerocormus and the related Hupehsuchia.  This was followed by a second period of rapid marine evolution, but this time it was the Sauropterygia (Placodonts and their relatives) and the closely related Saurosphargidae that seem to have evolved most rapidly.

Two Bursts of Marine Reptile Evolution in the Early to Mid Triassic

The diversity of Triassic marine reptiles.

The diversity of Triassic marine reptiles.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The graph above shows species diversity over time through the Triassic.  The black line in the graph shows raw data from the fossil record, however, as the fossil record for marine reptiles from this time is far from complete, the scientists have inflated the stratigraphic ranges of species to account for gaps in the fossil record.  The red dotted line plots the data where half of the species are assumed to have their records missing from the faunal sub-stages of the Triassic.  The blue dotted line shows a more extreme view where all species known to date are assumed to be missing records from the faunal sub-stages before and after the actual date of a fossil discovery.  The data, however it is plotted, does show two distinct evolutionary phases, lots of new species in a relatively short time.

Explaining the team’s findings in the context of Darwinian evolution, Dr. Rieppel explained:

“Darwin’s model of evolution consists of small, gradual changes over a long period of time, and that’s not quite what we’re seeing here.  These ichthyosauriforms seem to have evolved very quickly, in short bursts of lots of change, in leaps and bounds.”

Gradual change, a sort of slow, creeping evolution may not have taken place in shallow seas immediately following the End Permian extinction event.  With so many vacant niches to exploit, those vertebrates that survived the extinction seem to have radiated rapidly, evolving a myriad of specialist forms such as Sclerocormus parviceps.  This may be an example of “punctuated equilibrium” a form of evolution proposed by the famous palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and others whereby evolutionary change occurs relatively rapidly, alternating with longer periods of relative evolutionary stability.

The Triassic Timescale – An Explanation

In the line graph above, Everything Dinosaur team members have labelled the three Epochs that form the Triassic on the horizontal timeline (Lower, Middle and Upper).  Underneath the graph, we have annotated the faunal sub-stages listed by providing a key showing the faunal stage that each sub-stage is associated with (Olenekian, Anisian, Ladinian, Carnian and Norian).  For some readers the term faunal sub-stage may be unfamiliar to them, here is a brief explanation.

Biostratigraphic in conjunction with relative dating and more recently methods such as radiometric dating and palaeomagnetism have enabled scientists to date events preserved in the geological record.  These time intervals allow a geological period, in this case the Triassic to be established.  However, to explore in more detail the geological record laid down over the tens of millions of years represented by a geological period, this immense amount of time is further divided up into epochs, faunal stages and sub-faunal stages.  It is just like the pages of a book being divided up into paragraphs, the pages themselves being grouped into chapters.

The Triassic comprises of three Epochs (also called series): Lower, Middle and Upper

These in turn are divided into seven faunal stages:
Lower = Induan, Olenekian
Middle = Anisian, Ladinian
Upper = Carnian, Norian, Rhaetian

As the faunal stages themselves represent many millions of years, changes in the geological record are used to divide these stages themselves into a series of smaller units called faunal sub-stages:

The seven faunal stages of the Triassic are further divided into fifteen faunal sub-stages namely:

Induan = upper Griesbachian and the Dienerian

Olenekian = Smithian and the Spathian

Anisian= Aegean, Bithynian, Pelsonian and the Illyrian

Ladinian =Fassanian, Longobardian

Carnian = Julian and the Tuvalian

Norian = Lacian, Alaunian, Sevatian

*To read an update on the bizarre Triassic marine reptile Atopodentatus unicus: Atopodentatus unzipped

Palaeontology Student Finds “Super-sized” Eotyrannus Tooth

Tooth Leads to Re-think over Eotyrannus lengi

Megan Jacobs, a palaeontology student from the University of Portsmouth, has something to remember from her trip to the Isle of Wight, for whilst exploring Compton Beach on the western side of the Island she discovered a 2.8 centimetre long dinosaur tooth that has been identified as belonging to the Early Cretaceous tyrannosaurid Eotyrannus lengi.  The size of the tooth, the biggest found to date to be associated with Eotyrannus, may lead to a re-think about this Early Cretaceous meat-eater.  Previously, fossil evidence suggested that this dinosaur grew to around six metres in length, however, based on this single tooth, this predator may have been considerably bigger.

