New South African Permian Dicynodont Described

Dicynodont with a Big, Bulbous Nose – Bulbasaurus phylloxyron

The Karoo Basin of South Africa is famous for its Permian fossils.  The rocks exposed in this part of the world, trace the geology of what was to become known as the super-continent of Gondwana, from the Late Carboniferous through into the Early Jurassic.  It is the abundance of Permian-aged Tetrapod fossils from the Beaufort Group of strata and its rock formations that have provided palaeontologists with a great deal of information about terrestrial life before the rise of the dinosaurs.  Researchers from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and the University of Witwatersrand have announced the discovery of a bizarre-looking new type of dicynodont, this critter may have been quite small, but it did have large tusks and strange, rough boss on its nose.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Late Permian Dicynodont Bulbasaurus phylloxyron

Bulbasaurus illustrated.

A drawing of the new Late Permian Dicynodont Bulbasaurus.

Picture Credit: Matt Celeskey

Bulbasaurus phylloxyron

Described from skull material that was discovered preserved in 1.5 metre-deep mudstone, it is thought the head of this reptile was transported by a flood event before coming to rest in the mud.  Over millions of years the mud became rock, preserving the skull and some of the teeth, including evidence of an impressive pair of tusks (located in the upper jaw).

Photographs of the Holotype Skull Material in Situ (SAM-PK-K11235)

Bulbasaurus skull fossil.

The skull of Bulbasaurus photographed by a member of the field team.

Picture Credit: Peer J

The photograph above shows two views of the holotype material (SAM-PK-K11235) taken from the excavation site.  Picture (A) shows the skull in left lateral view, whilst (B) shows the dorsal view.  The geological hammer provides scale.  The fossil material was discovered at Driekoppe, Vredelus, Fraserburg, Western Cape Province, by Dr Roger Smith (University of Witwatersrand), it was during a visit to view the collection of Permian fossils that dicynodont specialist Dr Christian Kammerer (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin), noted the skull showed a number of unusual features, most of which are associated with much younger types of Dicynodontians.  Further study led to the establishment of a new species (B. phylloxyron).  The genus name means “bulbous nose”, a reference to the large and roughened boss located on the naris bone.

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A view of the skull and line drawing of the Late Permian Dicynodont Bulbasaurus.

Left lateral view and line drawing of the skull of Bulbasaurus.

Picture Credit: PeerJ with annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a photograph of the sixteen-centimetre-long skull and an accompanying line drawing.  The large, bulbous area of the naris (from which this animal has been named), is highlighted.

Key

sq = squamosal, qj =quadratojugal, apt = anterior pterygoid ramus, ec = ectopterygoid, fr = frontal, la = lacrimal, mx = maxilla, na = nasal, pmx = premaxilla, pb = base of postorbital bar, po = postorbital, prf= prefrontal and ? indicates an unidentified bone.  The area shaded grey in the line drawing represents matrix.

 Significant Permian Fossil Discovery

Bulbasaurus was found in rocks that have been dated to the early Lopingian Epoch of the Late Permian.  It lived around 259 million years ago.  The fossils are significant as Bulbasaurus is the oldest known member of a family of dicynodonts known as the Geikiidae.  Its discovery helps to fill in a gap in the early fossil record of this important group.

The scientific paper: “An early geikiid dicynodont from the Tropidostoma Assemblage Zone (late Permian) of South Africa”, published in the journal PeerJ.

Unravelling the Origin of the Deuterostomes

Saccorhytus coronarious – Our Earliest Ancestor?

It might resemble that green, slimy ghost/monster out of the movie Ghostbusters, but this tiny sack-like creature with a huge mouth (and no obvious signs of an anus), might just be our earliest ancestor.  Scientists writing in the journal “Nature” report on the discovery of Saccorhytus coronarious a tiny organism less than one millimetre in diameter that could represent the oldest “deuterostome” yet discovered.  Deuterostomes are divided into three major clades, one of which is the Chordata, that’s the vertebrates which includes us!  This animal could represent your earliest known ancestor!

An Illustration of the Minute Saccorhytus coronarious – Our Earliest Ancestor?

Saccorhytus Illustration

An illustration of the earliest known deuterostome – Saccorhytus.

Picture Credit: Cambridge University

Deuterostomes

Within the Animal Kingdom (Animalia), the complex organisms, (more complex than jellyfish with their radial symmetry), are split into two main groups namely:

  1. Deuterostomia – bilateral symmetry mainly, with only the echinoderms showing radial symmetry, this group includes all the Chordata, plus the Hemichordata – acorn worms and the extinct graptolites and the Echinodermata star fish, sea urchins etc.
  2. Protostomia – bilateral symmetry including the molluscs, arthropods, nematodes and worms.

These lineages are believed to share a common ancestor that lived during the Ediacaran geological period.  The hunt has been on to find this common ancestor, and Saccorhytus is the best candidate discovered to date.  Firstly, it is the most primitive example of a deuterostome yet discovered and it is the oldest, having been discovered in rocks laid down some 540 million-years-ago (Fortunian Stage of the Lower Cambrian).

The micro-fossils were discovered in rocks in Shaanxi Province, (central China) and when it comes to identifying vertebrate features, that is a bit tricky, despite the remarkable degree of preservation.

A Highly-Magnified Image Showing the Micro-fossil (S. coronarious)

Saccorhytus image.

