All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
11 05, 2016

Concerns for the Coastal Norfolk Fossil Sites

By | May 11th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Experts Fear for Fossils and Safety of Fossil Hunters

Scientists at the Norfolk Museums Service along with British palaeontologists and geology societies have expressed concern over the rise in unscrupulous fossil hunting activities being reported from parts of the Norfolk coast.  These famous Pleistocene age deposits have yielded an extensive array of vertebrate fossils including many large mammals such as rhino and elephant.  One of England’s most important fossil finds, the spectacular West Runton elephant (more correctly termed a Steppe Mammoth – Mammuthus trogontherii), was found in the cliffs.  The discovery, the first bones were found in 1990, represents the largest and oldest nearly complete fossil mammoth from the UK.  Bones and teeth can still be found on the foreshore but sadly, there has been a rise in reports of fossil hunters digging into the cliffs in a bid to find more specimens.

A spokesperson for the Norfolk Museums Service advised against such excavation, not only would the digging potentially damage any fossil material but as the cliffs were unstable, working so close to the cliffs was very dangerous.  He expressed grave concern following reports of a rise in the number of fossil hunters “hacking into the cliff tops”

The Foreshore and Cliffs at West Runton (North Norfolk)

A view of the famous West Runton beach, a great place to find fossils.

A view of the famous West Runton beach, a great place to find fossils.

Picture Credit: ukfossils.co.uk

The freshwater Pleistocene deposits and associated Cretaceous chalks yield a large number of different types of fossil.  As well as freshwater molluscs and mammal remains from the freshwater beds, the chalk is highly fossiliferous and different types sea urchin and fossil sponges can be found.  The picture above shows a view of West Runton beach and the dangerous cliffs, the pier at Cromer can be seen in the background.

A team member from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This part of the Norfolk coast is subject to high levels of erosion, we would urge all fossil collectors to stay on the beach and look for fossils at low tide along the foreshore, the rapidly eroding cliffs are delivering lots of fossil material onto the beach area and this is a wonderful location for a family fossil hunt.  However, please don’t dig into the cliffs and we urge all visitors to follow the fossil collecting code.”

For an article on the fossil collecting code and a guide to safe collecting: Everything Dinosaur’s Guide to Fossil Collecting Safely

Register Fossil Finds with the Norfolk Museums Service

A partial Mammoth tooth was found nearby last month and no doubt other finds will be reported over the summer at this popular tourist attraction.  Palaeontologist Dr. Waterhouse of the Norfolk Museums Service and the leader of the Cromer Forest-bed Fossil Project reminded fossil hunters that it was good practice to report finds to the Norfolk Museum Service, the museum at Cromer just a few miles from West Runton, was a good place to take any fossil finds and team members from the Norfolk Museums Service would be happy to assist with identification.  As Mammoth fossils, especially tusks and teeth are very popular with collectors, it is likely that many of the overzealous fossil hunting activities have been driven by the high prices such fossils make on auction sites.

A Model of a Woolly Mammoth (M. primigenius)

A model of a Woolly Mammoth.

A model of a Woolly Mammoth.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Dr. Waterhouse said:

“Norfolk is the best place in the country and probably Europe to find Mammoth remains because they went through about six sets of teeth in their lifetime, so there is a lot more teeth than there were Mammoths.  Something that I think needs highlighting is poor and even dangerous fossil collecting by people hacking into the cliffs at places like West Runton.  Ethical collecting is high on my agenda, and also recording fossil finds as part of the Cromer Forest-bed Fossil Project, so that important scientific information isn’t lost forever.”

At Everything Dinosaur we echo the views of Dr. Waterhouse and we urge fossil hunters to take care and to abide by the fossil collecting code as well as local bye laws and regulations.

10 05, 2016

Is this Four-Year-Old the “Youngest Dinosaur Educator”?

By | May 10th, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page, Teaching|1 Comment

Australian Four-Year-Old Dinosaur Expert in the Guinness Book of Records?

During Everything Dinosaur’s daily trawl of news channels looking for prehistoric animal related media releases and dinosaur news stories we came across this piece from the Australian media outlet 9news.com.au.  Sydney based Hill Wang and Qing Zhang have put forward their four-year-old son to the Guinness World Records organisation in a bid to have him recognised as the “Youngest Dinosaur Educator”.

A Clever Little Boy But Is He the “Youngest Dinosaur Educator”?

Makan Wang has memorised details of more than 30 prehistoric animal species.

Makan Wang has memorised details of more than 30 prehistoric animal species.

Picture Credit: Ehsan Knopf/9NEWS

Young Makan Wang has managed to memorise a lot of facts about prehistoric animals, especially dinosaurs.  His parents claim that he has learned about more than thirty different species, hence their bid to have four-year-old Makan officially recognised by the Guinness World Records organisation as the “Youngest Dinosaur Educator”.

Makan’s mother Ms Zhang explained to a reporter at 9news.com.au that her son had memorised the information about these long extinct creatures by watching television programmes and as a result, with the aid of illustrated prompt cards, he can now recall a number of names and dinosaur facts on command.

Impressive But Not Exceptional

Given Everything Dinosaur’s extensive outreach work in schools and museums, our team members get to meet thousands of young people every year and although Makan has an impressive amount of knowledge, in the opinion of team members at the Cheshire (UK) based company, his ability to recall dinosaur facts and figures is not out of the ordinary.

Mike Walley, one of the teaching team members commented:

“It is always great to hear that dinosaurs are capturing the imaginations of young children and helping them to develop their vocabulary and their understanding of the world, but we meet dozens and dozens of children every year who demonstrate an astonishing level of knowledge and whilst Makan’s recall of facts and figures is impressive, based on what information we have from the news story, he is not exceptional.”

