Toe Bone Suggests Gastornis Roamed the High Arctic

Ellesmere Island Fossil Suggests Giant Birds Wandered Northern Canada

Fossils found in the 1970’s on the remote Ellesmere Island, in the high Arctic suggest that giant, flightless birds roamed this part of the world during the Eocene.  In a new study, published this week in the open access scientific journal “Scientific Reports” a single toe bone is described that indicates that Gastornis lived this far north around 52 to 53 million years ago.

Gastornis Roamed the Arctic During the Eocene

Model of a giant, flightless bird from Safari Ltd.

Model of a giant, flightless bird from Safari Ltd.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Colorado Boulder, describe a single toe bone, which suggests this two-metre tall bird lived this far north.  This fossil along with a partial humerus (upper arm bone) which as been identified as belonging to a member of the Presbyornithidae clade of waterfowl, also found in the same area, represent the oldest Cenozoic avian fossils found in the Arctic to date.

A Toe Bone Points to Gastornis

The toe bone is almost an identical match to Gastornis toe bones excavated from Wyoming from similar aged Eocene sediments.  Scientists have speculated that Gastornis was likely to be an all year round resident of Ellesmere Island, although during the Eocene the Arctic was much warmer than it is today, this giant bird would still have had to endure harsh winters and almost four months of total darkness (the polar night).

The Gastornis Toe Bone (Several Views) and Presbyornis  Humeri

Gastornis toe bone (above)

Gastornis toe bone (above)

 Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The picture above shows the probable left phalanx (toe bone) of digit IV from a Gastornis (A) viewed from the top, (B) lateral, view, (C) view from underneath posterior/plantar view and (D) medial view.  The other pictures show the a distal partial humerus (E) recovered from the Margaret Formation of Ellesmere Island (Canadian territory of Nunavut) compared to a Presbyornis specimen (F) from the University of California Museum of Palaeontology.  The fossil bone (pictures G and H) represents an indeterminate pedal phalanx, probably from digit III on the left side.  This specimen also comes from the Ellesmere Island locality.


  • bf = brachial fossa
  • dc = dorsal condyle
  • lp = collateral ligament pit
  • vc = ventral condyle
  • vl =facet for the ventral collateral ligament on the ventral supracondylar tubercle.

Specimen (E) the distal humerus assigned to the Presbyornithidae, is much larger than the Californian specimen.  The extensive pitting of the bone is not regarded as sign that this is from a juvenile individual.  Lack of further fossil evidence precludes any significant calculations as to the size of the Arctic Presbyornis in relation to its contemporaries from more southerly latitudes.

The fact that Gastornis (also referred to as Diatryma), fossil evidence has been found on Ellesmere Island has been discussed before, this flightless bird appears on a few faunal lists, but this is the first time that the bone has been closely examined and described in detail.

Very Rare Fossil Find

One of the researchers, co-author of the paper Jaelyn Eberle (Associate Professor in Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder) stated:

“We knew there were a few bird fossils from up there, but we also knew they were extremely rare.”

Around 53 million years ago the environment of Ellesmere Island was very different from that of today.  It was much warmer and wetter with a significant portion of the island forming a swamp dominated by Cypress trees.  Living alongside Gastornis and Presbyornis were turtles, crocodilians, primates and large mammals such as tapirs.

Originally thought to be a fearsome carnivore, recent research indicates Gastornis probably was a vegan, using its huge beak to tear at foliage, nuts, seeds and hard fruit.

To read an article about our changing perceptions of Gastornis: Was the “Terror Bird” Gastornis a Herbivore?

The second Ellesmere Island prehistoric bird described in the paper is Presbyornis, a member of the duck family but with much longer legs.  The research team compared fossils from Wyoming to the Ellesmere Island specimen and they could not find any significant differences, even though the fossils were 2,5oo miles apart.  This might indicate that these types of birds migrated up to the Arctic, perhaps to breed, in a similar fashion to a number of North American duck and goose species today.  Alternatively, Presbyornis might have been a year round resident of Ellesmere Island.

This new analysis of Eocene avian fauna from the high Arctic has implications for the rapidly warming Arctic climate of today.

Associate Professor Eberle explained:

“Permanent Arctic ice, which has been around for millennia, is on track to disappear.  I’m not suggesting there will be a return of alligators and giant tortoises to Ellesmere Island any time soon.  But what we know about past warm intervals in the Arctic can give us a much better idea about what to expect in terms of changing plant and animal populations there in the future.”  

