A Review of “Giants of the Lost World”

“Giants of the Lost World” Reviewed

The fauna and flora of South America has always fascinated scientists and academics.  Animals that are around today, such as the giant otter, the bizarre peccary, anacondas and the jaguar, which pound for pound has the strongest bite of any living big cat, are mere shadows of what was once an astonishing menagerie, the likes of which were found nowhere else on Earth.  The public’s imagination has been fuelled by tales of the monsters that once roamed this continent.  American palaeontologist and author Donald Ross Prothero builds on this legacy in his new book “Giants of the Lost World” which documents and describes the incredible prehistoric animals that once dominated South America, many of which truly deserve the mantle of “monsters”!

The Front Cover of “Giants of the Lost World”

"Giants of the Lost World" front cover.

“Giants of the Lost World” by Donald R. Prothero.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

A Window into a Lost World

Professor Prothero gently guides the reader through the history of research and study of the many extinct prehistoric animals of South America, but first he sets the scene.  He discusses the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the adventure story “The Lost World” in 1912.  In Conan Doyle’s tale, plucky Professor Challenger leads a party of explorers to the top of a remote and isolated plateau discovering that dinosaurs and flying reptiles had survived into the 20th Century.  This influential novel has been the basis of many films, radio programmes and television series.  Sir Arthur was very probably inspired by the accounts of his good friend Percy Harrison Fawcett, who led an expedition to the Huanchaca Plateau (Bolivia) and encountered many strange animals that live atop the rocky plateau which rises upwards of nine hundred metres above sea level.

In truth, the non-avian Dinosauria and their kin are long gone, but the fossil assemblage left behind documents a remarkable prehistoric fauna, that once helped shape the thinking of Charles Darwin.  The largest land animals known to science (Titanosaurs) and some of the huge carnivores that preyed upon them, are discussed and the author skilfully updates readers on the fascinating debate about which was the biggest land carnivore of all – look out for the section comparing mega-sized carcharodontosaurids with the equally impressive Spinosaurs.

South America was home to a whole host of unusual meat-eating dinosaurs from the stumpy-limbed Alvarezsauridae with their reduced digits, to the “raptors”, ferocious Deinonychosaurs and the truly odd, apex predators, the abelisaurids.  This book is crammed full of fascinating facts and information that will delight both dinosaur fans and the general reader.

One of South America’s Unusual Giant Theropods – Carnotaurus (C. sastrei)

The South American abelisaurid Carnotaurus (C. sastrei).

A spectacular photograph of the bizarre South American abelisaurid Carnotaurus (C. sastrei).

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

Beautiful Illustrations, Photographs and Full Colour Plates

“Giants of the Lost World” is jam-packed with photographs, colour plates and beautiful illustrations.  Look out in particular for the detailed images included in this most informative text by the very talented Nobumichi Tamura.  We congratulate the author, for his provision of helpful notes and explanations that accompany the images and the very straight-forward and matter-of-fact manner in which he tackles quite complex and challenging areas of current palaeontological research, such as unravelling the family tree of the Sloths and their relatives (Xenarthra).  After all, who can’t help but be intrigued with chapter titles such as “Killer Opossums”, “The Slow Folk” and “Pseudo-Elephants”!

To purchase this very well written and highly informative volume: Smithsonian Books

As a specialist in mammalian evolution, Professor Prothero is an ideal candidate to document and explain the evolutionary history of the marsupials and placentals that once thrived in South America.  Some of these strange creatures migrated northwards, when South America’s isolation ended around three million years ago.  You might be familiar with the Smilodon fossils of the La Brea tar pits of Los Angeles, but the largest of the Smilodon species was a resident of the southern portion of the Americas (S. populator), it would have dwarfed the Sabre-Toothed Cats of the United States and was one of the largest felids to have ever lived.

A Colour Plate from the Book Illustrating the Skull and Huge Canines of Smilodon

Smilodon skull fossil.

A view of the skull of a Smilodon.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

The Land of Reptilian Monsters 

The dinosaurs did not hold the monopoly when it came to giant reptiles.  After the demise of the “terrible lizards”, new reptilian monsters evolved.  The immense fossilised shell of a super-sized turtle (Stupendemys), is proof that monstrous reptiles lived in South America as recently as five million years ago.  The bus-sized Titanoboa is discussed in detail and for fans of crocodiles, this book has plenty to sink your teeth into too.  You might be familiar with apex predators such as the fourteen-metre-long “super caiman” Purussaurus, known from Colombia, Brazil and Peru, but “Giants of the Lost World” contains one or two crocodilian surprises as well.  Check out the curious Mourasuchus, which matched Purussaurus in terms of size, but it may have fed in a similar way to a giant duck!

Everything Dinosaur’s Well-Thumbed Copy of “Giants of the Lost World”

Book cover "Giants of the Lost World"

Everything Dinosaur’s copy of “Giants of the Lost World”.