A highly-magnified image of Saccorhytus.

Picture Credit: Jian Han

The body is bag-like and has a huge, mouth located in the centre (the oval shaped object in the central part of the organism).  It has four conical openings on either side of the body, that may well have served as outlets to allow sea water that had passed into the body to be ejected.  It has been suggested that these simple openings could provide an insight into the origin and development of gills.  The mouth probably served two functions, as the researchers have not been able to detect the presence of an anus.  What entered into the mouth, once nutrients had been extracted, was ejected out of the mouth.  The organism does show bilateral symmetry, however, a trait that was passed onto all the vertebrates.

Living in the Sand

Saccorhytus could have easily sat on the head of a pin.  It probably lived between grains of sand on the seabed, wriggling its way through them, perhaps it was an active predator, perhaps it fed on waste or other detritus.  The study was carried out by an international team of academics, including researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and North-west University in Xian China, with support from other colleagues at institutions in China and Germany.

Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology and a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, one of the co-authors of the study, commented:

“We think that as an early deuterostome this may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves.  To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail is jaw-dropping.  All deuterostomes had a common ancestor, and we think that is what we are looking at here.”

Most of the very early deuterostome groups are known from fossils that date from between 510-520 million years ago, but these fossils already show a wide degree of diversity and variety so, if they did share a common ancestor, it probably lived much earlier. What the common ancestor might have looked like has also been extremely difficult to work out, given the level of diversity and variety already found in the fossil record from 510-520 million years ago.

The scientific paper: “Meiofaunal deuterostomes from the basal Cambrian of Shaanxi (China)”, published in the journal “Nature”.

Researchers Confirm Dinosaur Collagen

2009 Brachylophosaurus Study Replicated

One of the most controversial areas of palaeontology is the extraction and assessment of traces of organic remains preserved in the fossil record.  Indeed, the study of preserved proteins and other organic remains such as potential red blood cells from within fossils tens of millions of years old, is perhaps, one of the most controversial subjects in the whole of science.  Researchers from North Carolina State University, eminent figures such as Professor Mary Schweitzer have been at the very forefront of this relatively new area of study, essentially long extinct animal molecular biology.  Organic material from fossils of dinosaurs is being reported more frequently, however, being able to repeat analyses and confirm previous results remains fundamental to the results of such studies gaining acceptance in the wider scientific community.

A new paper has been published in the “Journal of Proteome Research” by scientists from North Carolina State University who, in collaboration with colleagues from North-western University and the University of Texas – Austin, have applied the most rigorous testing methods used to date to isolate additional collagen peptides from an 80-million-year-old dinosaur thigh bone.  This study helps strengthen the idea that organic molecules can persist within the fossil record for many millions of years.  Repeating an experiment and replicating previous results has implications for our ability to study the fossils of long extinct creatures at the molecular level.  The job of “dinosaur biologist” may have come one step closer.

The Brachylophosaurus (B. canadensis) Femur

Brachylophosaurus femur.

MOR 2598 the Brachylophosaurus femur in its field jacket prior to the peptide study.

Picture Credit: North Carolina State University

The picture above shows the dinosaur thigh bone used in the study.  The area for sampling has been marked on the bone, demonstrating that not everything within this cutting-edge form of palaeontology is that sophisticated.

North Carolina State postdoctoral researcher Elena Schroeter, along with Professor Mary Schweitzer and co-worker Wenxia Zheng wanted to confirm the results of an earlier (2009) assessment of organic material retrieved from the femur of a duck-billed dinosaur (Brachylophosaurus canadensis).  Advances in mass spectrometry and clean room technology since the first experiments, would permit the team to produce a more robust set of results, with less risk of contamination or false “positive” results.

Explaining the team’s reasoning for repeating the 2009 study, Elena Schroeter stated:

“Mass spectrometry technology and protein databases have improved since the first findings were published, and we wanted to not only address questions concerning the original findings, but also demonstrate that it is possible to repeatedly obtain informative peptide sequences from ancient fossils.”

The Hunt for Collagen

Collagen is a protein, it forms fibrous strands and, ironically it happens to be the most abundant protein found in our own bodies.  The proteins that make up collagen are themselves composed of peptides, which are chains made up of amino acids.  If peptides can be identified within a dinosaur bone (or any fossil bone for that matter), palaeontologists will be able to determine the evolutionary relationships between members of the Dinosauria and their relationship with extant animals.  This would help solve such puzzles as whether or not the dinosaurs were warm-blooded and provide much more information about the lives of these long extinct animals, far more information than could be derived from an anatomical analysis of preserved bones and teeth.  In addition, this type of study would help to answer other intriguing questions. related to the fossilisation process itself.  For example, which characteristics of collagen proteins permit preservation over deep geological time?

Brachylophosaurus canadensis

Brachylophosaurus was a member of the Hadrosauridae family of bird-hipped dinosaurs (Ornithischians) and it is known from relatively abundant (bonebed) fossil material excavated from Upper Cretaceous deposits of North America (Judith River Formation of Montana, USA and the contemporaneous Oldman Formation of Alberta, Canada).  This herbivorous dinosaur lived some 80-78 million years ago, (Campanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous).  It was formally named and scientifically described in 1953.

The Late Cretaceous Duck-billed Dinosaur Brachylophosaurus canadensis

The Late Cretaceous Brachylophosaurus.