Dinosaur Themed Word Mats for Schools

Everything Dinosaur Teams up with Papo to Help School Children

Thanks to all the dinosaur workshops delivered by Everything Dinosaur, the Cheshire based company has built up a strong reputation for their work in schools.  Indeed, over this half-term, Everything Dinosaur has logged up another twenty or so five star reviews from teachers on the dinosaurs for schools website.  One of the great advantages our staff have is that with their teaching knowledge combined with their dinosaur expertise, they can provide lots of advice to support the scheme of work that has been designed for each class.  Everything Dinosaur has teamed up with Papo to help enthuse and inspire the next generation of palaeontologists by using pictures of Papo model dinosaurs to create dinosaur themed word mats for use in schools.

A Dinosaur Themed Word Mat for Use in Schools

Dinosaur themed word mat.

Dinosaur themed word mat.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In the EYFS and Key Stage 1 classes, the teaching team will be helping to develop communication and language skills.  The children will be encouraged to broaden their vocabulary, using different words and to gain a better understanding of their meaning and context.  Dinosaurs as a term topic, will certainly expose the children to a whole range of new words.  Given most children’s fascination with prehistoric animals, dinosaurs can help to inspire word usage as well as encouraging the children to read and write.

Dinosaur Themed Word Mats

For Reception classes, when it comes to literacy, the children will be starting to form their own sentences and to write, trying to include finger spaces, capital letters and full stops. The teaching team will continue to encourage the children to read and write using their phonic knowledge.   At Key Stage 1, children will have moved away from free flowing play activities into much more structured learning.  The school day will be more task-orientated with further progress in literacy and numeracy key components within the planned curriculum for the year.  Many schools adopt a term topic all about dinosaurs for Year 1 and Year 2.  Within this topic, the children will be expected to develop their fiction and non-fiction writing, using increasingly sophisticated language.

A Tyrannosaurus rex Word Mat Incorporating Information on Diet and Geological Age

Helping to develop literacy as well as touching upon scientific working.

Helping to develop literacy as well as touching upon scientific working.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The teaching objectives for non-fiction writing involve developing a wider range of nouns and building upon a fascination with dinosaurs to encourage the use of adjectives.  Here the word mat features a single dinosaur, information about the diet of the dinosaur is provided along with a handy geological timeline to indicate when the dinosaur lived.

To download these free dinosaur teaching resources: Free Dinosaur and Fossil Themed Teaching Downloads

To see Everything Dinosaur’s range of Papo prehistoric animal models: Papo Dinosaur Models

A Stegosaurus Word Mat for Use in Schools and Other Educational Establishments

A word mat for the Jurassic herbivore Stegosaurus.

A word mat for the Jurassic herbivore Stegosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the Stegosaurus word mat.  It uses the Papo model Stegosaurus, as well as providing nouns, information about the diet of this armoured dinosaur and when it lived is given.  In total, five word mats have been developed, these can be downloaded from Everything Dinosaur’s school website for free.  These helpful word mats can be incorporated into wall displays, or laminated and stuck to the children’s work tables to help keep the focus on vocabulary extension.

Commenting on the addition of a these Papo dinosaur inspired word mats to Everything Dinosaur’s range of teaching downloads, one of the teaching team stated:

“These colourful word mats will make a welcome addition to a teacher’s resources.  Many schools have to rely on materials provided by non-specialist educational companies who simply lack knowledge when it comes to the Dinosauria.  We have found numerous examples of word mats and other teaching aids with spelling mistakes and other inaccuracies.  With these examples, the teachers can be assured that they have been designed by people who combine a knowledge about prehistoric life with expertise in teaching.”

Celebrating All Things Dinosaur

Dinosaurs – End of Topic “Wow”!

For the Reception class at St Lawrence CE Primary, today was a special “dinosaur day”, as to help draw their term topic to a close, a visit from Everything Dinosaur had been arranged.  The eager explorers and budding young palaeontologists have been studying dinosaurs and fossils since the beginning of the Spring Term and there was a lot of lovely dinosaur themed writing and prehistoric animal inspired artwork on display in the classroom.

Dinosaurs on Display in the Classroom

Lots of literacy and numeracy activities displayed.

Lots of literacy and numeracy activities displayed.

Picture Credit: St Lawrence CE Primary/Everything Dinosaur

The children had certainly been enjoying their topic.  Teacher Mrs Rogerson, ably supported by the two teaching assistants, had put together an exciting and diverse scheme of work for the children.  The Reception class had been involved in a wide range of activities, all aimed at helping to develop everyday skills and to support learning.  The children had even brought in some of their dinosaur models and toys from home.  The classroom had been turned into a Lancashire’s very own “Jurassic Park”!