Picture Credit: Smithsonian Books

This highly informative and well-written book draws to a close with an epilogue that takes a sanguine tone, reflecting on the threats to the existing wildlife of South America, much of which is critically endangered.  Professor Prothero concludes that the extant animals and plants of this enigmatic continent may only be a shadow of a once mighty and monstrous assemblage, but there is still time to reverse the habitat destruction and climate change that threatens to erase the remnants of an amazing biological legacy.

This excellent book does much to raise awareness concerning the diverse and eclectic cast of prehistoric characters that once roamed South America.  Highly recommended.

The book can be purchased here: Smithsonian Books

Book Details:

Title: “Giants of the Lost World: Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Monsters of South America” by Donald R. Prothero.

Publisher: Smithsonian Books

Pages: 174 with 16 colour plates

ISBN: 9781588345738

Late Permian Therapsid was Probably Venomous

Euchambersia mirabilis was Probably Venomous

Detailed scans of the skull of the stem-mammal Euchambersia supports a theory first proposed by the enigmatic Baron Franz Nopcsa ninety years ago, that this Late Permian creature was venomous.  Scientists at the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa), concur with the Baron’s idea that this half-metre-long therapsid reptile known from the famous Karoo Supergroup, represents the earliest known venomous terrestrial vertebrate.

An Illustration of the Late Permian Therapsid Euchambersia mirabilis

Euchambersia mirabilis.

An illustration of the Late Permian therapsid Euchambersia.

Baron Nopcsa was an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat who discovered and identified a number of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals around the world.  In 1933, during a trip to South Africa, he looked at the remains of a therapsid found a couple of years earlier by Robert Broom, the fossil was identified as a distant ancestor of today’s Mammalia.  Nopcsa stated that the fossils probably represented an animal with a deadly bite.

Nopcsa declared that this was probably the earliest venomous species ever recorded.  However, his theory couldn’t be confirmed or disproved because venom and venom glands don’t fossilise.  A study of the skull and the upper jaw (maxilla) had shown that E. mirabilis had a huge, deep maxillary fossa (a hollow), associated with a ridged canine.  To the Baron, this implied that Euchambersia possessed a specialised gland situated inside the maxillary fossa that was capable secreting venom down the ridged canine tooth into victims.

CT Scanning Technology Provides Support for Nopcsa’s Theory

A team of researchers from the Johannesburg-based university set out to scan the known fossil skulls of Euchambersia and to create detailed three-dimensional images.  It seems that Baron Nopcsa was right, the 21st Century technology supports the idea that the 255 million-year-old Euchambersia is indeed, the earliest example of a venomous terrestrial vertebrate known to science.  Some extant mammals produce venom, for example, the bizarre Australian Duck-billed platypus (a monotreme), but also amongst placentals there are venomous mammals too.  With a stem-mammal probably being venomous, it puts forward a tantalising idea that in the past, all early mammal forms may have had venom, but as the synapsid lineage that was to give rise to modern mammals evolved, so the venom producing glands were lost.

Known from Only Two Fossil Specimens

The fossils that Baron Nopcsa studied back in 1933, represent a species that is only known from one other set of fossils.  Both specimens were discovered in the same area, just a few metres apart close to the town of Colesberg (Northern Cape Province of South Africa).  The second specimen was not found until 1966.  One specimen is housed in the collection of the Natural History Museum London, the other is at the Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg.

A Closer View of One of the Euchambersia Skulls Used in the Study

Euchambersia mirabilis skull fossil.

A closer look at one of the Euchambersia mirabilis fossil skulls.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

Each specimen was CT scanned at its respective institute, and the London data was sent to the researchers at the University of Witwatersrand.  The three-dimensional models that the images were able to provide gave the scientists the opportunity to explore in great detail the internal structure of the upper jaw.

CT Scans Revealed New Details of Euchambersia Skull and Jaw Anatomy

CT scans suggest Euchambersia was first terrestrial venomous Tetrapod.

CT scans showing various views of the Euchambersia skull material.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/University Witwatersrand

Lead author of the report, published in PLOS One, Dr Julien Benoit commented:

“We found that a wide, deep and circular fossa to accommodate a venom gland was present on the upper jaw and was connected to the canine and the mouth by a fine network of bony grooves and canals.  Moreover, we discovered previously undescribed teeth hidden in the vicinity of the bones and rock, two incisors with preserved crowns and a pair of large canines, that all had a sharp ridge.   Such a ridged dentition would have helped the injection of venom inside a prey.”

Dr Julien Benoit Holding One of the Skulls that was Scanned

Holding one of the Euchambersia fossil skulls.

Dr Julien Benoit holds one of the Euchambersia fossil skulls.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

It seems that Euchambersia had anatomical adaptations which were compatible with venom production.  The confirmation of the Baron’s theory strengthens the belief that pre-mammalian therapsids were very diverse and occupied a wide range of niches within Late Permian and Early Triassic ecosystems.  These ancient creatures, distantly related to our own species, diversified as herbivores and carnivores, large and small, burrowing and ground-dwelling species.  As the earliest venomous species and a representative of this early wave of pioneering species, Euchambersia directly reflects the extraordinary adaptive capabilities of these mammalian forerunners.