Brachylophosaurus illustrated.

Picture Credit: Houston Museum of Natural Science

Professor Schweitzer commented:

“We collected B. canadensis with molecular investigation in mind.  We left a full metre of sediment around the fossil, used no glues or preservatives and only exposed the bone in a clean, or aseptic environment. The mass spectrometer that we used was cleared of contaminants prior to running the sample as well.”

The sample of bone that was analysed was from the specimen’s femur (thigh bone).  The bone used was specimen number MOR 2598.  Using mass spectrometry, the team recovered a total of eight peptide sequences that form collagen (collagen I).  Two peptide sequences were identical to those recovered in the 2009 research, six are new, not having been found in previous studies.  The peptide sequences show that the collagen in a dinosaur (B. canadensis) has affinities with extant Aves (birds) and crocodylians, a result expected given the close phylogeny between the Dinosauria and these two groups.

Elena Schroeter added:

“We are confident that the results we obtained are not contamination and that this collagen is original to the specimen.  Not only did we replicate part of the 2009 results, thanks to improved methods and technology, we did it with a smaller sample and over a shorter period of time.”

Phylogenetic Affinity

Phylogenetic analyses place the recovered sequences within basal Archosauria and when only the six new sequences are considered, B. canadensis is grouped more closely to crocodylians.  However, when all sequences (current and those reported in 2009), are analysed, B. canadensis is placed more closely to stem Aves.  The researchers conclude that their data robustly supports the hypothesis of an endogenous origin for these peptides, (they originated from within the organism’s bone), confirming the idea that peptides can survive in specimens tens of millions of years old, and being able to repeat the experiment and obtain the same results bolsters the validity of the earlier (2009) study.

Professor Schweitzer, a stalwart for organic molecular research in the fossil record explained:

“Our purpose here is to build a solid scientific foundation for other scientists to use to ask larger questions of the fossil record.  We’ve shown that it is possible for these molecules to preserve.  Now, we can ask questions that go beyond dinosaur characteristics.  For example, other researchers in other disciplines may find that asking why they preserve is important.”

Testing a Hypothesis

Although this research remains controversial, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests the minute traces of organic matter can be preserved within the fossil record.  In order for this research to gain wider acceptance it must be shown that peptide sequences can be reliably obtained from fossil material and that these experiments can be repeated with the same outcomes.  Intriguingly, as our ability to identify organic molecules improves, so these highly fragmentary sequences for ancient proteins can be increasingly expanded.

To test the hypothesis that peptides can be repeatedly detected and validated from fossil tissues many millions of years old, the research team applied updated and more sophisticated extraction methodology, in conjunction with improved sterile, clean-room conditions.  High resolution mass spectrometry and bioinformatics analyses on a Brachylophosaurus canadensis specimen (MOR 2598), from which collagen I peptides were recovered in 2009, led to the identification of eight peptide sequences in the repeated experiment.  This new study further augments the idea that within fossilised elements, which, perhaps have been preserved under exceptional conditions, do indeed, contain minute organic remnants of long dead organisms.

To read a related article about the potential for finding blood remnants with dinosaur fossils: The Blood of a Brachylophosaurus

The scientific paper: “Expansion of the Brachylophosaurus canadensis collagen I sequence and additional evidence for the preservation of Cretaceous protein”.

Authors: Elena Schroeter, Mary Schweitzer and Wenxia Zheng, NC State University; Caroline DeHart, Paul Thomas, Neil Kelleher, North-western University; Timothy Cleland, University of Texas-Austin; Marshall Bern, Protein Metrics.  Published: Journal of Proteome Research

Terrifying Pterosaurs Just Got More Terrible

Robust Necks Indicate Apex Predator Niche

Amongst all the amazing genera that are now grouped into the Order Pterosauria, it is perhaps, the azhdarchids that are the most spectacular.  When other types of flying reptile were in decline and heading towards extinction in the Late Cretaceous, the Azhdarchidae were still going strong.  Some of these Late Cretaceous azhdarchids, animals such as Quetzalcoatlus, Arambourgiania and Hatzegopteryx stood as tall as a giraffe and had wingspans the size of small aircraft.  These large wings, combined with their light bodies (even the very largest are estimated to have weighed no more than 225 kilogrammes), permitted these creatures to fly extremely long distances.  Studies of wing function and biomechanics indicate that some of the largest forms could have traversed continents and crossed the recently formed Atlantic Ocean with ease.

A Model of the Giant Late Cretaceous Azhdarchid Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus (Q. northropi)

Quetzalcoatlus model.

A model of the giant Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus.

Picture Credit: Safari Ltd

To read an article about the flight dynamics of giant Cretaceous Pterosaurs: Cretaceous Runways – Flight Dynamics of Pterosaurs

Which Niches within Ecosystems?

Our understanding of the Pterosauria has been much revised over the last three decades or so.  Recent fossil finds and new research on previously collected and catalogued material has provided a wealth of scientific information and a new paper written by the eminent British pterosaurologists Darren Naish (University of Southampton) and Mark Witton (University of Portsmouth), further supports the hypothesis that some super-sized Pterosaurs occupied apex predator niches within Late Cretaceous ecosystems.  A study of two Pterosaur neck bones (cervicals), including one giant, twenty-four-centimetre-long cervical suggests that the body proportions of azhdarchids may not have been as uniform as previously thought.  The researchers postulate that the enormous Hatzegopteryx had a proportionately shorter, more stocky neck that was very strong.