Inspiring Confidence with Numbers

The extension ideas and additional resources provided by our fossil expert will help develop the children’s confidence with numbers.  Will they be up to one of our “pinkie palaeontologist challenges” and have a go at calculating just how big some dinosaur footprints could be?  Working in small groups, the children demonstrated a good grasp of simple subtraction and they were confident when it came to using the measuring cubes and comparing their own hands to the feet of some dinosaurs.  One of the other extension activities involves an unusual way of measuring a fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, perhaps the class can try this activity in the hall, as quite a bit of space will be needed.

Encouraging Writing

The children demonstrated lots of existing knowledge, using terms like Cretaceous and Mesozoic, which was most impressive.  We set some writing challenges, all based around non-fiction writing.  We wonder if any of the children’s dinosaur facts will get posted up onto the display wall, next to all their wonderful artwork?

Chalk Drawings of Dinosaurs on Display

Reception class uses different materials to explore dinosaurs.

Reception class uses different materials to explore dinosaurs.

Linking Dinosaurs and Space

After half-term the children will be moving on to learn all about space and the planets.  Whilst Everything Dinosaur worked with the children in the spacious hall, the teaching assistants could prepare the classroom in readiness for the new topic.  How to link dinosaurs and space?  Fortunately, our expert was on hand to explain which dinosaur fossils have been into space and to send links to Mrs Rogerson to help support the topic transition.  In addition, when the extraterrestrial object slammed into planet Earth, marking the end of the “Age of the Dinosaurs”, the explosion was so powerful that sea creatures were shot so high into the air, that they may have left Earth’s orbit.  Some Ammonites could have landed on the moon!

Ammonites Shot into Outer Space

How many Ammonites can you count?

How many Ammonites can you count?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Cretaceous “Big Mouths”

Cretaceous Fish with Gigantic Mouths

The oceans of the Cretaceous had some very strange inhabitants, sadly the fossil record only hints at the remarkable diversity of vertebrates, particularly fish.  That’s why when scientists announce the discovery of not one but two new species of Cretaceous plankton-feeding fish, such stories tend to make extensive ripples in palaeontological circles.  An international team of researchers have announced a tripling of the known fish species that make up the genus called Rhinconichthys (pronounced rink-oh-nik-thees).  New fossil discoveries from the United States and Japan extend the known distribution of these Cretaceous fish and it is likely that these types of animals had a global distribution during the Late Cretaceous.

An Illustration of a Pair of Rhinconichthys Fish Feeding

Large filter-feeding fish of the Cretaceous.

Large filter-feeding fish of the Cretaceous.

Picture Credit: Bob Nicholls

One of the lead authors of the study, published in the academic journal “Cretaceous Research” Kenshu Shimada, explained that fossils of these types of fish are exceptionally rare.  Previously, only one species was known Rhinconichthys taylori, and only two specimens had been described, both from England (dating from the Cenomanian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).  However, a new skull from Colorado, along with the re-examination of another skull found in Japan have extended the known palaeogeographical range along with the number of species.

Only the skulls have been found, the cartilaginous skeletons of these fish have a poor fossil preservation potential, a problem that has plagued scientists as they strive to piece together the history of plankton feeding fish.  For example, giants are known from the Jurassic such as Leedsichthys and it is very likely that a myriad of forms existed during the Mesozoic, but little fossil evidence has been found with regards to these creatures (Pachycormiformes).

To read more about research into ancient members of the Pachycormidae: Filling a 100 Million Year Wide Gap

The Colorado fossil was found by Bruce A. Schumacher (United States Forest Service), this species has been named Rhinconichthys purgatoirensis.  It dates from later in the Cretaceous when compared to the English fossils (middle Turonian faunal stage of the Cretaceous).  R. purgatoirensis swam in the Western Interior Seaway around 89 million years ago, whereas Rhinconichthys taylori lived at least five million years earlier.  The Japanese specimen found on the island of Hokkaido, dates from around the same time as the English fossils.  It has been named Rhinconichthys uyenoi.

Kenshu Shimada (Department of Environmental Science and Studies, DePaul University, Chicago) stated:

“I was in a team that named Rhinconichthys in 2010, which was based on a single species from England, but we had no idea back then that the genus was so diverse and so globally distributed.”

Rhinconichthys spp. are estimated to have ranged in size from 2 metres to more than 2.7 metres in length.  They had a highly specialised jaw with a pair of bones (called hyomanidbulae) that formed a huge oar-shaped lever that enabled the jaws to open extremely wide, a little like the opening mechanism for a parachute.  This enabled them to capture even more plankton as they swam.  This type of anatomical feature is also found in many types of filter feeding shark today, an example of convergent evolution.

A Picture of the Colorado Specimen Showing Jaw Bones with Explanatory Diagram

Able to open the jaws really wide.

Able to open the jaws really wide.