The scientific paper: “Reappraisal of the Envenoming Capacity of Euchambersia mirabilis (Therapsida, Therocephalia) using μCT-scanning Techniques,” published in the on line journal PLOS One.

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

An Unexpected Early Triassic Marine Ecosystem

American Fossil Site Shows Diverse Range of Marine Fauna Post Permian Extinction Event

A team of international scientists writing in the on line academic journal “Science Advances” have published details of a complex and diverse Early Triassic marine ecosystem that contradicts the commonly held view that life on Earth was slow to recover from the catastrophic End Permian mass extinction.  The fossils of around thirty different species of marine creature have been excavated from shales and limestone near to the city of Paris in Idaho (USA).  Four sites in total have been unearthed in Bear Lake County and they represent a marine ecosystem that existed just 1.3 million years after the Permian mass extinction event, the most devastating extinction event recorded in the whole of the Phanerozoic Eon (visible life).

Just 1.3 Million Years After the End Permian Extinction Event a Surprisingly Diverse Marine Ecosystem Thrived

Early Triassic marine fauna.

The Early Triassic marine fauna of the Paris Basin (Idaho).

Picture Credit: Jorge Gonzalez

A Dynamic Marine Ecosystem

Ammonite and conodont fossils have been used as biostratigraphical markers and the site has been dated to the middle Olenekian faunal stage of the Early Triassic, approximately 250.6 million years ago.  The fossils demonstrate that life, at least in some parts of the world bounced back remarkably quickly after the End Permian extinction event that is believed to have wiped out around 95% of life on the planet.

Lead author of the paper, palaeontologist Arnaud Brayard of the University of Burgundy-Franche-Comté (France) stated:

“Our discovery was totally unexpected.”

The Location of the Paris Basin Site (Modern and Mesozoic)

The Bear Lake (Paris Basin) fossil site location.

The Bear Lake fossil site location (modern and during the Early Mesozoic).

Picture Credit: Romano et al (Science Advances)

The picture above shows (A) the site of the Paris Basin in the context of the geography of the United States, (B) a close up of the location of the dig sites (Paris biota) identified by the researchers.  Picture (C) shows the approximate position of the Paris Basin during the Early Triassic.  The site was very close to the equator during the Early Triassic.

Surprising Fossil Discoveries

The diverse ecosystem consisted of ammonites and other cephalopods, sponges, brachipods and bivalves along with echinoids (sea urchins) crinoids, crustaceans and several vertebrates including marine reptiles, sharks more than two metres long and bony fish.  The Paris Basin ecosystem, included some unexpected creatures.  There was a type of sponge previously believed to have gone extinct 200 million years earlier (leptomitid sponges), and a squid-like group (gladius-bearing coleoids), previously thought not to have evolved until the Late Triassic.  In addition, the scientists report the finding of bones that could represent the earliest-known Ichthyosaur or at least a direct ancestor of an Ichthyosaur. Several other fossils display anatomical characteristics that were thought to have evolved much later (for example, echinoderms), indicating an early and rapid post-Permian/Triassic boundary diversification for these groups as well as previously unknown phylogenetical links between Palaeozoic and Mesozoic taxa.

Brayard added:

“The Early Triassic is a complex and highly disturbed Epoch, but certainly not a devastated one as commonly assumed, and this epoch has not yet yielded up all its secrets.”

Some of the Fossils Representing the Remarkable and Diverse Early Triassic Marine Fauna

Fossils from the Paris Basin (Idaho).

Examples of the multitude of fossil from the Paris Basin.

Picture Credit: A. Brayard, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (A to G); T. Saucède, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (H); and B. Thuy, Natural History Museum Luxembourg (I).

The photograph above shows a selection of fossils from the Paris Basin (A) a sponge fossil and ammonites, (B) leptomitid sponge and tiny brachiopods, (C) an ancient lobster, (D) a new genus of thylacocephalan crustacean and (E) shrimp fossil.  Picture (F) shows another shrimp fossil depicted under ultraviolet light. Whilst picture (G) shows a Gladius-bearing coleoid, a type of cephalopod that previously, had been thought to have evolved some fifty million years later.  A crinoid stem is shown in picture (H) and (I) depicts the remains of a Brittlestar.  Scale bars equal five millimetres for all the pictures, except for photograph (B) – scale bar one centimetre.

The researchers conclude that the Paris Biota highlights the key evolutionary position of Early Triassic fossil ecosystems in the transition from the Palaeozoic to the modern marine evolutionary fauna at the dawn of the Mesozoic era.

 The scientific paper: “Unexpected Early Triassic Marine Ecosystem and the Rise of the Modern Evolutionary Fauna”, published in the journal Science Advances.