Line Drawings Showing Various Views of the Giant Azhdarchid Pterosaur Fossil (EME 315)

Giant Neck Bone of a Pterosaur (Hatzegopteryx).

Giant azhdarchid cervical vertebra referred to Hatzegopteryx sp. (A–D) line drawings of EME 315 in anterior (A) right lateral (B) ventral (C) and dorsal (D) views.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

In the picture above, four views of the Pterosaur neck bone are shown (A) viewed from the front, (B) viewed from the right, (C) viewed from underneath and (D) viewed from the top.  The lighter areas in the drawings indicate where damage to the bone has occurred, the darker shading indicates the presence of filler.  Scale bar equals ten centimetres.

A strong, powerful neck would have been resistant to the forces and stresses imposed upon it by a prey struggling in the Pterosaur’s large beak.  The specimen (EME 315) is almost as wide as it is long and as it was excavated from the Maastrichtian Sebeş Formation of the Transylvanian Basin, (Romania), it has been assigned to the Hatzegopteryx genus, as Hatzegopteryx thambema fossil material is known from the adjacent and contemporaneous Densuş-Ciula Formation, of the northern Haţeg basin.

Thick, Robust Neck Bones Support the Idea of Pterosaurs Feeding on Dinosaurs

The scientists compared the dimensions of EME 315 (believed to be cervical VII, which is from the base of the neck, articulating with the first of the thoracic or dorsal vertebrae), to the neck bones from other azhdarchids and they argue that in the absence of large, terrestrial predators on the ancient island, known as Hateg, azhdarchids such as Hatzegopteryx occupied the role of top predators in the ecosystem.

The Robust and Relatively Short Neck of Hatzegopteryx Helps this Pterosaur Overcome a Struggling Dinosaur

Powerful necked Hatzegopteryx feeds on a dinosaur.

Transylvanian giant azhdarchid pterosaur Hatzegopteryx sp. preys on the rhabdodontid iguanodontian Zalmoxes.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

Azhdarchids had proportionately bigger skulls than any other known terrestrial vertebrate.  Their size and these huge skulls, if related to a relatively, short but powerful neck would lend support to the idea that these creatures stalked smaller animals in the same way that extant Marabou storks (Leptoptilos crumenifer) do in Africa.  However, unlike the modern Marabou, which catches frogs, lizards, small mammals and fish, Hatzegopteryx would have been capable of swallowing whole a dinosaur the size of a Cocker Spaniel!  Hatchling dinosaurs would have been especially vulnerable to attack and with a number of dwarf dinosaur forms known from the Hateg Formation (Magyarosaurus), juveniles could have been predated upon also.

Giant Azhdarchid Neck Bone (EME 315) Compared to Arambourgiania Giant Cervical

Pterosaur cervical bone comparison.

The giant neck bone compared to the only other giant Pterosaur cervical Arambourgiania.

Picture Credit: PeerJ 

Writing in the journal “PeerJ” the researchers compare the Hatzegopteryx cervical (cervical VII), with the only other giant azhdarchid neck bone known, a single cervical representing Arambourgiania philadelphia, from the Late Cretaceous of Jordan (see picture above).  The paucity of the fossil record restricts accurate size estimates for entire animals, but the cervical assigned to A. philadelphia, believed to represent cervical V is approximately seventy centimetres long.  Its morphology and proportions are very different from the Hatzegopteryx material (EME 315).  This suggests that there may be greater variation in the body proportions of the Azhdarchidae then previously thought.  Some members of the Azhdarchidae may have had shorter and stronger necks than other genera.  This leads to the tantalising idea that, giant Pterosaurs did indeed occupy apex predatory roles in isolated island ecosystems such as Hateg, which was largely devoid of large, carnivorous Theropods and that proportional differences between super-sized taxa may even hint at distinct feeding specialisms.

Late Cretaceous Jordan Two Arambourgiania Fight Over a Luckless Dinosaur

Azhdarchid pterosaurs feeding on dinosaurs.

Arambourgiania philadelphia (giant Pterosaurs) squabble over a small Theropod dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Mark Witton

Giant Pterosaur Scavengers?

If we reflect on the feeding habits of the Marabou stork, it is known to feast on carrion.  Few carnivores will turn up the offer of a free meal if they find a corpse to feed on.  It could be speculated that some of the more robust-necked azhdarchids may have specialised in scavenging the carcases of dinosaurs.  The absence of teeth in the jaws, may have inhibited these reptiles from being able to eviscerate a dead dinosaur, but this could have been compensated to some degree by having a strong, pointed beak and a powerful neck.  As well as being apex predators, some Late Cretaceous Pterosaurs may have occupied an ecological role similar to today’s vultures.  Ironically, when Quetzalcoatlus northropi was first named and described back in 1975, several palaeontologists argued that this giant flying reptile filled a scavenger niche.

For an article which examines the role of Azhdarchid Pterosaurs in ecosystems (based on research published in 2015): Understanding Azhdarchid Pterosaurs

The article: “Naish D, Witton MP. (2017) Neck biomechanics indicate that giant Transylvanian azhdarchid pterosaurs were short-necked arch predators”.  PeerJ 5:e2908, (published in the online journal PeerJ).