Picture Credit: DePaul University

Many More Suspension Feeders Existed

Feeding on plankton, being planktivorous, also known as suspension-feeding is seen in a number of specialised aquatic vertebrates today, including the largest animal known to science the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) and the largest extant fish the Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus).  Indeed, the genus name Rhinconichthys means “fish like a whale shark”.

Professor Shimada concluded:

“Based on our new study, we now have three different species of Rhinconichthys from three separate regions of the globe, each represented by a single skull.  This tells just how little we still know about the biodiversity of organisms through the Earth’s history.  It’s really mindboggling.”

Inspiring Dinosaur Themed Activities for Reception Classes

Reception Classes Get Creative with Dinosaurs

As Everything Dinosaur team members visit schools up and down the country delivering dinosaur workshops, they get to meet lots of teachers and it is always a pleasure to see the engaging and imaginative ways in which teaching teams are delivering the national curriculum.  Take for example, the two Reception classes at Higher Openshaw Community School (Manchester).  These two classes have been learning all about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals this term.  A tour of the classrooms provided an insight into the highly creative and imaginative teaching activities that the children had been enjoying.  It seems even the playground had been taken over at one point as teachers, Miss Burke and Mrs Ashworth had made painted outlines of dinosaurs to help the children appreciate the size and scale of some prehistoric monsters.

Reception Children Explore Ideas About Extinction

Reception children explore ideas about dinosaur extinction.

Reception children explore ideas about dinosaur extinction.

Picture Credit: Higher Openshaw Community School/Everything Dinosaur

There were lots of examples of children’s writing on display in the well-organised classrooms.  There was even a special dinosaur exploration area to help the children understand more about life in the past.  As the term topic draws to a close, the Reception classes will be looking at extinction theories and during Everything Dinosaur’s visit, a number of the children were keen to point out that “a rock fell from the sky and killed all the dinosaurs”, well, these budding palaeontologists seem to have grasped the fundamentals of the extraterrestrial impact theory that’s for sure.

However, the teachers are keen to look at other extinction theories, such as the influence on our planet’s climate as a result of the massive amount of Late Cretaceous volcanic activity.  Hence the very colourful volcano display in Miss Burke’s classroom.  Coloured tissue paper makes great lava and the volcano provides a focal point, around which examples of the children’s hand-writing and independent research can be exhibited.

Some of the children have started to use examples of similes in their hand-writing exercises, this demonstrates excellent progress for Foundation Stage 2.  The children have obviously been as speedy as Velociraptors in picking up simile usage.

Dinosaurs as a term topic provides excellent opportunities to move the children gradually away from free flowing play activities to more structured formal learning, in preparation for the move up to Year 1.  The children had certainly been having a lot of fun, the scheme of work for this term topic had been skilfully crafted by the teachers with the able support of the enthusiastic teaching assistants.

Fossil Themed Sand Tray Activities

Both classrooms had sand trays so that a mini-dinosaur excavation activity could be set up for the children.  Ms Saylaby explained that she had placed some real fossils into the sand so that the children could learn about how fossils form, where they are found and how they are excavated.  We supported this element, by letting the children handle real fossils during our workshop, some of which, as the children discovered, felt very cold and were really, really heavy!

Reception Children Learn About Fossils

Real fossils and fossil models to explore in a sand tray activity.

Real fossils and fossil models to explore in a sand tray activity.

Picture Credit: Higher Openshaw Community School/Everything Dinosaur

Some of the fossils in the sand tray in Mrs Ashworth’s class are shown in the photograph above, the fossil expert from Everything Dinosaur explained how the fossils formed and which animals they represent.  There were some particularly nice examples of Gryphaea in the tray.  Gryphaea (graff-fee-ah) formed dense beds, very much like oysters today and they are common as fossils on the North Yorkshire and Cleveland coasts.  Palaeontologists can learn a lot from these fossils, as growth rings are often preserved on the fossilised shells.  They also suggest that these fossils formed in shallow seas, close to an ancient coastline.  The specimens in the tray date from the Jurassic.

The Fossils in the Sand Tray Come from a Jurassic Sea

Dolphin-like prehistoric animals.

Providing information about prehistoric habitats.

The fossil models also seen  in the sand tray come from a set that we at Everything Dinosaur know very well.  This is the Ancient Fossils Set, which we use in our teaching work: Set of Ten Ancient Fossils they are great for creative play.

Our dinosaur workshop and the extension activities provided will help the teaching team to round off the term topic.  Clearly, the children have really enjoyed all the activities and benefited from such an enriching learning environment that the hard-working staff at Higher Openshaw Community School have created.