Helping to Organise a School Trip to Wren’s Nest

Wren’s Nest and School Trips

Everything Dinosaur has been contacted by a school based in the West Midlands, seeking advice about a trip to the famous Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve, a place we know very well indeed!  This location is a popular destination for local schools which are studying fossils and rocks as part of the National Curriculum (England).  Wren’s Nest is to the north-east of the town of Dudley and it is a designated SSSI (site of special scientific interest), so no hammering at the cliffs of this former quarry is allowed. However, lots of fossils are being washed out of the scree slopes and there is something like seven hundred different types of fossil to collect, nearly ninety of which are unique to the Wren’s Nest area.

The Famous Ripple Beds at Wren’s Nest

Ripples preserved in limestone.

The famous ripple beds at Wren’s Nest SSSI located in the West Midlands.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the famous “Ripple Bed Hill” at Wren’s Nest.  This near vertical cliff face was once at the bottom of a shallow sea.  The “ripples” are the preserved remains of wave action on the seabed, they are around 426 million years old.  Taking schoolchildren to this location, helps them to gain an appreciation of deep, geological time.

How Did the Ripple Beds Form?

These structures formed as a result of massive, probably seasonal storms that swept across the normally, relatively calm sea.  The huge waves generated by the storm, led to the seabed being disturbed, the waves created by the storm had much more energy and their effect was felt much deeper in the tropical sea than usual.  Sand and debris was picked up and washed backwards and forwards over the seabed, creating the ripples.  The seabed was nearly 100 feet (thirty metres), under water and normally it would have been unaffected by usual sea conditions.  However, the symmetrical ripples are evidence of storm damage to this part of the seabed back in the Late Silurian.

After the storm had passed, the sea would have once again returned to its relatively calm state.  Thirty metres down the seabed was once again protected by the effects of normal-sized waves, which could not penetrate deep enough to wipe away the ridges and ripples caused by the storm.  Crinoids, (sea-lilies) soon colonised this part of the sea floor. However, sometime later, perhaps a few months, or perhaps after several years a large amount of mud was dumped on top of the ripples, permitting their preservation.  The mud could have been deposited as a result of exceptional run-off from the land, or perhaps an earthquake or other seismic event led to a large amount of sediment being shifted.  Whatever, the cause the ripples (and the crinoids living on them), were buried.  Palaeontologists have identified a total of twenty-five ripple bed areas in the cliffs that make up this feature of Wren’s Nest.  Each ripple bed represents a separate storm event.

Fossils Galore to be Found

More than 700 different fossils found at Wren's Nest

Lots of brachiopod and coral fossils to find at Wren’s Nest.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Top Tips for a School Visit to Wren’s Nest

The site represents the remains of an ancient coral ecosystem dating between 423-426 million years ago (mya), it is Silurian in age and more than 700 different types of fossils have been found at this site.  A party of schoolchildren will not collect them all, but they are bound to find plenty of fossils to satisfy curious minds.  However, finding your own Trilobite fossil, a “Dudley Bug” Calymene blumenbachii, is most unlikely but you might find a fragment of the exoskeleton, a piece shed when the animal moulted.

• This is an SSSI (site of special scientific interest), no hammers or tools of any kind are permitted on site. However, you don’t need any tools as the constantly eroding scree provides lots of fossils that can simply be picked up.
• There are no toilet facilities at this location
• A mid-week visit is best, either quite early in the morning or in the afternoon, although, the area tends not to be that busy at most times
• When we visit we park close to the Caves Inn (car parking from 9.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday)
• The slopes are a magnet for young fossil hunters who love to try to climb them (and run up and down them), these slopes are very steep and very slippery after rain, so sensible precautions need to be taken.
• There is a slight risk of rock falls, after all, this is an old quarry site, but in all our visits, we have never seen any evidence of this.
• Contact Wren’s Nest here: Further information about Wren’s Nest. You might even be able to arrange short talk by one of the very knowledgeable wardens.

Typical Scree Slope at Wren’s Nest

Wren's Nest SSSI

A view of Wren’s Nest.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Papo Prehistoric Mammals New for 2017

Papo Prehistoric Mammals 2017

Amongst the dinosaur (and one pterosaur), models being introduced by Papo this year, there are two prehistoric mammals, both members of the Order Carnivora.  The Acrocanthosaurus, Ceratosaurus and the Cryolophosaurus might be getting all the attention, but we thought we would shed some light on the intriguing Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat and Cave Bear models that are also coming into stock over the next few months or so.