To read the PeerJ article: Peer J Article

The Oldest, Most Complete Iguanian of the Americas

Magnuviator ovimonsensis from Egg Mountain

Palaeontologists picking through a bounty of fossils from Montana have discovered something very unexpected, a new species of lizard from that lived near to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, whose closest relatives roamed in faraway Asia.

This ancient lizard, which lived 75 million-years-ago in a dinosaur nesting ground, is described in a paper published this week in the academic journal “The Proceedings of the Royal Society B”.  Named Magnuviator ovimonsensis, the new species fills in significant gaps in our understanding of how lizards evolved and spread during the Mesozoic, according to palaeontologists at the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture who led the research.

Postdoctoral research associate, David DeMar, lead author of the paper stated:

“It is incredibly rare to find one complete fossil skeleton from a relatively small creature like this lizard.  But, in fact, we had two specimens, both from the same site at Egg Mountain in Montana.”

Magnuviator is reshaping how scientists view lizards, their biodiversity and their role in complex ecosystems during the Cretaceous some seventy-five million-years-ago.

An Illustration of Magnuviator ovimonsensis

Magnuviator ovimonsensis illustrated.

An illustrated life reconstruction of Magnuviator ovimonsensis at the Egg Mountain site.

Picture Credit: Misaki Ouchida

The picture above shows a pair of Magnuviator lizards at the Egg Mountain fossil site.   One Magnuviator eats a wasp, on the ground is a tooth from the bird-like, Theropod dinosaur Troodon.  The arid-adapted plant is based on fossil pollen found near Egg Mountain.

An Ancient Lineage of Iguanian Lizards

Based on analyses of the nearly complete fossil skeletons, Magnuviator was an ancient offshoot of iguanian lizards.  The fossils are the oldest, most complete iguanian fossils from the Americas.  Today, iguanians include chameleons of the Old World, iguanas and anoles in the American tropics.  Based on its anatomy, Magnuviator was at best a distant relative of these modern lizard families, most of which did not arise until after the non-avian dinosaurs and quite a few lizards and other creatures became extinct some sixty-six million years ago.

The Holotype Fossil Material (M. ovimonsensis)

Magnuviator holotype fossil and line drawing.

Holotype fossil (A) with interpretative line drawing (B).

Picture Credit: David DeMar and Morgan Turner

The researchers came to these conclusions after a meticulous study of both Egg Mountain specimens over a period of four years.  This included a round of CT scans at Seattle Children’s Hospital to narrow down the fossil’s location within a larger section of rock and a second round at the American Museum of Natural History to digitally reconstruct the skull anatomy.  The fact that both skeletons were nearly complete allowed the team to determine not only that Magnuviator represented an entirely new species, but also that its closest kin weren’t other fossil lizards from the Americas.  Instead, it showed striking similarities to other Cretaceous Period iguanians from Mongolia.

The Second Magnuviator Fossil Specimen

Second Magnuviator ovimonsensis specimen.

The second Magnuviator ovimonsensis fossil specimen.

Picture Credit: Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

DeMar commented:

“These ancient lineages are not the iguanian lizards which dominate parts of the Americas today, such as anoles and horned lizards.  So, discoveries like Magnuviator give us a rare glimpse into the types of ‘stem’ lizards that were present before the extinction of the dinosaurs.”

A Resident of Egg Mountain

But Magnuviator’s surprises don’t end with the Mongolian connection.  The site of its discovery is also astonishing.  Egg Mountain is already famous among fossil hunters.  Over thirty years ago, palaeontologists discovered the first fossil remains of dinosaur babies there, and it is also one of the first sites in North America where dinosaur eggs were discovered.

Senior author Greg Wilson (University of Washington, associate professor of biology), stated:

“We now recognise Egg Mountain as a unique site for understanding Cretaceous Period ecosystems in North America.  We believe both carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs came to this site repeatedly to nest, and in the process of excavating this site we are learning more and more about other creatures who lived and died there.”

The team even named their new find as homage to its famous home and its close lizard relatives in Asia.  Magnuviator ovimonsensis means “mighty traveller from Egg Mountain.”

A View of the Famous Fossil Location in Montana – Egg Mountain

The famous Egg Mountain fossil site.

A distant view of Egg Mountain and the basin in which it lies.

Picture Credit: David Varricchio

A distant view of Egg Mountain and the basin in which it lies.  Egg Mountain is in the centre-left of this image, within the basin.  Clearly visible at its top are black rectangular shapes, which are tarps erected near the excavation site

The Spectacular Egg Mountain Fossil Site

Through excavations at Egg Mountain led by co-author David Varricchio at Montana State University and meticulous analysis of fossils at partner institutions like the University Washington and the Burke Museum, scientists are piecing together the Egg Mountain ecosystem of around seventy-five million-years-ago.   In those days, Egg Mountain was a semi-arid environment, with little or no water at the surface. Dinosaurs like the duck-billed Hadrosaurs such as Maiasaura and the bird-like, carnivorous Troodon nested there.

To read about a study mapping the lives of a population of Maiasaura: Mapping the Lives of a Population of Plant-eating Dinosaurs

The Egg Mountain Ecosystem

Researchers have also unearthed fossilised mammals at Egg Mountain, which are being studied by Wilson’s group, as well as wasp pupae cases and pollen grains from plants adapted for dry environments.  Based on the structure of Magnuviator’s teeth, as well as the eating habits of some lizards today, the researchers believe that it could have feasted on wasps at the Egg Mountain site.  Though based on its relatively large size for a lizard, in excess of thirty centimetres long, Magnuviator could have also eaten something entirely different.  It might have been a herbivore.