Australopithecus sediba – Jaw Study Suggests a More Delicate Bite

Australopithecus sediba – Bio-mechanical Study Hints at Diet

South Africa might be regarded by many as the “cradle of humanity”, thanks to the wealth of Australopithecus and early hominin fossils found in that part of the world.  Thanks to a collaborative research effort involving a bio-mechanical study of skull strength and bite forces, it seems that further light is being shed on the diet of one of southern Africa’s most famous early residents Australopithecus sediba.  This new research may help palaeoanthropologists to further refine the evolutionary position A. sediba in relation to the hominins and ultimately this Australopith’s relationship to our own species.

H. sapiens Compared to A. sediba and Pan troglodytes (Chimpanzee)

A. sediba is in the middle, the human to the left of the picture with the chimp skeleton on the right.

A. sediba is in the middle, the human to the left of the picture with the chimp skeleton on the right.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

Fossils which came to be known as A. sediba were discovered in 2008 at the famous dig site of Malapa in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, located around thirty miles north-west of the city of Johannesburg.  Research published in 2012 suggested that this gracile, possible early human ancestor, had lived on a eclectic woodland diet including hard foods mixed with tree bark, fruit, leaves and other plants.  Other research, reported upon by Everything Dinosaur in 2013, provided further insight into the dietary habits of early hominins.

To see the article on research into early hominin diets: From a Forest Diet to a Savannah Smorgasbord

To read an article explaining how A. sediba came to be named: South African “Cradle Fossil” Named

This new study carried out by an international team of researchers, including Professors Lee Berger and Kristian Carlson from the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) at the University of the Witwatersrand, now shows that Australopithecus sediba did not have the jaw and tooth structure necessary to exist on a steady diet of hard foods.  This may have important implications on how this species of Australopith is viewed in terms of its evolutionary link to that line of hominins that eventually led to our own kind.

Bio-mechanical Study Indicates that A. sediba Did Not Have “Nutcracker Jaws”

Bite Force Study on A. sediba cranium.

Bite Force Study on A. sediba cranium.

Picture Credit: Image of MH1 by Brett Eloff provided courtesy of Lee Berger (University of the Witwatersrand).

The picture above show the fossilised skull of A. sediba (specimen number MH1) and a finite element model of the skull depicting strains experienced during a simulated bite on the its back teeth (premolars).  “Warm” colours indicate high mechanical strain, whilst “cool” colours indicate areas of low strain on the skull.

Commenting on the research, published today in the scientific journal “Nature Communications”, Professor David Strait (Washington University, St Louis, USA) stated:

“Most Australopiths had amazing adaptations in their jaws, teeth and faces that allowed them to process foods that were difficult to chew or crack open.  Among other things, they were able to efficiently bite down on foods with very high forces.”

Co-author Dr Justin Ledogar, researcher at the University of New England in Australia added:

“Australopithecus sediba is thought by some researchers to lie near the ancestry of Homo, the group to which our species belongs, yet we find that A. sediba had an important limitation on its ability to bite powerfully; if it had bitten as hard as possible on its molar teeth using the full force of its chewing muscles, it would have dislocated its jaw.”

Not Biting Off More Than It Could Chew

Bio-mechanical modelling based on a computer generated replica of the fossil skull material does not provide conclusive evidence that Australopithecus sediba was on the direct evolutionary line towards Homo, but it does indicate that dietary changes were shaping the evolutionary paths of early human species.  The data acquired from the bio-mechanical analysis does not dispute the possibility that A. sediba occasionally ate hard foods such as nuts and bark.  However, limitations on the amount of bite force that the skull could withstand suggests that hard foods needing to be processed with high bite forces were not an important component of the diet of this species.

About Australopithecus sediba:

Australopithecus sediba, a diminutive pre-human species that lived about two million years ago in southern Africa, has been heralded as a possible ancestor or close relative of Homo, our own family.  Australopiths appear in the fossil record about four million years ago, and although they have some human traits such as the ability to walk upright on two legs, most of them lack other characteristically human features such as a large brain, flat faces with small jaws and teeth, and advanced use of tools.  Humans, members of the genus Homo, are almost certainly descended from an Australopith ancestor, and A. sediba is a candidate to be either that ancestor or something similar to it.

Dr Justin Ledogar explained:

“Humans also have this limitation on biting forcefully and we suspect that early Homo had it as well, yet the other Australopiths that we have examined are not nearly as limited in this regard.  This means that whereas some Australopith populations were evolving adaptations to maximise their ability to bite powerfully, others (including A. sediba) were evolving in the opposite direction.”

Foods that were important to the survival of Australopithecus sediba probably could have been eaten relatively easy without the need for high bite forces.

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

The Wildebeest and Lambeosaurine Connection?