A Very Big Fan of the Dinosauria

Makan clearly loves learning all about prehistoric animals.

Makan clearly loves learning all about prehistoric animals.

Picture Credit: Ehsan Knopf/9NEWS

Proud Parents

Makan’s parents should be very proud of their clever little boy.  His fascination for dinosaurs is clearly evident but is he the “Youngest Dinosaur Educator”?  This title is an epithet that the parents themselves came up with, but we have met many equally enthusiastic dinosaur buffs who could give Makan a run for his money.

His mum, Qing Zhang explained:

“He’s got an amazing memory.  He can tell what each dinosaur’s traits are, what period they lived in, whether they’re omnivores or herbivores.”

Makan’s dinosaur expertise at such a young age is admirable, especially when you consider that the little boy can’t read, however, in our experience working with Nursery and Reception-aged children, most classes tend to have a classroom dinosaur expert with an equally impressive ability to recall dinosaur facts and figures.

With an application submitted to the Guinness World Records, we wish Mr Wang, Ms Zhang and young Makan all the very best with this endeavour and we wholeheartedly agree with their sentiments when mum comments:

“We wanted recognition that he is young and is doing an amazing job.  Whether he wins it or not, for us, it doesn’t really matter that much.  We want him to continue to learn and this is encouragement for him.  We’re so proud of him and we’re happy to see where he goes from here.”

Do You Know of a Young Dinosaur Expert?

Mums and dads, grandparents and guardians, do you know of a budding palaeontologist that could take on the title of being the “Youngest Dinosaur Educator”?  Our team members are constantly amazed by the level of pre-knowledge that very young children demonstrate when it comes to introducing a dinosaur topic at school, our dinosaur experts have even been corrected on a few occasions when we ourselves have tripped up over our dinosaur facts and figures – we would be delighted to hear from other proud grown-ups who might have their very own resident dinosaur expert in the family.

Now there’s a challenge!

9 05, 2016

JurassicCollectables CollectA 2016 Unboxing (Part 2)

By | May 9th, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur Products, Everything Dinosaur videos, Main Page|2 Comments

JurassicCollectables and CollectA 2016 (part 2)

Over the weekend Everything Dinosaur team members were able to catch up with their correspondence and time was found to view some of the prehistoric animal videos that we had been looking forward to seeing.  One such video was this excellent review of the next batch of CollectA prehistoric animals to hit the shelves in our warehouse.  This was a sort of “peep behind the scenes” by JurassicCollectables, the five models featured in this short review are not yet released and they won’t be available for a few weeks yet, so we are grateful to the talented team at JurassicCollectables who took time out to make this ten minute video – just enough to whet the appetites of dinosaur fans and model collectors.

New for 2016 CollectA Unboxing by JurassicCollectables (Part 2)

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

The models featured are (in appearance order) the majestic marine reptile Thalassomedon (pronounced Fal-lass-so-me-don), the “ostrich mimic” Struthiomimus, a tyrannosaurid Lythronax and last but not least the deluxe 1:20 scale Andrewsarchus and the Deinocheirus figure.   The narrator takes the viewer through each replica in turn and takes care to point out the details, such as the splendid feathers on the Theropods and the air brushing on the fearsome Andrewsarchus.  Particular attention is paid to the  Deinocheirus replica, a model of a dinosaur that recently (2014), received a makeover following the publication of a new scientific paper reporting on a study of more complete fossil material, first muted a few months earlier at the annual Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology meeting.

Coming Soon the New Interpretation of Deinocheirus (D. mirificus)

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2016.

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2016.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the range of CollectA not to scale models available at Everything Dinosaur: CollectA Prehistoric Life Models

For the CollectA Deluxe and the Supreme range of replicas: CollectA Deluxe Scale Models and Supreme Range

This is the second CollectA unboxing video that JurassicCollectables have shot in the last few months.  In their first CollectA unboxing video, posted up on the Everything Dinosaur blog in the last week of April, the earlier 2016 CollectA releases featured including the splendid Torvosaurus dinosaur model.  To see this video: JurassicCollectables CollectA Unboxing (Part 1)

JurassicCollectables can be found on YouTube and their channel is packed with lots of amazing and extremely informative prehistoric animal videos, check out this most professional YouTube site, we urge you to take a look and we suggest that blog readers may like to subscribe: Check out the JurassicCollectables YouTube Channel

8 05, 2016

Happy 90th Birthday Sir David Attenborough

By | May 8th, 2016|Dinosaur Fans, Famous Figures, Main Page, Press Releases|0 Comments

Happy 90th Birthday Sir David Attenborough

On this day in 1926, the English naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough was born.  Today, we celebrate Sir David’s (he was knighted in 1985), ninetieth birthday.  His contribution to our understanding of the natural world has been immense.  He can now add the title of nonagenarian to his array of awards and accolades.  On behalf of everyone at Everything Dinosaur we would like to wish Sir David “many happy returns”.

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Happy 'Birthday Sir David Attenborough.

Happy ‘Birthday Sir David Attenborough.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur with images from the BBC

Today, a lot of media outlets will be paying tribute to the body of work with which Sir David Attenborough has been associated.  He has been a part of so many people’s lives and documented our rapidly changing world.  Through his eyes and his narration we have seen and heard about this remarkable ecosystem that we are very much a part of, but sadly, most of us have lost touch with.

In the office over this weekend we have been sharing our thoughts about some of the amazing programmes, many of which were ground-breaking documentaries that this stalwart of British broadcasting has worked on over a BBC and programme making career that extends to more than six decades.  Some of us remember watching a programme called “Fabulous Animals” which was broadcast in the mid 1970’s and (if we recall correctly), was shown during the summer holidays.  In this series, David (not to be knighted for another ten years or so), explored stories relating to mythical creatures such as mermaids, griffins and the Loch Ness monster.  These programmes have not been seen by any of us for half a lifetime, but we can recall the enthusiastic presenter explaining and enthralling us with tales of these astonishing creatures.