Whatever its diet, Magnuviator and its relatives in Mongolia did not make it into the modern era.  DeMar and co-authors hypothesise that these stem lineages of lizards may have gone extinct along with the non-avian dinosaurs.  But given the spotty record for lizards in the fossil record, it will take more Magnuviator-level discoveries to resolve this debate, and, unfortunately, part of the excitement surrounding Magnuviator is that it is a very rare find.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of the University of Washington in the compilation of this article.

Gigantosaurus – You Mean Giganotosaurus?

No Such Dinosaur As Gigantosaurus

This week, team members at Everything Dinosaur are in the middle of their dinosaur themed workshops planned for the first half of the Spring Term.  About fifteen workshops have been undertaken since Christmas and there are another fifteen or so to go before the half-term break.  On Friday, a member of the Everything Dinosaur teaching team will be visiting a school to work with two classes of Year 2 children who have been learning about dinosaurs.  The inspirational text is “Gigantosaurus” written by Jonny Duddle.  The class teacher has been using this fictional text to inspire English work by using imaginative descriptions to create characters and setting descriptions.  In addition, the Lower Key Stage children will be exploring rhyme through poetry.

However, there has not been a dinosaur named “Gigantosaurus”.

Children Being Inspired by a Dinosaur Book

Gigantosaurus.

No such dinosaur called “Gigantosaurus”.

 

Carefully Crafted Scheme of Work

The choice of dinosaur themed text is part of a carefully crafted scheme of work that explores a range of fiction and non-fiction texts over the course of the term topic.  Non-fiction texts are being used to help challenge the children to write non-chronological reports.  For those readers unfamiliar with the book “Gigantosaurus”, it is a simple tale based on the story of the boy who cried wolf.  All young dinosaurs are warned about the scary “Gigantosaurus”.   Young Bonehead volunteers to be the lookout whenever the group of dinosaur friends go into the jungle to play.  He alerts his friends on numerous occasions but “Gigantosaurus” is nowhere to be seen, this is the story of the “boy who cried wolf”.  Bonehead’s friends refuse to believe his warnings when the dinosaur called “Gigantosaurus” finally turns up.

Giganotosaurus carolinii or Gigantspinosaurus sichuanensis

Inspirational this fiction text might be, but most young palaeontologists will tell you that the closest real dinosaur name is Giganotosaurus (giant southern lizard), a meat-eating dinosaur and one of the largest terrestrial carnivores known to science.

A Model of the Giant Meat-eating Dinosaur Giganotosaurus (G. carolinii)

Giganotosaurus dinosaur model.

Wild Safari Prehistoric World Giganotosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Ironically, Giganotosaurus (pronounced jy-ga-no-toe-sore-us), is a favourite amongst children, especially boys.  Being bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex makes Giganotosaurus carolinii very popular indeed.  It is not the only dinosaur with a similar sounding name. There is Stegosaur from China known as Gigantspinosaurus (G. sichuanensis).  The genus name means “giant spined lizard” and one glance at the illustration of this plant-eating dinosaur (below) will tell you why.

An Illustration of Gigantspinosaurus (G. sichuanensis)

A drawing of Gigantspinosaurus.

The very “spiky” Gigantspinosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As part of a series of extension activities planned for the children after our dinosaur workshop in the school, we have prepared a dinosaur “hokey cokey” song for the children, it will help them explore rhyme through a familiar song.  We will also be telling them all about Giganotosaurus.

Papo New for 2017 (Part 3)

New Models from Papo 2017 (Final Part)

The last of the new for 2017 Papo prehistoric animal models scheduled for release this year is the marvellous Cryolophosaurus dinosaur figure.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur have been lucky enough to have already viewed the new Papo dinosaurs and their counterparts and of all the models coming out from the French manufacturer this year, the Papo Cryolophosaurus is the favourite.

To view pictures of the first of the Papo prehistoric animal models to be released this year: Papo New for 2017 (Part 1)

New models from Papo (2017) – Part 2: Papo New for 2017 (Part 2)

New for 2017 the Papo Cryolophosaurus Dinosaur Model

Papo Cryolophosaurus dinosaur model.

The Papo Cryolophosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The model is posed with the tail pointing downwards, giving this dinosaur a more upright stance than other new for 2017 Papo dinosaur replicas (the Acrocanthosaurus and the Ceratosaurus models).  However, we can confirm that the model we examined did not need to rest on its tail to stand (tripodal stance).  Our model was able to stand perfectly well, balanced on its two hind feet, with the tail hovering off the ground.   The lack of tail mark drags preserved in the vicinity of Theropod tracks indicate that these dinosaurs, like all other dinosaurs known to science, held their tails off the ground when they moved.

Cryolophosaurus elliotti

The feature that most clearly distinguishes this dinosaur is the unusual backward sweeping crest of bone that protruded from the top of the skull.  When the partial, crushed skull of this dinosaur was unearthed, the scientists noticed this strange “quiff” and nicknamed this dinosaur “Elvisaurus” after Elvis Presley, the American singer.