New for 2017 the Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat and Cave Bear

Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat model and Cave Bear

Papo Smilodon and the Cave Bear.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Papo Smilodon (S. fatalis)

When we saw the first images of the new for 2017 Papo Smilodon, we have to say we were somewhat taken aback.  It looks very different from the Papo Smilodon model that is currently in the range, a model that was originally introduced in the second quarter of 2011.  The new figure is certainly more flamboyant than the 2011 replica, the pose is fascinating but it is the combination of a lion’s mane and those rear tiger stripes that gives this particular representation such an unusual look.  In the modern lion Panthera leo, the males have manes.  The mane is thought to have evolved under selection pressure caused as a result of this social cat needing to impress females/intimidate rivals.  The mane provides a degree of protection during intraspecific conflicts, but we at Everything Dinosaur are not sure what evidence there is, if any, for a mane being present in the sub-family Machairodontinae of which Smilodon is a member.

The Papo Smilodon Model Introduced in 2011

Papo Smilodon model.

Excellent model of a Sabre-Toothed Cat

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Cave paintings of male Cave Lions (Panthera leo spelaea) show these lions without manes.  Although, this does not mean the members of the Smilodon genus were not maned either.  They could have had manes, there is simply not enough evidence to determine this either way (as far as we know).  Many scientists have argued that the likes of Smilodon fatalis were social animals living in groups rather than solitary hunters.  A mane could have evolved, an example of convergent evolution as Smilodon species were subjected to the same selection pressure as their modern, African counterparts.

The Papo 2017 Smilodon Figure

Papo Smilodon (2017)

The Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat model (2017).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Several palaeontologists and palaeobiologists have proposed that Sabre-Tooth Cats could have possessed a ruff of thick hair around the neck.  This would have protected the neck and provided insulation against the cold.  The scientific evidence remains incomplete, but for the moment Papo offers a maned and a maneless Sabre-Tooth cat model for collectors.

As for those tiger stripes, research has shown that Smilodon was very probably an ambush predator.  Limb and locomotion studies have ruled out long pursuits of prey.  It is likely that the likes of Smilodon fatalis, S. populator et al were camouflaged, perhaps some species did possess stripes reminiscent of a tiger.

 The Papo Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus)

The Papo Cave Bear replica is a real delight.  There have not been that many Cave Bear models made by the mainstream manufacturers, Everything Dinosaur team members remember with fondness the Schleich Cave Bear, one of a series of prehistoric mammals that were once produced by that German company.  Papo’s interpretation of this Pleistocene beast (which although classified as a Carnivoran. (the collective term for a member of the Carnivora), might actually have been almost entirely herbivorous, certainly has attitude.  The thick, powerful frame is well-depicted and the beast is almost snarling at you, as if daring you to purchase it.

New for 2017 The Papo Cave Bear Model

Cave Bear model by Papo.

Papo Cave Bear.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Looking like it has just been disturbed from its winter refuge, this Cave Bear model is very well painted and the sculpt shows lots of detail.  We congratulate Papo for introducing another prehistoric mammal into its “Les Dinosaures” model range.

A Skilfully Crafted Prehistoric Animal Model (Papo Cave Bear)

Papo Cave Bear.

The Papo Cave Bear model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Smilodon and Cave Bear figures are scheduled to be in stock at Everything Dinosaur sometime towards the end of quarter 2 (June or early July), we will keep readers posted about new editions to the model range.

To view the current Papo model range available from Everything Dinosaur: Papo Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

First Live Birth Evidence in Ancient Dinosaur Relative

Dinocephalosaurus – The Only Known Viviparous Archosauromorph

The first ever evidence of live birth in an animal group previously thought to lay eggs exclusively has been discovered by an international team of scientists, including a palaeontologist from the University of Bristol.  Writing in the academic journal “Nature Communications”, the researchers report upon the identification of a potential embryo inside the mother, a specimen of the long-necked Archosauromorph Dinocephalosaurus (D. orientalis).  Live birth (viviparity), is known in a number of extant reptiles, especially members of the Order Squamata, wherein a number of species of snakes and lizard “hatch” inside their mother and emerge without a shelled egg.  However, this is the first time that live birth has been recorded in the Archosauromorpha, the infraclass of diapsid Tetrapods that includes birds, crocodiles and dinosaurs.

An Illustration of the Long-Necked Marine Reptile Dinocephalosaurus (Location of Embryo Shown in Drawing)

Dinocephalosaurus illustration.

Dinocephalosaurus illustration. The red circle shows the approximate location of the embryo.

Picture Credit: Dinghua Yang with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows an illustration of the marine reptile Dinocephalosaurus.  The approximate position of the embryo inside the mother is indicated by the red circle.

Egg laying is regarded by many scientists as a more primitive form of reproduction, seen at the base of reptiles, within the amphibious anamniotes and the ancestors of terrestrial vertebrates (fish).  The fossil was found in 2008, at a quarry famous for marine fossils located in Yunnan Province (southern China).  Dinocephalosaurus was a long-necked, piscivore that flourished in warm, tropical, shallow sea that once covered much of China.  Its fossils have been dated to the Middle Triassic.  Dinocephalosaurus has been classified as a member of the Tanystropheidae family of Archosauromorphs but how closely related it was to the better known Tanystropheus remains open to debate.