Student Megan Jacobs Holding the Dinosaur Tooth

Palaeontology student Megan Jacobs holding the Eotyrannus tooth she found.

Palaeontology student Megan Jacobs holding the Eotyrannus tooth she found.

Picture Credit: Dinosaur Exhibition Centre

Eotyrannus lengi – A British Tyrannosaur

Eotyrannus is a member of the Tyrannosaur family, a distant relative of the most famous dinosaur of all – T. rex.  It is known from only one partial specimen discovered in 2006 by amateur fossil collector Gavin Leng.  Vertebrae, limb bones and elements from the skull and jaws were excavated from an exposed plant debris bed at Brighstone Bay about a mile from where Megan found her dinosaur tooth.  It is one of the earliest Tyrannosaurs known and its discovery supports the idea that the Tyrannosauroidea had a wide geographical dispersion during the Late Jurassic and the Early Cretaceous.  Analysis of the holotype fossil material IWCMS. 1997.550 suggests that some of the bones had not fully fused together.  This lead the palaeontologists studying the fossils to consider this four-metre long animal as a juvenile, Everything Dinosaur published an estimated length for E. lengi at approximately 6 metres in 2010.  Megan’s Eotyrannus tooth discovery further supports the theory that Eotyrannus was a large predator, it may have actually exceeded 6 metres in length.  Until more fossils are found, the size of E. lengi remains open to debate.

A Model of Eotyrannus by CollectA

Eotyrannus dinosaur model by CollectA.

Eotyrannus dinosaur model by CollectA.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the CollectA Prehistoric Life Eotyrannus dinosaur model and the other not to scale replicas in the CollectA range: CollectA Prehistoric Life Dinosaur Models

This discovery of a pristine Eotyrannus tooth hints at the possibility that more fossil remains associated with this Theropod may exist in the cliffs on the western side of the Island.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This fossil find raises the intriguing possibility that more Eotyrannus material may yet be found.  If further evidence comes to light, then palaeontologists will have the opportunity to learn more about this Early Cretaceous Tyrannosaur.”

To discover more about Eotyrannus, palaeontologists will have to wait for time and tide to do their work.

How Strong was a Stegosaurus Bite?

Don’t Get Bitten by “Sophie” the Stegosaurus

Last year, Everything Dinosaur predicted that with the acquisition by the Natural History Museum (London), of the superb Stegosaurus stenops specimen nicknamed “Sophie”, there would be a plethora of new research published regarding this Late Jurassic herbivore.  Sure enough there was and we have already produced a number of articles on this blog summarising the work done.  This week, a new paper has been published, it assesses the bite force of Stegosaurus stenops, comparing it to other dinosaurs, which although not closely related, were herbivorous too and had similar shaped skulls.

The study carried out by scientists from Bristol University, Manchester and Birmingham Universities as well as Dr. Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum reveals that this Stegosaurus species had a strong bite and that it would have been capable of feeding on a very wide range of different plants.

Stegosaurus Famous for Having a Small Head but the Skull and Jaws Made it a Very Efficient Herbivore

A word mat for the Jurassic herbivore Stegosaurus.

A word mat for the Jurassic herbivore Stegosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows one of the word mats Everything Dinosaur created for teachers to help them with dinosaurs as a term topic in schools.  Stegosaurus is featured and the skull is disproportionately small compared to the body.  However, in this study, lead author, Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, proposes that the range of bite force that a Stegosaur could generate is at least comparable to today’s efficient mammalian grazers such as bovines (cows).

Stegosaurus stenops compared to Plateosaurus engelhardti and Erlikosaurus andrewsi

The Three Types of Dinosaur Skull Used in the Computer Modelling Study

Dinosaur Skull Types

The three types of dinosaur skull used in the computer modelling study of dinosaur bite force.