Life on Earth (1979)

The documentary series “Life on Earth” was to follow, a joint venture between the BBC and Warner Bros/Reiner Moritz Productions, a thirteen-part documentary series that charted the story of life and evolution.  This seminal and highly influential television series was to form the basis of a body of work that, in our opinion has not been surpassed.

A Fascination for Fossils

As a young boy growing up in the county of Leicester, Sir David was passionate about fossil collecting, an enthusiasm he still has, although sadly with dodgy knees and a pacemaker, his days of clambering over rocks in search of petrified evidence of ancient life might be behind him.  Nonetheless, as a presenter and narrator he has still played a pivotal role in enthusing the next generation of budding palaeontologists and fossil collectors.

Sir David Discusses Trilobites with Professor Richard Fortey

Sir David Attenborough discussing Trilobites with Professor Richard Fortey.

Sir David Attenborough discussing Trilobites with Professor Richard Fortey.

Picture Credit: BBC

Over the next few days the BBC will be showing a number of programmes and documentaries that celebrate the work of this much admired naturalist and broadcaster and last week it was announced that Sir David’s first foray into television “Zoo Quest” was to be broadcast in colour for the first time.

Attenborosaurus

Sir David has been honoured on numerous occasions and has a number of living and extinct species named after him as well as a polar research vessel.  For example, back in 2008, when Sir David was a sprightly eighty-two year old, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a placoderm fossil in Australia that showed evidence of viviparity (live birth).  The animal was named Materpiscis attenboroughiA Fishy Tale Indeed and fans of marine reptiles will know that the Pliosaur Attenborosaurus conybeari honours Sir David and the 19th Century English geologist William Conybeare.

The CollectA Attenborosaurus Model

Named in honour of Sir David Atttenborough.

Named in honour of Sir David Attenborough.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To purchase a model of Attenborosaurus (Attenborough’s lizard): CollectA Attenborosaurus model

From all of us at Everything Dinosaur, happy birthday Sir David.

7 05, 2016

Atopodentatus Unzipped

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

Atopodentatus unicus Has a Makeover

In April 2014, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a bizarre Triassic marine reptile from south-western China called Atopodentatus unicus.  The skull and jaws were described as being highly unusual, with nothing like them having been found in the fossil record of marine vertebrates before.  The upper jaw was thought to resemble a slit with small teeth forming a fine sieve or comb-like structure.  This bizarre creature was assumed to be a specialist carnivore and it was held up as an example of how the marine ecosystems had bounced back and produced strange new animals in the shadow of the End Permian extinction event.

It turns out that Atopodentatus may not have been so bizarre after all, however, its existence does help to support the theory that marine food chains did indeed recover remarkably quickly following the mass extinction that marked the end of the Palaeozoic.  In a paper published in “Science Advances”, the skull and jaws of this three-metre-long reptile have been re-examined.  Atopodentatus was certainly a specialist, but most likely a herbivore with a jaw shaped like a hammerhead used to graze on seaweeds and algae.  As such, it is the earliest example of herbivory in marine reptiles, pre-dating the previously earliest known marine animals to have eaten plants by some eight million years.

A New Interpretation of Atopodentatus unicus – A Marine Reptile Herbivore

An illustration of Atopodentatus unicus.

An illustration of Atopodentatus unicus.

Picture Credit: Y. Chen, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP).

“Unzipping” a Marine Reptile

More fossils unearthed in China’s Yunnan Province by scientists from the IVPP allowed researchers to see further examples of the preserved skull and jaws, although flattened and crushed like other fossil material, analysis of the jaw and skull morphology using modelling clay led the scientists to conclude that Atopodentatus did not have “zipper jaws”, but rather a hammerhead structure, which is still a remarkable adaptation.

Close up Images of Fully Prepared Atopodentatus Skull Material

A = Dorsal view of Atopodentatus skull, whilst B = Ventral view of Atopodentatus skull.

A = Dorsal view of Atopodentatus skull, whilst B = Ventral view of Atopodentatus skull.

Picture Credit: W. Gao, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP)

The photograph shows two views of flattened A. unicus skull material (A) a dorsal view, from the top down and (B) a ventral view, viewed from the bottom.  The scientists, which included Olivier Rieppel (The Field Museum, Chicago) and Nicholas Fraser (National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh) as well as Li Chun (IVPP) and Cheng Long (Wuhan Centre of China Geological Survey), have deduced that this marine reptile rasped off algae and plants from rocks and then sucked in the suspended plant remains filtering out the food from the seawater using its needle-like teeth.

Commenting on the research, Dr. Rieppel stated:

“It’s a very strange animal!  It’s got a hammerhead, which is unique, it’s the first time we’ve seen a reptile like this.  To figure out how the jaw fitted together and how the animal actually fed, we bought children’s clay, kind of like Play-Doh and rebuilt it with toothpicks to represent the teeth.  We looked at how the upper and lower jaw locked together and that’s how we proceeded to describe it.”

Modelling Clay Helped Map the Morphology of this Middle Triassic Marine Herbivore

Assessing the dentition and jaw morphology of Atopodentatus using modelling clay.

Assessing the dentition and jaw morphology of Atopodentatus using modelling clay.

Picture Credit: Dr. Rieppel (Field Museum)

Strange Jaws and Teeth

The hammerhead shaped jaws, also described by Everything Dinosaur team members as an “upside down T shape” had peg-like teeth along their edges.  Further back into the mouth, Atopodentatus had bunches of needle-like teeth.