An Illustration of a Typical Member of the Tanystropheidae (Tanystropheus)

A drawing of Tanystropheus.

A drawing of the bizarre Triassic reptile Tanystropheus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Tanystropheidae family flourished during the Triassic and they were quite ecologically diverse.  Most of the genera are associated with Tethys Ocean coastline deposits, although several species are associated with strata laid down inland.  The scientists discovered the embryo inside the rib cage of the mother, and it faces forward making it less likely to have been consumed.  Swallowed animals generally face backward because the predator swallows its prey head-first to help it go down its throat.  Furthermore, the small reptile inside the mother is an example of the same species.

Lead study author, Professor Jun Liu from Hefei University of Technology (China), stated:

“We were so excited when we first saw this embryonic specimen several years ago, but we were not sure if the embryonic specimen is the last lunch of the mother or its unborn baby.  Upon further preparation and closer inspection, we realised that something unusual has been discovered.  Further evolutionary analysis reveals the first case of live birth in such a wide group containing birds, crocodilians, dinosaurs and the Pterosauria among others, and pushes back evidence of reproductive biology in the group by fifty million years.”

The Fossilised Remains Showing a Close View of the Embryo in the Rib Cage

Dinocephalosaurus illustration.

Dinocephalosaurus illustration. The red circle shows the approximate location of the embryo.

Picture Credit: Jun Lu

Implications for Other Members of the Archosauromorphs

Evolutionary analysis shows that this instance of live birth was also associated with genetic sex determination.  Co-author of the scientific paper, Professor Chris Organ, (Montana State University) commented:

“Some reptiles today, such as crocodiles, determine the sex of their offspring by the temperature inside the nest.  We identified that Dinocephalosaurus, a distant ancestor of crocodiles, determined the sex of its babies genetically, like mammals and birds.”

The researchers conclude that this specimen from Yunnan Province rewrites our understanding of the evolution of reproductive systems.  Perhaps, some distant descendants of these reptiles also retained this reproductive strategy, with other Archosauromorph members using live birth rather than external egg laying.  Maybe some dinosaurs were viviparous.

The embryo measures around fifty centimetres in length, when fully grown Dinocephalosaurus measured over three metres long (although about half of its entire body length was made up of that super-sized neck).  It is possible, that the scientists have drawn the wrong conclusion.  The animal, if it was a baby Dinocephalosaurus and not the fossil specimen’s last meal that “went down the wrong way”, may have been in an egg and the eggshell that once surrounded the embryo was not preserved during the fossilisation process.  That explanation cannot be completely ruled out, but Professor Benton explained that the embryo’s bones were very well developed, whilst all living Archosauromorphs lay eggs very early in embryonic development.

Furthermore, the team suggest that Dinocephalosaurus’s long neck and other features of its anatomy indicate it could not have manoeuvred easily out of the water, meaning a reproductive strategy like that of turtles, which lay eggs on land before returning to the water, was probably not an option.

Professor Mike Benton (School of Earth Sciences, Bristol University), another co-author of the paper said:

“The analysis of the evolutionary position of the new specimens shows there is no fundamental reason why Archosauromorphs could not have evolved live birth.  This combination of live birth and genotypic sex determination seems to have been necessary for animals such as Dinocephalosaurus to become aquatic.  It’s great to see such an important step forward in our understanding of the evolution of a major group coming from a chance fossil find in a Chinese field.”

Professor Benton added that since we now know that no fundamental biological barrier to live births exists in the Archosauromorpha, palaeontologists would be “looking very closely” at other fossils.  He suggested one target would be a group of aquatic crocodile relatives, whose mode of reproduction was not well known.

This piece of work is part of wider collaborations between palaeontologists in China, the United States, the UK and Australia.

The scientific paper: “Live birth in an Archosauromorph Reptile” by J. Liu, C. L. Organ, M. J. Benton, M. C. Brandley and J. C. Aitchison published in Nature Communications

Everything Dinosaur recognises the assistance of the University of Bristol in the compilation of this article.

Valentines Day and Dinosaurs

Valentine’s Day and Dinosaurs

Romance may not be something readily associated with the Dinosauria.  However, to reflect this special day, Everything Dinosaur team members have reviewed some of the blog articles posted on this site that look at research into dinosaur behaviour and potential courtship displays.

The Dinosauria and Romance?

Love in the time of the dinosaurs.

I love dinosaurs!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

For example, in early January 2016, we wrote about some recently published research that may have provided an insight into dinosaur display behaviour.  Could scrapes and gouges preserved in stone be dinosaur dance moves?

To read an article entitled: Dance of the Dinosaurs

In November 2016, Everything Dinosaur reported upon the discovery of an Early Cretaceous bird that was very much a show-off.  Its plumage was sparkly and iridescent, probably for display in order to catch the eye of a potential mate.

To read more about this: Prehistoric Bird with Bling!