Picture Credit: Bristol University

The picture above shows digital images of the three types of plant-eating dinosaur skull used in the study, left E. andrewsi, centre S. stenops and right P. engelhardti.  Although these dinosaurs are all plant-eaters they are not closely related, skull shapes vary, most notably Stegosaurus stenops lacks a antorbital fenestra (a large hole in the skull in front of the eye socket), but the morphology of the skulls is generally the same, i.e. the snouts are long, the skull tending to be quite narrow and in proportion to the body the head of these dinosaurs is quite small.

“Sophie” The Stegosaurus Specimen Used in this Study

Sophie the Stegosaurus

Milan used this picture to illustrate his dinosaur documentary.

Picture Credit:  The Natural History Museum (picture chosen by Milan)

“Sophie” the Stegosaurus

The Stegosaurus currently on display at the Natural History Museum represents one of the most complete fossil specimens of a Stegosaur every found.  Everything Dinosaur received a lovely report on this new dinosaur exhibit from Milan and Alisha and we published an article on the children’s research.

To read Alisha’s and Milan’s excellent article on “Sophie” the Stegosaurus: Information about “Sophie” the Stegosaurus at the London Natural History Museum

All of the dinosaur skulls studied had a scissor-like jaw action that moved up and down.  Processing of any plant material in the mouth was relatively limited, the large digestive systems and the enormous stomach accounted for most of the digestive process.  The team of UK-based scientists explored the bite force and potential skull stresses induced by the process of eating in these three dinosaurs using computer modelling.  The intention was to gain an insight into the potential diets and feeding behaviour of the herbivores.  The study has also provided information on how Stegosaurus stenops may have fitted into its ecological niche.  For example, the Late Jurassic of the western United States was home to a large variety of enormous Sauropods, the scientists were curious to see if a bite force study could provide information on the niche occupied by large Stegosaurs in an environment dominated by a variety long-necked dinosaurs.

Phylogenetic and Stratigraphic Relationships Between the Dinosaur Studied

The bite force of Stegosaurus analysed

Digital images of the skull of Plateosaurus engelhardti, Erlikosaurus andrewsi and Stegosaurus stenops showing their in phylogenetic and stratigraphic context.

Picture Credit: Nature Scientific Reports

The picture above shows the phylogenetic relationship (how closely related) the dinosaurs were as well as a stratigraphic comparison (how old the fossils are in relation to each other).

In Summary

  • Plateosaurus – member of the Prosauropoda, part of the dinosaur lineage related to the Sauropoda.  It was lizard-hipped and lived during the Late Triassic.
  • Erlikosaurus – a member of the Theropoda, specifically a member of the Therizinosauridae family (scythe lizards).  It was lizard-hipped and lived during the Late Cretaceous.
  • Stegosaurus – a member of the Thyreophora, a sub-group of the bird-hipped dinosaurs.  Stegosaurus stenops lived during the Late Jurassic.

The three-dimensional scans of the fossil skulls and the computer models created permitted the team to examine the forces the jaws could create and the subsequent stresses on the skulls that feeding would have induced.  Data from a study of crocodilian teeth was used to help factor in the role of the teeth in the feeding operation.

Dr. Lautenschlager explained:

“Using computer modelling techniques, we were able to reconstruct muscle and bite forces very accurately for the different dinosaurs in our study.  As a result, these methods give us new and detailed insights into dinosaur biology, something that would not have been possible several years ago.”

Professor Paul Barrett, (Natural History Museum) added:

“Far from being feeble, as usually thought, Stegosaurus actually had a bite force within the range of living herbivorous mammals, such as sheep and cows.  Our key finding really surprised us, we expected that many of these dinosaur herbivores would have skulls that worked in broadly similar ways.  Instead we found that even though the skulls were fairly similar to each other in overall shape, the way they worked during biting was substantially different in each case.”

Stegosaur Seed Dispersal

Depicted as a browser on horsetails and ferns, the bite force of Stegosaurus stenops would have made it quite capable of tackling a much wider range of vegetation, including tough cycads.  This reinforces the belief that the tough scales associated with the throat of this dinosaur served as protection as it fed on the robust leaves of the cycads, the relatively small head might have evolved to enable this dinosaur to thrust its head deep into the heart of such plants to get at the most nutritious leaves.  In terms of how Stegosaurus fitted into an ecological niche, these armoured dinosaurs may have played an important role in dispersing the seeds of woody, evergreen cycads.