Ancient Beast “Honked Like a Hadrosaur”

Convergent evolution throws up strange bedfellows from time to time.  Scientists studying an ancient bone bed have uncovered extensive fossil material from an ancient wildebeest that shows that this hoofed mammal had a raised nasal dome, reminiscent of a hollow crested duck-billed dinosaur.  Researchers have suggested that the bizarre anatomical structures helped these herd animals communicate more effectively.  It’s a question of what evolution did for the likes of Corythosaurus some 75 million years ago has been repeated in a Pleistocene bovine from around 75,000 years ago.

A Trumpeting Wildebeest – Rusingoryx atopocranion

Honking to communicate in the hot savannah.

Honking to communicate in the hot savannah.

Picture Credit: Todd Marshall

The ancient ungulate (hoofed mammal), was poorly known until a bone bed containing the remains of at least twenty-four individuals was discovered on Kenya’s Rusinga Island.  The fossilised remains, which includes juveniles as well as adult animals, has enabled scientists to piece together a much more comprehensive picture of the anatomy of this grazing mammal, part of a diverse African bovine fauna that flourished on the hot, dry savannah of southern Africa during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Stone tool marks on the bones indicate that these animals were butchered and it has been suggested that Middle Stone Age people had driven the animals into a river and ambushed them, or perhaps, a tribe benefited from a chance discovery of a group of these creatures who had recently drowned in a flood event.

Hollowed-out Headgear

The wildebeest is known as Rusingoryx atopocranion, but until now it had only been known from partial remains, including incomplete skulls.  The Rusinga excavation, supported by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration has uncovered a total of six skulls, most of them complete.  Thanks to these fossils, scientists have a much better idea of what these animals actually looked like.

Commenting on the new evidence, lead author of the study, Haley O’Brien (Ohio University) stated:

“The first time I saw them my jaw completely dropped”.

Previous studies based on much less complete fossil material had speculated that Rusingoryx possessed a proboscis, but the new skulls discount this idea.  Instead, they reveal that R. atopocranion had a high nasal dome in front of its eyes, a sort of “cow with a Roman nose”.  The raised naris was hollow, encasing a winding, circuitous nasal passage.

The Skull of Rusingoryx (R. atopocranion)

The dome shaped skull (raised nasal bones).

The dome shaped skull (raised nasal bones).

Picture Credit: Haley O’Brien

PhD student Haley explained:

“There aren’t any living animals with a nasal apparatus like this, but there are some fossil ones.  Outside and in, the nose of Rusingoryx resembles the hollow crests of the “duck-billed” dinosaurs, animals like Corythosaurus and Lambeosaurus, which lived about 75 million years earlier.  Both groups essentially push the nasal part of their airway into the crest and they’re using similar suites of bones to form the crest itself.”

The Skull of the Mexican Lambeosaurine Velafrons (Velafrons coahuilensis)

Raised nasals - an example of convergent evolution.

Raised nasals – an example of convergent evolution.

Picture Credit: Paul Fraughton/Salt Lake Tribune

Commenting on the similarities between Rusingoryx and Late Cretaceous duck-billed dinosaurs, palaeontologist David Evans (Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto), stated that he was “blown away” by the skulls of Rusingoryx, he added:

“The resemblance between Rusingoryx and some hollow-crested dinosaurs in the form of the nasal structures is truly striking.”

Convergent Evolution

The dome shaped nasal area of Rusingoryx is an example of convergent evolution, whereby unrelated organisms evolve independently similar features, such as the streamlined bodies and tail flukes of dolphins and ichthyosaurs.  These are adaptations to similar habitats or ecological niches.

However, faced (no pun intended), with this strange-faced wildebeest, the big question is what sort of function did these domed noses have?

A number of ideas have been put forward:

  • The expanded naris played a role in cooling or warming incoming air

The large nose of Rusingoryx may certainly have been able to undertake this function and all mammals have some ability to do this, thanks to scroll-like bones called turbinates that increase the surface area of the nose.  As Rusingoryx lived in a very hot, dry environment this theory is plausible, but the dome’s internal anatomy did not support this conclusion.

  • The raised domes were used in ritual combat

A number of bovines use their skulls as battering rams to settle disputes and as defensive weapons.  However, the skull bones of Rusingoryx are very thin, much thinner than those of extant Artiodactyls (even-toed hoofed mammals) that indulge in such behaviour.

  • The nasal area acted as a resonating chamber for sound

Social, hoofed, herd-dwelling herbivores tend to be quite vocal.  They have ways to modulate their vocal tracts to increase the variety and range of sounds that they can make.  The skull anatomy suggests that the big dome-faced wildebeest used this structure to vocalise.

Student O’Brien explained:

“We calculated a frequency of between 250 and 750 hertz, which is not only pretty low, it also overlaps with the sonic frequencies of a vuvuzela.  Rusingoryx could very likely make a low trumpeting sound but there’s a good chance it could also vocalise in stealth mode.”