A Dinosaur Which Lost Its Heart

In a paper published seventeen years ago, an iron concretion found in association with the fossilised remains of a Thescelosaurus (Ornithopoda), which had been found in 1993, was described as a four-chambered heart.  This caused a sensation at the time in palaeontological circles.  It had long been speculated that the Dinosauria did indeed have fully divided hearts similar to those seen in mammals and those close relatives of the dinosaurs, birds(Aves).

A Photograph of the Articulated Thescelosaurus Skeleton Showing the Iron Concretion Thought to be a Heart

Thescelosaurus heart fossil?

The iron concretion once thought to be the preserved four-chambered heart of a dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Associated Press/Karen Tam

However, a study published in 2011, left a number of palaeontologists “broken hearted”.  Researchers including scientists from North Carolina Museum, subjected the concretion to more powerful CT scans and the imagery produced debunked the idea that this was the fossilised remains of a dinosaur’s heart.

To read more about the 2011 research: Dinosaur Left “Broken Hearted”

Happy Valentines!

Significant Rock Fall at Stonebarrow Hill

Rock Fall Highlights the Dangers of Dorset Cliffs

Everything Dinosaur team members have received reports about a large rock fall in the area of Stonebarrow Hill, east of the popular tourist destination – Charmouth (Dorset).  With many schools due to have their half-term break in the next couple of weeks or so, the beaches in this part of Lyme Regis will soon start to get busy with eager fossil collectors looking to find fossils washed out of the cliffs during the winter storms.  However, the significant rock fall highlights the potential dangers when fossil hunting close to unstable cliffs.

Large Boulders and Debris Under Stonebarrow Hill

Rock fall at Stonebarrow Hill (Dorset).

A significant rock fall at Stonebarrow Hill (Dorset).

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

Local fossil expert and fossil walks tour guide, Brandon Lennon commented:

“The large fall happened after the last storm.  Huge blocks came tumbling down onto the beach.  This area, the beach to the east of Charmouth, is a particularly popular fossil hunting location, especially for ammonites as the low tide washes fossils out of the mud slips.”

Blue-Grey Lower Lias Clays

The unstable and rapidly eroding cliffs to the east of the old cement works and Charmouth visitor centre are composed of blue-grey lower lias clays.  At low tide the foreshore area is exposed and this is a popular part of the Dorset coast for fossil collecting, especially in the early Spring after winter storms.  Like much of the coast in this part of Dorset, the cliffs are extremely dangerous and rock falls are common.  The cliffs rise steeply and any debris falling from them has the momentum to travel quite a long way onto the sandy beach before coming to rest.  We urge all would-be fossil hunters to take great care when visiting this part of the Dorset coast.

Stonebarrow Hill in Relation to the Charmouth Visitor Centre

Charmouth and Stonebarrow Hill.

The view east of Lyme Regis showing Charmouth and the location of Stonebarrow Hill.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above was taken in 2015 and it shows the location of Stonebarrow Hill in relation to Charmouth.  This is the view looking eastwards from the newly constructed coastal seawall at Lyme Regis.  A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“The fossil hunting season is nearly upon us!  Longer days and better weather (hopefully), we see popular fossil hunting places like Lyme Regis attracting large numbers of amateur fossil hunters and families keen to explore the area in the hope of finding some Jurassic-age marine fossils to take home.  However, the recent rock fall at Stonebarrow Hill highlights the potential dangers and we urge all visitors to stay away from the cliffs.”

The action of time and tide over the winter months will have exposed a lot of new material on the beaches to the east and west of the picturesque town of Lyme Regis.  There will be lots of fossils awaiting discovery and visitors do not have to stray too close to the cliffs to find them.

Eyes Down – Fossil Prospecting

Prospecting for fossils (Lyme Regis)

Looking for fossils at Lyme Regis.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The foreshore will contain plenty of fossils that have been washed down from the cliffs, this area, well clear of the cliffs, will still provide plenty of fun for families looking for ammonites, belemnite guards, crinoid stems and such like.  You might get really lucky and find an Ichthyosaur paddle bone or a vertebra.

The unstable cliffs coupled with dangerous tides can never be taken lightly.  Our best advice is to go on a guided fossil walk with a local expert.  A fossil expert, such as Brandon Lennon, with his wealth of knowledge, can show visitors to the Lyme Regis area, the best (and safest) places to find fossils.

For information on guided fossil walks: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

Preparations for Everything Dinosaur’s New Website

Everything Dinosaur’s New Website

The countdown has begun to the launch of Everything Dinosaur’s new website.  There is less than two weeks to go, customers and visitors will still be directed to the same website address Everything Dinosaur but the site they visit will have been completely revamped.

There will be greater numbers of dinosaur models and dinosaur toys, plus much more mobile device friendly software supporting the extensive platform.  Customers will find it easier to leave feedback and comments on Everything Dinosaur’s range of prehistoric animal merchandise and on the company’s customer service.  Navigation will also be easier across the site.  Individual categories will have their own, bespoke images, helping visitors to explore the entire range of items, including dinosaur soft toys and collectables offered by Everything Dinosaur.