A Close View of the Papo Cryolophosaurus Dinosaur Model

Papo Cryolophosaurus model close up.

A close look at the Papo Cryolophosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The beautiful scales on this new Papo replica can be seen in the close view of the head (above).  That strange frill of bone in front of the eyes has been well-crafted, it does resemble that found on the actual fossil material.  The articulated lower jaw joint can barely be seen and we love the careful painting around the mouth and on those fearsome looking teeth.

The Papo Cryolophosaurus is scheduled to be the last of the 2017 prehistoric animal model releases from Papo.  It is planned to be released towards the end of the summer, hopefully, Everything Dinosaur customers will be able to get their hands on this exquisite dinosaur model a little earlier.

To view the range of Papo models and replicas available from Everything Dinosaur: Papo Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals

Super-sized Otter as Big as a Wolf

Ancient Otter Species Amongst Largest Known to Science

South-western China some 6.25 million years ago (Late Miocene Epoch), was home to a giant river otter that grew to the size of a Grey Wolf.  That is the conclusion of a team of researchers which includes Dr Denise Su (curator and head of palaeobotany and palaeoecology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History).  The new species, named Siamogale melilutra would have weighed around fifty kilogrammes, making it one of the largest otter species known to science.  The largest extant otter species is the South American Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), it can reach a similar size, but it is much more lightly built, weighing around two-thirds as much as the Late Miocene species.

An Illustration of the Giant River Otter Siamogale melilutra

Siamogale illustration.

Yunnan Province (south-western China), in the Late Miocene was home to a giant otter (S. melilutra).

Picture Credit: Mauricio Antón

Mustelidae Fossil Record

Otters are members of the Mustelidae family (weasels and their kin).  These agile, aquatic predators are grouped into a sub-family, the Lutrinae and there are around a dozen or so species alive today.  The fossil record for the Mustelidae (weasels, ferrets, stoats, polecats, minks, martens, badgers, honey-badgers, wolverines and otters), is relatively poor.  Siamogale melilutra belongs to an ancient lineage of extinct otters that was previously known only from isolated teeth from a different, much older species that was recovered in Thailand (Siamogale thailandica from the middle Miocene basin of Mae Moh in northern Thailand).

What’s so special about this new discovery is that researchers were able to recover a complete cranium, mandible, teeth and various post-cranial skeletal elements, providing a wealth of insight into the taxonomy, evolutionary history and functional morphology of this new species.

Dr Su, co-author of the paper published in “The Journal of Systematic Palaeontology”, explained:

“While the cranium is incredibly complete, it was flattened during the fossilisation process.  The bones were so delicate that we could not physically restore the cranium.  Instead, we CT-scanned the specimen and virtually reconstructed it in a computer.”

The Holotype Fossil Material of S. melilutra Cranium in Right Lateral and Dorsal Views with the Digital Reconstruction

Fossil reconstruction and digital images (Siamogale).

Siamogale fossil reconstruction (digital images).

Picture Credit: The Journal of Systematic Palaeontology

The scale bar in the above image is 30 millimetres.  The fossil skull is shown on the left (right lateral view top and dorsal view bottom), with the digital reconstruction of the fossil generated from the CT-scans.

The Phylogeny of Mustelidae

Where the otters sit on the Mustelidae family tree has long been debated.  Since most of the Mustelidae fossil record is very poor, palaeontologists have struggled to assess taxonomic relationships.  The digital reconstruction of the crushed and flattened skull revealed that Siamogale melilutra had a combination of otter-like and badger-like characteristics, hence the species name “melilutra” which is derived from the Latin for otters (lutra) and the Latin for badgers (meles).

Siamogale melilutra had a large, powerful jaw with the enlarged, bunodont (rounded-cusped) teeth typical of many otter lineages.   It has been suggested that this giant otter specialised in eating freshwater mussels and clams, using its strong jaws to crack open the shells.

The discovery of this fossil material raises the question of whether these bunodont teeth were inherited by all otters from a common ancestor, or evolved independently in different otter lineages over time because of the evolution of similar adaptations to thrive in similar environments, an example of convergent evolution.   Dr Su and her co-workers which included Dr Xiaoming Wang (Dept. of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), through their analysis, found that bunodont teeth independently appeared at least three times over the evolutionary history of otters, suggesting convergent evolution to be the cause.

A Skull Size Comparison Between S. melilutra and P. brasiliensis and Lutra lutra

Otter skull comparisons.

Siamogale skull size comparison with South American giant river otter (middle) and European otter (right).

Picture Credit: The Journal of Systematic Palaeontology

Further Questions

The completeness of Yunnan province specimen allows researchers to better understand the evolutionary history of otters, however, lots of questions about this super-sized river otter remain.

Dr Su summed up the questions that the researchers would like to answer:

“Why did this species grow so large?  How did its size affect its movement on land and in water? And most importantly, what types of advantages did its size give?”

Although, much larger than modern-day otters, Siamogale melilutra is not the largest otter known from the fossil record.  Fossils of a much bigger “bear-otter” have been recovered from the Hadar Formation of Ethiopia.  The enormous Enhydriodon dikikae, would have been familiar to our hominin ancestors and it is estimated to have reached a total length in excess of two metres and weighed perhaps as much as 180 kilogrammes.