Being able to communicate at a low frequency making it difficult for some predators to hear, has a distinct evolutionary advantage, human hunters for example would have had difficulty picking up these sounds.  In addition, a herd of these animals would have been capable of making a lot of noise, much like a stadium full of South African football fans waving their vuvuzelas.

Reception Childen Get Excited About Dinosaurs

Reception Classes Study Dinosaurs

It has been a busy day at Mount Carmel RC Primary (Manchester, England) as the two classes of Reception children have been learning about dinosaurs and fossils with a special workshop conducted by an Everything Dinosaur team member.  The children in Foundation Stage Two, have been studying dinosaurs and life in the past over the course of this half-term and they were keen to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the subject.  With the help of the enthusiastic teaching team, the eager pupils had created lots of artwork and some super examples of hand-writing in their dinosaur workbooks.

The bright and well-organised classrooms were adorned with lots of prehistoric animal themed work that the children had produced.  Our dinosaur expert has heard a rumour that one of the teachers has found some dinosaur eggs, we hope the children have thought about what materials might make a good nest for a dinosaur!

What will happen when the egg hatches?  We will have to wait and see…

A Busy Morning

Splitting the morning into two roughly equal sessions, divided by the mid-morning break, we were able to deliver very tactile learning with lots of fossil handling.  It was a good job that some of the children had managed to have a hearty breakfast, several of the fossils and other artefacts were heavy, but thanks to the helpful teaching assistants, the children were able cope.  Lots of photographs were taken, we especially liked the snarling dinosaur faces on the big class photograph at the end of each workshop – very scary!

The children in the two Reception classes have even been doing some homework, what a bunch of enthusiastic palaeontologists they are.  One of the teachers showed our dinosaur expert a beautiful picture that Edith had brought in to show her friends at school.  It is a wonderful picture of a Tyrannosaurus rex.  Can you remember how many fingers T. rex had altogether?

A Wonderful Dinosaur Picture Sent in by Edith (Reception Class)

Edith painted a lovely dinosaur picture.

Edith painted a lovely dinosaur picture.

Picture Credit: Edith (Mount Carmel RC Primary School)

What a colourful picture Edith!  Lots of reds, blues and yellows and even a splash of white to help the green dinosaur feel at home.  We like the black eyes that you gave your Tyrannosaurus rex.  His eyes match the black stripe running down his back, at least we presume it’s a boy, it could be a girl T. rex.  Can the children remember the special fact our dinosaur expert told them about the Tyrannosaurus rex girls?

Extension Activities

After the visit, it was straight back to the office to email over the promised extension activities and fact sheets to help support the teaching team and their scheme of work.  We did set some of our “pinkie palaeontologist challenges”, including the design of the children’s very own dinosaur and an exercise which involved the careful measuring of dinosaur footprints.  We even sent over a picture of a T. rex and asked if the children could have a go at labelling the various parts of his body, those small arms, the fingers and the skull of course.

Reception Children Challenged to Label a Dinosaur

Can you label a T. rex?

Can you label a T. rex?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We are glad all the children had a great time and thanks again for the super drawing Edith.

Duck-Billed Dinosaurs – Sweet Home Alabama!

Alabama Fossil Sheds Light on the Origins of Duck-Billed Dinosaurs

The Duck-Billed dinosaurs, or to be more precise, the Hadrosauroidea were a super-family of plant-eating, bird-hipped dinosaurs that dominated Late Cretaceous ecosystems throughout most of the northern latitudes.  The fossils of these large dinosaurs, some of which evolved into the biggest facultative bipeds known to science, can be seen in museums throughout the world, but little is known about the evolutionary origins of this very successful part of the Dinosauria.  However, a remarkable fossil find from Alabama (south-eastern United States), is helping to shed new light on the origins of the duck-billed dinosaurs.

The Fossils of Eotrachodon orientalis Laid Out

The skull and jaw bones including the predentary are nearest the camera.

The skull and jaw bones including the predentary are nearest the camera.

Picture Credit: Jun Ebersole, McWane Science Centre

The beautifully preserved fossils were found by amateur fossil hunters exploring a creek in Montgomery County, Alabama, when they come across one of the bones eroding out of the soft marine sediment.  Thanks to the efforts of an international team of researchers, the fossil material has been carefully prepared and it has been confirmed that these bones and the few teeth (see bottom right hand corner of the photograph), represent a new species of primitive duck-billed dinosaur.  The dinosaur has been named Eotrachodon orientalis (dawn rough tooth from the east).  It is the most complete primitive hadrosaurid dinosaur ever to be found in the eastern United States.