The Impact of a Beak

As well as examining skull shape and structure, the impact of having a keratinous beak was also considered.  Although the overall stress applied on the skull remained relatively unchanged, the presence of a beak seemed to reduce the amount of stress in the dentary, rostral and premaxilla, confirming results from earlier studies.  The beaked Stegosaurus possessed a relatively high bite force with only moderate associated skull stress, indicating that it would have been capable of foraging on a wide variety of different plants.  The scientists conclude that despite superficial similarities in skull and jaw shape, S. stenops had access to a much greater range of potential foods than other species incorporated within this study.

Stegosaurus Had a Powerful Bite

A skull of a Stegosaurus.

A Stegosaurus skull.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

It seems that Stegosaurus could more than hold its own when compared to the enormous Sauropods, with which it shared its habitat.  This research does raise an intriguing question though, the stegosaurids seem to decline in the Early Cretaceous.  The reduction in stegosaurid fossils as the Cretaceous progressed is put down to, by a number of academics, as a result of a transition in the fauna.  The increasing dominance of angiosperms (flowering plants) playing a role in the demise of the Stegosaurs.  However, other scientists have plotted the decline of the stegosaurids in relation to a decrease in the amount of cycads (Cycadophyta) present.  This bite force study may help to provide palaeontologists with further data on the impact of changing fauna on the range of herbivorous dinosaurs that could adapt to new types of vegetation.

JurassicCollectables Unboxing a Battat Terra T. rex

JurassicCollectables Battat Terra T. rex Unboxing

Our chums at JurassicCollectables have produced another prehistoric animal model video.  For the first time on their YouTube they feature one of the Battat Terra dinosaur models, the Tyrannosaurus rex no less.  This model is one of the largest of the twelve Battat Terra dinosaur replicas currently available and JurassicCollectables present an unboxing video, opening the package that we sent them, we note the very sensible advice about using a craft knife.

JurassicCollectables Unboxing Video of the Battat Terra Tyrannosaurus rex Dinosaur Model

Video Credit: Jurassic Collectables

JurassicCollectables have their own YouTube channel dedicated to all things dinosaur.  The channel features lots of wonderful dinosaur model reviews and we urge readers to visit JurassicCollectables on Youtube and to subscribe to this very informative channel: Check out the JurassicCollectables YouTube Channel

The Battat Terra Dinosaurs

The Battat Terra dinosaurs were introduced last year, they are repaints of the model line created by Battat and the highly respected, American palaeoartist Dan LoRusso that was originally designed for the Boston Museum of Science.  Sadly, with the death of Dan, plans to introduce other replicas that were once part of the range, remain on hold but in our meetings with the Battat family we have expressed our interest in stocking all the replicas that become available.  We feel that this would be a fitting tribute to the inspirational Dan LoRusso.

The Current Battat Terra Dinosaur Range Consists of Twelve Models

The range of 12 Battat Terra Dinosaur Models.

A set of Battat Terra dinosaur models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The current Battat Terra dinosaur range is certainly very colourful.  As well as the Tyrannosaurus rex replica, there are five other Theropod dinosaurs included in this range.  They are the Acrocanthosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Crylophosaurus, Carnotaurus and the scythe lizard Nanshiungosaurus.  Dinosaur model collectors are advised that the Battat Terra Nanshiungosaurus has been retired, stocks are available but this therizinosaurid figure is not going to be manufactured any more.

To view the Battat Terra dinosaur models available from Everything Dinosaur: Battat Terra Dinosaurs

These wonderful models range in size from a compact eleven centimetres long to an impressive twenty-eight centimetres in length. In truth, a number of models are slightly bigger than the measurement figures we have given them on our website, as we have not taken into account the length of any curved tails.

Battat Terra Dinosaur Models

Battat Terra Dinosaurs

The excellent Battat Terra dinosaur models.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

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