New Images for the Product Categories on the Everything Dinosaur Website

New Images for the Everything Dinosaur website.

The “party” category at Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We have listened to our customers and our aim is to provide a website that meets their needs and requirements.”

A New, Cleaner Layout for the Everything Dinosaur Website 

A better layout for the Everything Dinosaur website.

The layout of the new Everything Dinosaur website.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a draft image from the new Everything Dinosaur website.  The site is currently in beta format but it will be rolled out and available to view in a couple of weeks.  New model lines will shortly be added to the company’s already extensive dinosaur model portfolio.   In addition, the “dinosaurs for schools site” and the Everything Dinosaur blog (this platform), will also be transferred to new servers as part of a substantial investment to help the company continuously improve its customer service.

The site will also be streamlined to permit more sensible and straight-forward “breadcrumb” trails to be constructed.  This will allow customers to toggle backwards and forwards across the various sections and categories with ease.  In addition, load times will be even faster than before and the checkout service will have updates helping to maintain customer security and confidentiality.

The Everything Dinosaur spokesperson added:

“Customer security such as the safeguarding of any financial data is extremely important to us.  The new website contains a number of new security upgrades and enhanced protections to ensure shopping on line with Everything Dinosaur is not only very easy but also safe.”

New services such as enhanced signed for and tracked delivery services have been promised.  The company spokesperson also confirmed that all delivery costs will continue to be subsidised and that for persons purchasing outside of the European Union, all product prices will be tax free (minus 20%).  Customers purchasing from outside the European Union do not have to pay the sales tax (VAT).

Look out for the launch of the new Everything Dinosaur website, it is scheduled to take place later this month!

Video of New for 2017 Papo Dinosaurs

Papo Dinosaurs 2017 – Quick Video

Last month, Everything Dinosaur team members got the opportunity to view the finished dinosaur models that are new for 2017 from Papo.  Papo will be bringing out a number of prehistoric animals this year, including a re-painted Velociraptor, a Ceratosaurus, Cryolophosaurus, a Polacanthus, an Acrocanthosaurus, plus a re-paint of the existing Oviraptor replica.  We were able to shoot a quick video (fifty seconds), which showcases these new models.

New from Papo 2017 (Papo Dinosaur Models)

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Papo Dinosaurs for 2017

The video gives viewers an opportunity to see the relative sizes of the various new dinosaur models, the first of which (Polacanthus and the two re-painted replicas), are due in stock at Everything Dinosaur in a few days’ time.  The short video (we apologise for the lighting), gives viewers the chance to see how big the impressive Acrocanthosaurus is when compared to the other new models.  The Papo Sabre-Tooth Cat (Smilodon), the Dimorphodon figure and the Cave Bear models were not available at the time, but we do have some pictures of these finished models and we will be posting them up shortly.

To see the range of Papo prehistoric animal models available from Everything Dinosaur: Papo Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animal Models

 Six New Papo Dinosaurs

The biggest of the new models, one of the largest models that Papo will be producing this year, is the awesome Acrocanthosaurus (A. atokensis) replica.  Like many dinosaur fans, Everything Dinosaur is delighted to see more models of this spectacular Cretaceous Theropod dinosaur coming onto the market.

The Papo Acrocanthosaurus Dinosaur Model

The Papo Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur model.

The Papo Acrocanthosaurus model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Papo Model Availability (Release Dates)

  • Polacanthus, Blue Oviraptor and Blue Velociraptor (imminent, expected within about two weeks).
  • Acrocanthosaurus, Ceratosaurus, the flying reptile figure (a Dimorphodon), the prehistoric cat (Smilodon) and the Cave Bear – around end quarter two, around June/July or thereabouts.
  • Papo Cryolophosaurus – the last model scheduled to be released, this is expected around August time, but it could be a little earlier.

Check out Everything Dinosaur’s Facebook and Twitter pages for updates.

The Papo Polacanthus Dinosaur Model

Papo Polacanthus replica.

Papo Polacanthus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The photograph above shows the new for 2017 Papo Polacanthus, complete with that famous sacral shield.  The model should be with us in a few weeks, it too, is a great sculpt and we can’t wait to get this dinosaur (first named and described back in 1865), into stock.

The Papo Cryolophosaurus Dinosaur Model

Papo Cryolophosaurus dinosaur model.

Papo Cryolophosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The last model to be introduced this year, is the wonderful Papo Cryolophosaurus dinosaur figure.  The photograph shows a close-up view of this skilfully painted, meat-eating dinosaur.  The design team at Papo are to be congratulated for their clever and very creative colour schemes.  We have already nick-named this particular model “the Papo Elvis”, in honour of that unusual nasal crest that this dinosaur had, the function of which remains unknown, but it has been speculated that it had a role in visual display.

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