How Did Atopodentatus Feed on Plant Material?

An illustration Atopodentatus feeding underwater.

An illustration Atopodentatus feeding underwater.

Picture Credit: Y. Chen (IVPP)

The scientists describe the feeding mechanism of Atopodentatus thus:

The spatulate, peg-like teeth lining the hammerhead were probably used to scrape off plant material such as seaweed and algae from submerged rocks.  This would result in large amounts of plant matter being suspended in the water.  This was then sucked into the mouth and filtered by the long, thin and closely packed needle-shaped teeth located more posteriorly in the mouth.  Not only did the jaws of Atopodentatus resemble a vacuum cleaner attachment, it sucked like a vacuum cleaner too.

Dr Rieppel observed:

“The jaw structure is clearly that of an herbivore.  It has similarities to other marine animals that ate plants with a filter-feeding system, but Atopodentatus is older than them by about eight million years.”

A Model of the Redefined Skull of Atopodentatus with Fossil Material for Comparison

A model of Atopodentatus shown against the flattened skull fossil.

A model of Atopodentatus shown against the flattened skull fossil.

Picture Credit: Nicholas Fraser (National Museums Scotland)

A Recovering Ecosystem

The evolution of such a bizarre-looking marine reptile, not long after the End Permian extinction event, helps to support the hypothesis that vertebrates bounced back relatively quickly following the mass extinction of much of the back-boned fauna of the Late Permian.  However, instead of being placed in food webs representing the eastern Tethys Ocean of the Middle Triassic as carnivore (feeding on zooplankton and crustaceans), the position of Atopodentatus will have to be modified to reflect its diet.

To read the original story describing Atopodentatus: Bizarre New Triassic Marine Reptile Described

For an article that looks at the food web of the eastern Tethys Ocean during the Triassic: Chinese Sea Dragon Hints at Triassic Marine Fauna Recovery

6 05, 2016

Antarctic Expedition Provides Window into Late Cretaceous Seacape

By | May 6th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Fossilised Birds, Ammonites and Giant Marine Reptiles

A team of international scientists including researchers from the University of Queensland and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, have been showing off their vast collection of fossils after a very successful expedition to Antarctica earlier this year.  The fossils, estimated to weigh over 1,000 lbs, provide evidence of life in a shallow sea close to land some 71 million-years-ago (Late Cretaceous).  The specimens were collected from James Ross Island, a forty mile long island on the south-eastern side of the Antarctic peninsula, a long finger of land that points towards South America, although the island itself is more than six hundred miles from the Chilean mainland.

Some of the Fossils Found During the Two-Month Long Antarctic Expedition

Spectacular fossils preserved in nodules found in Antarctica.

Spectacular fossils preserved in nodules found in Antarctica.

Picture Credit: University of Queensland

The picture above shows a number of split nodules that contain invertebrate fossils of various kinds including a number of Ammonite specimens.  The geological hammer, probably the one used to split the nodules provides scale.  Over two hundred different fossils have been collected by the scientists.

Marine Reptiles and Dinosaurs

One of the main objectives of the research team over the two month period of the expedition (February to March) was to search for vertebrate fossils to provide information on the marine and terrestrial fauna that existed in this part of Gondwana towards the end of the Cretaceous.  Giant shark vertebrae the size of saucers, as well as Plesiosaur and Mosasaur remains along with bird fossils were discovered, these fossils along with the other specimens are currently being stored in Chile prior to onward transport to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) for preparation and study.  It is likely that a number of new species will be identified.

Palaeontologists Working on a Plesiosaur Shoulder Girdle

Palaeontologists carefully excavate the shoulder girdle of a Plesiosaur (James Ross Island).

Palaeontologists carefully excavate the shoulder girdle of a Plesiosaur (James Ross Island).

Picture Credit: Dr.  Matthew Lamanna (Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

The picture above shows graduate student Abby West (American Museum of Natural History) working alongside Dr. Steve Salisbury (University of Queensland) and marine technician Julia Carlton as they carefully prepare the shoulder girdle of a Plesiosaur for extraction by helicopter.  The location of the fossil sites are so inaccessible that they only way such large specimens could be removed was by helicopter.  The choppers used to support the field team were called “raptors” – very Jurassic Park as one expedition member quipped.

The photograph was taken by Dr. Lamanna (Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology), an expert on the terrestrial fauna of Gondwana, a few days ago, Everything Dinosaur reported on the naming of a new giant Titanosaur from Argentina that had been named based on the extensive study of a beautifully preserved skull and neck elements that had been found some years before (Sarmientosaurus musacchioi).

To read more about this story: Late Cretaceous Titanosaur from Patagonia

Identifying New Fossil Sites

The scientists are part of an international Antarctic research project – Antarctic Peninsula Paleontology Project (forgive the Americanised spelling), or AP3 for short.  Consisting of specialists in vertebrate palaeontology and geology, the team heralds from universities and museums from the United States, Australia, South Africa, Chile and the UK.  Located a gruelling six mile hike from the team’s base camp the main fossil bearing beds are located on the steeply sloping south-western flank at Sandwich Bluff on Vega Island, which is located just a few thousand metres to the north-west of James Ross Island.  Much of the strata exposed around James Ross Island dates from the very Late Cretaceous and from the very Early Palaeogene.  A number of new fossil bearing sites have already been located including several plant remains beds and two previously undocumented Cretaceous exposures that were targeted for future field work.

The Late Antarctic Summer – Hiking Looking for Fossils

Isolated and very difficult to reach - fossil hunting in Antarctica.

Isolated and very difficult to reach – fossil hunting in Antarctica.