Otter Size Comparisons (Extinct versus Extant)

Otter Size Comparisons

Otter size comparisons (extinct species compared to living species).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The grey silhouettes represent living species, whilst the black silhouettes represent extinct species, two of the largest species of otter known from the fossil record.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “A New Otter of Giant Size Siamogale melilutra sp. nov. (Lutrinae: Mustelidae: Carnivora), from the latest Miocene Shiutangba site in north-eastern Yunnan, south-western China, and a total-evidence of phylogeny of Lutrines.” published in “The Journal of Systematic Palaeontology”.

JurassicCollectables Reviews Rebor’s Cerberus Clan

A Video Review of the Deinonychus Trio (Rebor)

Those hard-working dinosaur enthusiasts at JurassicCollectables have been busy making another dinosaur model video review and this time it is the Rebor Cerberus Clan model set that takes centre stage.  Once again, model fans are given the opportunity to get a good look at any potential purchases.  This video, which is just under ten minutes in duration, shows the models being unpacked, describes each of the Deinonychus replicas in detail, before uniting them with the Rebor Tenontosaurus corpse (Ceryneian Hind) and the Rebor Acrocanthosaurus (Hercules), in a spectacular three-part dinosaur diorama.

JurassicCollectables Video Review of the Cerberus Clan (Deinonychus antirrhopus)

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

Poseable Dinosaur Figures

The narrator takes great care with the individual model descriptions.  Each one of the dinosaur models has been given its own unique paint job and the narrator describes all three in detail before demonstrating that the wire aperture that supports each model can be manipulated, allowing the necks and tails of these meat-eating dinosaurs to be posed in different positions.

The Video Provides Lots of Information About the Rebor Cerberus Clan

Cerberus Clan from Rebor

The trio of three “raptors” from Rebor.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

JurassicCollectables have a wonderful YouTube channel packed full of dinosaur model reviews and other very informative videos, including reviews of the Rebor Acrocanthosaurus replica and the Rebor Ceryneian Hind (Tenontosaurus).

Visit the YouTube channel of Jurassic Collectables here: JurassicCollectables on YouTube , don’t forget to subscribe to the JurassicCollectables channel, after all, over 52,000 dinosaur model fans already have!

Tenontosaurus Bite Marks Line Up

Rebor’s attention to detail is highlighted in the video review.  JurassicCollectables show how all the bases of the Deinonychus models fit into the Tenontosaurus model base and they point out that the bite marks on the unfortunate Tenontosaurus match up to the positions on the diorama now occupied by the Cerberus Clan.  Model collectors can opt for a range of poses and positions for their own diorama, making their display truly unique. When all three Rebor models are shown together the whole diorama looks spectacular.  Viewers can see the completed diorama in the last portion of the JurassicCollectables video review (very appropriate music accompanies this part of the video too).

All three of the Rebor models, Acrocanthosaurus, the Tenontosaurus corpse (T. tilletti) and the Deinonychus set are available from Everything Dinosaur, to view the entire range of Rebor collectables available from Everything Dinosaur: Rebor Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

 All Model Sets Together Make an Eye-catching Dinosaur Diorama

Rebor dinosaur diorama.

The Rebor Acrocanthosaurus, Tenontosaurus and Deinonychus diorama.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

It’s fantastic to be able to appreciate the care and skill that has gone into the making of these Rebor models and the JurassicCollectables team really have triumphed once again with their comprehensive and immensely informative model review.

Everything Dinosaur’s New Website

A New Website for Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur will shortly be launching a completely revamped website.  The url destination address for Everything Dinosaur (Everything Dinosaur’s Website), will remain unchanged but the site will have a new look and it will have a number of new, customer friendly additions.  For example, the website will be much more mobile device friendly and there will be a formal review section for our customers to provide feedback on Everything Dinosaur’s products and our service.

In addition, new thumbnail images will be used to highlight key sections of the vast range of dinosaur and prehistoric animal items that we supply.

New Images for Everything Dinosaur’s New Website (Games, Arts and Crafts)

Everything Dinosaur website images.

New images for Everything Dinosaur’s new website.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from the UK-based dinosaur company stated:

“Very soon, Everything Dinosaur will be launching a brand new and completely revised website.  All three of our sites, including this blog and our “dinosaurs for schools” website will be on the same, tailor-made server.  This will provide customers and visitors with a speedier service.  In addition, our main website has been re-formatted making the whole experience of a site visit much more customer friendly.”

New Dinosaur Models

The launch of the revised and redeveloped websites will coincide with the introduction of more of the new for 2017 prehistoric animal models.  Customers will be able to order free catalogues and navigate around the site far easier, just two of the improvements on the new sites.

Dinosaur Books and Posters – New Images for the Everything Dinosaur Website

New image for the Everything Dinosaur website.

Dinosaur books and posters.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The new website will have enhanced newsletter compatibility, a more powerful product search option, plus FEEFO feedback and an increased range of subsidised postal options.  The newly commissioned images will help with navigation around the site, in total the much larger web presence will have over 1,000 tailor-made pictures and product photographs, each with its own complete and detailed description.  This year, 2017, in the Chinese calendar, is the year of the rooster (cockerel), or as we say at Everything Dinosaur, the year of the avian Theropod dinosaur.  It seems that shortly after the beginning of the Chinese New Year might be an appropriate time for a dinosaur company to change its website.  Look out for more information about our new website on this blog and on our social media pages.

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