Picture Credit: The Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The Antarctic A Potential Treasure Trove of Fossils

The James Ross Island basin is one of the few parts of Antarctica where the snow and ice melts sufficiently to expose the rock strata below.  The absence of soil helps with the exploration, although we tip our hard hats to the research team members who braved freezing temperatures, howling gales and sea sickness just to reach the fossil quarries.  The specimens were excavated from the Upper Cretaceous Sandwich Bluff Member of the López de Bertodano Formation.  The beds here represent deposits in a shallow, marine environment with occasional occurrences of terrestrial material (particularly plant remains) that would have been washed into the sea from the nearby land.  Dinosaur fossils were found, although fragmentary, the palaeontologists are confident that these fossils will help to extend our understanding of the Late Cretaceous dinosaur fauna of Antarctica.

Commenting on the research, Dr. Salisbury explained:

“It’s a very hard place to work, but it’s an even harder place to get to.  A lot of the bigger bones will need quite a bit of preparation before we can do much research on them.  Working in Antarctica is tough!”

Fossilised remains of birds were also found, including early ducks dating from the end of the Cretaceous period.

It’s a Tough Job – Searching for Fossils in the James Ross Island Basin

Lying down on the job!  Looking for fossils in the Antarctic.

Lying down on the job! Looking for fossils in the Antarctic.

Picture Credit: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur paid tribute to the research team and their supporters stating:

“The Antarctic provides vertebrate palaeontologists the opportunity to explore pristine fossil bearing environments without the risk of damage from vandals or illegal fossil hunters.  This treasure trove of fossils, currently in Chile, will provide scientists with a great deal of data regarding the fauna and flora at what was a pivotal moment in the history of life on Earth.”

In the summer of 2015, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a Plesiosaur, but this time from the other end of the world – the Arctic.

To read an article about this amazing fossil find: Elasmosaur Fossil from Alaska

5 05, 2016

Ancient Multi-cellular Fossils from New Burgess Shale Type Deposit

By | May 5th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Ancient Seaweed Fossils from Mongolia

Research conducted by a team of international scientists from Mongolia, Japan and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (United States), have identified two new species of ancient multi-cellular marine algae from a newly discovered Burgess Shale Type deposit located in the Zavkhan Basin of Zavkhan Province (western Mongolia).  The fossils are exceptionally rare and date from approximately 555 million years ago (Ediacaran geological period), they are helping researchers to pinpoint the development of complex lifeforms from the Kingdom Plantae, the ancestors of all plants that exist today.   A paper on the research into the thin shale beds (representing the  Zuun-Arts biota), has been published in the online, open access journal “Scientific Reports”.

Lead Author of the Study Associate Professor Stephen Dornbos Holds One of the Fossil Specimens

Ediacaran fossil specimen held by palaeontologist Stephen Dornbos.

Ediacaran fossil specimen held by palaeontologist Stephen Dornbos.

-Picture Credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The preservation of soft-bodied organisms such as these remains of algae are exceptionally rare in the fossil record.  One such method of preservation is carbonisation in fine-grained strata.  These deposits of exceptional preservation are referred to as Burgess Shale Type deposits, after the famous Cambrian site in British Columbia.  Burgess Shale Type deposits preserving the remains of organisms that lived before the Burgess Shales themselves were formed, can provide scientists with a tantalising glimpse into marine life prior to the evolution of animals with hard bodies such as exoskeletons and shells, but only a handful of pre-Cambrian (Ediacaran) Burgess Shale Type deposits are known.  The research team were exploring ancient marine rocks in western Mongolia when the thin black shales containing carbonised remnants of the prehistoric seaweeds were discovered.

Two species of multi-cellular marine algae have been identified, the most common fossils representing the newly described Chinggiskhaania bifurcata.  The other species, known from just three fossil specimens has been named Zuunartsphyton delicatum.

A Cross Polarised Light Image of C. bifurcata

Chinggiskhaania bifurcata fossil (scale bar = 5mm)

Chinggiskhaania bifurcata fossil (scale bar = 5 mm)

Picture Credit:  University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Under polarised light the structure of the fine filaments of the ancient seaweed can be clearly seen.  Contrast this picture with the photograph of Stephen Dornbos holding a specimen.  The fossils consist of aluminosilicate clay minerals and some carbon, just like the Burgess Shale fossils, and as such, spotting fossils is a very difficult task.  Natural light has to strike the fossil at the correct angle, otherwise the specimen cannot be distinguished from the surrounding matrix.

Commenting on the discovery of the Zuun-Arts biota, Associate Professor Stephen Dornbos stated:

“This discovery helps tell us more about life in a period that is relatively undocumented.  It can help us correlate the changes in life forms with what we know about the Earth’s ancient environments.  It is a major evolutionary step toward life as we know it today.”

Extremely Hard to Classify

Burgess Shale Type fossils dating from the Proterozoic Eon usually are classified as one of two categories, algae, like seaweed, which is the case of the  Zuun-Arts biota, or the remains of extinct types of organisms so unlike living organisms today, that identifying what they might have been like is very difficult to do.  As a result, interpretation of Ediacaran fossil material is a very controversial area of palaeontology.

Explaining this problem, Stephen Dornbos commented:

“If you find a fossil from this time frame, you really need strong support for your interpretation of what it was.   The further back you go in geologic time, the more contested the fossil interpretations are.”

An Illustration Depicting Life in the Ediacaran Geological Period

Life in the Ediacaran.

Life in the Ediacaran.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

4 05, 2016

Minisauripus – The Smallest Dinosaur Known?

By | May 4th, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Ancient Tracks Hint at Tiny-saurus

A team of international scientists including researchers from Bristol University and the China University of Geosciences (based in Beijing), have published a paper reporting on tiny three-toed tracks found in south-western China that might support the idea that some Theropod dinosaurs were very small indeed.  The footprints suggest that a dinosaur no bigger than a house sparrow ran across a mud flat more than 125 million years ago.  The dinosaur is referred to as Minisauripus (pronounced min-nee-sore-ree-pus), it is an ichnogenus, the term applied to an animal that is only known from fossil footprints and trackways.  Although the researchers don’t rule out the possibility that these prints might have been made by juveniles of a larger species, all the described examples assigned to this ichnogenus are small and so it is possible this is evidence of one of the smallest kinds of dinosaur to have existed.

A Minisauripus (Foreground) Chased by a Larger Jialingpus (Background)

Minisauripus, potentially the smallest dinosaur known to science.

Minisauripus, potentially the smallest dinosaur known to science.

Picture Credit: Zhang Zongda/China Daily

The picture above shows an artist’s impression of Minisauripus which may have been a compsognathid being pursued by a much larger Theropod, also known from fossil tracks – Jialingpus.  The tracks are from exposed strata that make up the extensive Lower Cretaceous Feitianshan Formation, these rocks preserve trace fossils made on soft sand and silts that represent a low-energy lake (lacustrine) environment.  A number of different types of dinosaur footprints have been identified at this location close to the town of Yangmozu (in Zhaojue County, Sichuan Province), twenty Theropod dinosaur tracks have been found, seventeen of these have been assigned to the larger Jialingpus, the remaining three tiny tracks are associated with Minisauripus.  In total around seventy individual footprints have been identified from a 26 square metre section of rock.  A scientific paper detailing this research has been published in the academic journal “Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology”.

One of the lead authors of the paper, Lida Xing (a PhD student at the China University of Geosciences) commented:

“The discovery of Minisauripus may challenge people’s traditional thinking that all dinosaurs were big guys with scary teeth and claws.  On the contrary, the footprints discovered in Zhaojue County belong to a small, fluffy dinosaur the size of a bird.”

Other fossils assigned to this ichnogenus have been found elsewhere in China, there is also evidence of Minisauripus tracks recorded from Lower Cretaceous rocks in Korea.

Size Comparison Minisauripus versus Oviraptorid and the Hind Foot of Giganotosaurus

The ichnogenus Minisauripus compared to an oviraptorid and the hind foot of a Giganotosaurus.

The ichnogenus Minisauripus compared to an oviraptorid and the hind foot of a Giganotosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the minimum size estimated for Minisauripus (around 12 cm long), compared to a typical oviraptorid at around two metres and the hind leg of a giant Theropod (Giganotosaurus).  The researchers cannot be certain that the tracks assigned to Minisauripus represent those made by fully grown individuals, however, all known examples of this ichnotaxon are small.  All unequivocally identified Minisauripus tracks fall in the size range of from 1.0–6.1 cm.  Assuming a small adult animal in each case, and based on standard foot length, leg length and body length ratios, all Minisauripus tracks indicate trackmakers with hip heights of less than 5 cm and ranging to 28 cm.  This gives an approximate body size range of between 12 cm and 72 cm.

Threatened by Mining

Zhaojue County is officially recognised by the Chinese authorities as being one of the poorest parts of south-western China.  There are plans to develop the mining industry in this part of Sichuan Province and scientists are lobbying the Government asking for safeguards to protect the ancient trackways and other fossil sites.

3 05, 2016

Tiny Titanosaur Suggests Rapetosaurus Not Good at “Bringing Up Baby”

By | May 3rd, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans|0 Comments

Scientists Suggest Rapetosaurus Was Precocial

Titanosaurs are a bit like buses, yes they are.  In fact, these bus-sized members of the Sauropodomorpha were a lot like buses, you wait for ages to write about the Titanosauridae and then two stories come along in quick succession.  First, there was yesterday’s article all about a remarkable study into the skull of a South American Titanosaur (Sarmientosaurus musacchioi), that, thanks to CT scans, had provided researchers with an insight into the dinosaur’s senses and now, we write about another Titanosaur study which suggests that these herbivores did not require much or perhaps any parental care after hatching.

Titanosaurs – The Largest Land Vertebrates Known

Huge dinosaur from southern Patagonia.

Huge dinosaur from southern Patagonia – Dreadnoughtus schrani.

Picture Credit: Jennifer Hall

To read more about the study of the skull of Sarmientosaurus musacchioi: A New Late Cretaceous Titanosaur from Patagonia

Tiny Titanosaur from Late Cretaceous Madagascar

The fossilised bones of a baby Titanosaur have been analysed by a team of scientists supported by funding from the National Science Foundation.  The team found that hatchlings were mini versions of the adults and just like many birds and reptiles today, these Sauropodomorphs were relatively independent at birth, capable of leaving the nesting area and fending for themselves just a short time after hatching.  In short, the study suggests that Titanosaurs were precocial, the parents having relatively little to do with the raising of the offspring, the youngsters being more than capable of fending for themselves and foraging to find food.

Precocial behaviour inferred from this study contrasts with different parenting behaviours seen in other types of dinosaur such as Ornithopods and the Theropoda.  Dinosaurs such as Maiasaura (Ornithopod) and Oviraptor (Theropod) may have had different parenting strategies.  Although, dinosaur nests, embryo fossils and fossils of very young dinosaurs are exceptionally rare there is a degree of evidence, most notably from the “Egg Mountain” site in Montana where the majority of Maiasaura fossils have been unearthed that some dinosaurs at least, were altricial, that is, the young were relatively helpless at birth and they relied on their parents to look after them and to bring food to the nest.

Rapetosaurus karusei – Every Fossil Tells a Story

The Titanosaur is Rapetosaurus (R. karusei), fossils of which are associated with the Upper Cretaceous Maevarano Formation of north-western Madagascar.  These plant-eaters, roamed the island of Madagascar some 70 million years ago (Maastrichtian faunal stage).  Several bones collected between 1998 and 2003 and stored at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and catalogued as crocodilian fossils caught the eye of palaeontologist Kristina Curry Rogers.  Kristina has seen fossils like these before and she knew that they were not from any crocodile species, in fact, the bones represented a very young Rapetosaurus.  Why was the Associate Professor so confident?  Simple, Kristina was one of the researchers which named and described Rapetosaurus (pronounced Rah-pay-too-sore-us) back in 2001.

Some of the Rapetosaurus Material Used in the Study

The preserved skeleton of the baby Rapetosaurus, including vertebrae from the hip and tail and the femur.

The preserved skeleton of the baby Rapetosaurus, including vertebrae from the hip and tail and limb bones.

Picture Credit: Kristi Curry Rogers

The research was funded the National Science Foundation (United States) and Associate Professor Curry Rogers (Macalester College, St Paul, Minnesota), was the lead author, working with colleagues from Adelphi University, (Garden City, New York),  the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington.  Looking at the shape of the femur and comparing it to examples from older animals, the bone shape was very similar, this suggested that hatchlings were very mobile and further study indicated that they were capable of a wider range of movements than the cumbersome adults.

Kristina explained:

“This baby’s limbs at birth were built for its later adult mass; as an infant, however, it weighed just a fraction of its future size.  This is our first opportunity to explore the life of a Sauropod just after hatching, at the earliest stage of its life.”

Shinbone (Tibia) Reveals Data

The team studied thin-sections of the tibia (the bones seen on the left of the picture above), using a high-powered CT scanner to get a closer look at the micro-structures preserved inside the fossil limb bones.  The patterns and structures identified were similar to those found in extant animals which made it possible for the scientists to build up a picture of the few short weeks of this dinosaur’s life.

Associate Professor Curry Rogers stated:

“We looked at the preserved patterns of blood supply, growth cartilages at the ends of limb bones, and at bone remodelling.  These features indicate that Rapetosaurus grew as rapidly as a newborn mammal and was only a few weeks old when it died.”

One key finding was the identification of the hatching line, a shift in the internal structure of the bone that in modern lizards and crocodilians indicates when an animal emerged from its egg.  This enabled the research team to calculate the size of the baby dinosaur at hatching (around 3.4 kilogrammes).  The average human baby birth weight in the UK is a fraction heavier at around 3.5 kilogrammes.  However, unlike our babies which are highly altricial (dependent on parental care), Rapetosaurus grew rapidly and in the 39 to 77 days of its life it grew to be more than ten times its hatching weight.

A Baby Rapetosaurus Dinosaur Provides Fresh Insight into Titanosaur Growth and Development

A baby Rapetosaurus provides fresh insight into Titanosaur growth and development (ontogeny).

A baby Rapetosaurus provides fresh insight into Titanosaur growth and development (ontogeny).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur based on an original diagram by Kristi Curry Rogers

Demise in a drought

The baby Rapetosaurus did not live very long and the scientists report that this little herbivore may have starved to death.  How did they deduce that?  An analysis of cartilage growth plates preserved on the limb bones bears a strong resemblance to the modified growth of cartilage that occurs in living vertebrates when the animal is under stress due to lack of food.  The Maevarano Formation represents strata laid down in a flat, alluvial plain criss-crossed by a number of rivers which flowed from the central highlands.  Debris such as large boulders preserved in the strata indicates that the flow of water along these rivers varied a great deal.  This suggests a semi-arid environment with prolonged periods of drought, interspersed by periods of heavy rainfall.  The Late Cretaceous of Madagascar was a drought-stressed ecosystem and for this hatchling a lack of food was very probably its downfall.

Thanks to the work of Kristina Curry Rogers and her collaborators, scientists have been able to piece together some information about the short life of this Titanosaur.

As Associate Professor Curry Rogers states:

“Between its hatching and death just a few weeks later, this baby Rapetosaurus fended for itself in a harsh and unforgiving environment.”

To read an article about potential precocial behaviour in the Pterosauria: New Species of Flying Reptile from “Pterosaur Graveyard”

2 05, 2016

A New Late Cretaceous Titanosaur from Patagonia

By | May 2nd, 2016|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Sarmientosaurus musacchioi – A “Drop Head” Dinosaur

The beautifully preserved skull of a new type of Titanosaur is helping scientists to understand the evolution of these herbivorous dinosaurs.  Titanosaur skull fossils are exceptionally rare, but thanks to the skull of Sarmientosaurus musacchioi, palaeontologists have got a “heads up” on basal Titanosaurs, ironically computer modelling and an analysis of the skull morphology suggests that this dinosaur may have specialised in feeding on low growing vegetation.  If that was the case, then this long-necked dinosaur probably spent a lot of its time with its head pointing downwards towards the ground.

An Illustration of Sarmientosaurus musacchioi

New basal Titanosauriform from Argentina (Sarmientosaurus).

New basal Titanosauriform from Argentina (Sarmientosaurus).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur (background from the artwork of Julius Csotonyi

Rare Titanosaur Skull Fossil Discovery

Reporting in the on line academic journal PLOS One, the team of palaeontologists which includes lead author Dr. Rubén D. F. Martínez (National University of Patagonia), describe a beautifully preserved and almost complete skull specimen excavated from strata which makes up the Lower Member of the Upper Cretaceous Bajo Barreal Formation in south, central Chubut Province, Patagonia (southern Argentina).  The fossils, comprising the skull plus elements from the neck are believed to date from around 95 million years ago (Middle Cenomanian stage of the Late Cretaceous).

Scientists Show Off the Beautifully Preserved Dinosaur Skull

Dr. Martinez (right) and Dr. Lamanna (left) with Sarmientosaurus skull.

Dr. Martinez (right) and Dr. Lamanna (left) with Sarmientosaurus skull.

Picture Credit: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The skulls of members of the Sauropodomorpha, the Sub-Order of Dinosaurs to which the Titanosaurs belong, tend to be disproportionately small when compared to the size of the body.  In addition, the skulls of these dinosaurs are at the end of a long neck.  When an animal died and the carcase rotted away, then the skull bones were likely to become detached from the rest of the skeleton.  Skull fossils of Sauropods are exceptionally rare.  In Titanosauriforms, only three other skull fossils are known:

  • Rapetosaurus (from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar)
  • Tapuiasaurus (from the Early Cretaceous of Brazil)
  • Nemegtosaurus (from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia

The discovery of an almost complete Titanosaur skull will help scientists to understand more about the anatomy, evolution and behaviour of these dinosaurs.  For example, analysis of the orbit within the skull and the relative position of the eye suggests that this dinosaur had particularly good vision.  Such is the completeness of the fossil material that the scientists, which included Gondwana Titanosaur specialist Dr. Matthew Lamanna (Carnegie Museum of Natural History), have been able to piece together an endocast of the brain and demonstrate the shape of the inner ear.

Views of the Skull of Sarmientosaurus (Sarmientosaurus musacchioi)

A view of the skull (lateral views)

A view of the skull (lateral views)

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The picture above shows the prepared skull seen in right lateral view (photograph A and line drawing B) and left lateral view (C).  The naris slopes gently downwards towards the premaxilla and the orbit (eye-socket) is quite large.  The simple, peg-like teeth (57 teeth associated with the fossil), project forward, an adaptation perhaps to assist with the combing action of feeding.  The scale bar in the picture above represents ten centimetres.

Dr. Lamanna noted:

“Titanosaurs included the biggest land animals ever, so we want to know as much about them as we can.  But to truly understand a creature, you need to have its head and because Titanosaur skulls are super-rare, lots of important aspects of how these dinosaurs lived and behaved have really been anybody’s guess.”

CAT Scans Reveal Previously Unseen Features in Titanosaur Fossil Material

The skull fossil has provided palaeontologists with their first really good view of a basal Titanosaur and it has provided new information regarding the shape of the brain case and the senses of these dinosaurs.  For example, CAT scans have enabled the researchers to model the structure of the inner ear, from this they have deduced that this dinosaur had good hearing, able to detect a wide range of low frequency airborne sounds.  This perhaps provides a clue to how these herding animals communicated.

The Excavation of the Rare Titanosaur Fossil Material

Sarmientosaurus fossils at the dig site.

Sarmientosaurus fossils at the dig site.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

The photographs above show the articulated skull lying upside down partially eroded out of the rock (A), note that the skull is seen in ventral view (viewed from underneath) and that the geological hammer provides an approximate scale.  The black arrow in photograph A shows the position of an ossified cervical tendon lying very close to the back of the skull.  Photographs B and C show two views of the articulated skull and the partial cervical series (neck bones) exposed in the rock (ventral view).  The black arrows indicate the position of cervical tendons.  Photograph D shows a cervical rib (white arrow) and its relationship in the matrix to an ossified cervical tendon (black arrow), the field instruments provide an approximate scale.

Ossified Bony Tendons

When compared to the Tapuiasaurus fossil skull from Brazil which dates from around 115 million years ago, the teeth and skull morphology of Sarmientosaurus are relatively primitive.  The researchers have concluded that radically different Titanosauriforms probably co-existed for much of the Cretaceous.  This suggests that different types of Titanosaur evolved to fill different ecological niches and perhaps this might help to explain why these types of plant-eaters made up a substantial portion of the herbivorous mega fauna fossils associated with the southern hemisphere in the Late Cretaceous.

Views of the Restored Skull of Sarmientosaurus

Views of the prepared skull of Sarmientosaurus (scale bar = 10cm).

Views of the prepared skull of Sarmientosaurus (scale bar = 10cm).

Picture Credit: PLOS One

In the picture above, A, C and E are photographs of the skull in various views.  A frontal view (A), a view of the back (B) and a caudodorsal view (C) which is a view of the back of the skull from the orientation of looking down on it from the top.  The images B, D and F are diagrams that show the individual bones and skull features as preserved in the fossil material.  Sarmientosaurus is the first non-avian dinosaur to show evidence of a very long bony tendon in the neck.  The research team compare the thin ossified tendon with that found in extant Cranes.  The function of this structure is not known.

Superior Senses When Compared to Other Sauropodomorphs

The CAT scans provided a remarkable amount of detailed information regarding the sensory capabilities of this Titanosaur.  The large eye-socket indicated good eyesight and the orientation of the balance organ of the inner ear suggests that this dinosaur probably held its head with the snout facing downward.  From this it has been inferred that Sarmientosaurus fed mainly on low-growing plants.

Professor Lawrence Witmer, a specialist in cranial anatomy and one of the co-authors of the scientific paper explained:

“The Sarmientosaurus skull is beautifully-preserved, which meant that we could tease out a ton of information.  It was really exciting for us to work through the CT scan data because it gave us a glimpse into the biology and lifestyle of this animal like we rarely get with dinosaurs.”

What’s in a Name?

The genus name honours the small town of Sarmiento in Chubut Province which is close to the fossil quarry where the skull was found.  The trivial name is in tribute to the late Dr. Eduardo Musacchio, a palaeontologist and professor at the National University of Patagonia who was a mentor to Dr. Martínez as well as a close friend.

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