An Illustration and Scale Drawing of E. orientalis

The orange shaded area indicate fossils found.

The orange shaded area indicate fossils found.

Picture Credit: Florida State University with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

In Honour of Trachodon

Lead author of the scientific paper, published this week in the “Journal of Vertebrate  Palaeontology”, Albert Prieto-Marquez, stated that the genus name honours Trachodon, a name that would be very well known to fans of dinosaurs.  Trachodon is the genus erected in 1856 by Joseph Leidy as a result of fragmentary bones and teeth having been excavated from the Upper Cretaceous rocks (Judith River Formation) of Montana.  It was one of the very first American dinosaurs described, the first duck-billed dinosaur to be named (although some of the teeth used to describe it were later identified as Ceratopsian), and although the name is now regarded as a nomen dubium (not a valid genus), Trachodon appeared in countless books about dinosaurs for the best part of 120 years.  The popularity of Trachodon was helped by wonderful illustrations produced by palaeoartists such as Zdenek Burian (Trachodon and Tyrannosaurus rex).

Trachodon Became the Archetypal Duck-Billed Dinosaur

An illustration of Trachodon.

An illustration of Trachodon.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Now Trachodon has been honoured with a valid genus (Eotrachodon).  At perhaps, nine metres long, Eotrachodon orientalis was certainly not the biggest, but the fossil find is extremely significant none-the-less.  Firstly dinosaur fossil finds are rare from the south-eastern United States.  To read an article about which U.S. States have dinosaur fossils: 37th U.S. State with A Dinosaur Fossil

Commenting on the significance of the discovery, one of the authors of the scientific paper, Gregory Erickson (Florida State University) explained:

“This is a really important animal in telling us how they came to be and how they spread all over the world.”

Did the Hadrosaurs Originate in Appalachia?

Whilst the specimen was being prepared at the McWane Science Centre (Birmingham, Alabama), the scientists were able to piece together the skull bones and identify a modified nasal area of the skull that had, until now been regarded as a characteristic associated with Saurolophine hadrosaurids (solid-crested and crestless forms).  Dating the fossil to the Late Santonian faunal stage (83 million years ago), it suggests that the duck-billed dinosaurs originated on the continental landmass known as Appalachia.  During the Late Cretaceous, North America was split by into two by a wide sea (the Western Interior Seaway), Laramidia lay to the west, whilst the larger landmass of Appalachia lay to the east.  Phylogenetic analysis indicates that Eotrachodon is a basal member of the hadrosaurids and thus, it can be postulated that this group of dinosaurs evolved on Appalachia.  Land bridges formed as the Western Interior Seaway permitted these dinosaurs to migrate off this continental landmass and to spread to other parts of the Late Cretaceous world.

Reseracher Jun Ebersole, (McWane Science Centre), stated:

“For roughly 100 million years, the dinosaurs were not able to cross this barrier.  The discovery of Eotrachodon suggests that duck-billed dinosaurs originated in Appalachia and dispersed to other parts of the world at some point after the seaway lowered, opening a land corridor to western North America.”

Fossil Find Suggests Hadrosaurids Originated from Appalachia

Sweet Home Alabama.

Sweet Home Alabama!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A View of the Left Lateral Side of the Skull

Scale bar = 5cm

Scale bar = 5cm

Picture Credit: Albert Prieto-Marquez et al

Win! Win! Win! with Everything Dinosaur

Go Pink with Everything Dinosaur!  Win a Super Megaloceras Soft Toy

Still time to enter Everything Dinosaur’s super, soft toy giveaway.  We have one big, pink and very cute soft toy which needs a home.  It is a reindeer and very sweet and cuddly it is too, but our palaeontologists have been pretending that it is a Megaloceros baby  – can you give our soft toy a new home?

Win a Very Pink Soft Toy Member of the Deer Family

Deer little thing!

Win a soft toy with Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Whether it is a Megaloceros or a baby Reindeer, it certainly is very cute and one very lucky person is going to win it, can you give this soft toy a new home.

Competition to Win a Super Soft Toy with Everything Dinosaur

All you have to do is “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then comment on the pink deer picture including a suggestion for the name for this super and very sparkly soft toy.  It is certainly a “deer little thing”  but he/she needs a name!  We can’t think of one can you?

Our Facebook Page: “LIKE” our Facebook page and enter the competition!

The name caption competition closes on Friday 12th February.  We “deerly” hope you win!

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of super prehistoric animal soft toys: Prehistoric Animal Soft Toys

Terms and Conditions of Soft Toy Name Caption Competition

Automated entries are not permitted and will be excluded from the draw

Only one entry per person

The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative will be offered

The Everything Dinosaur name a soft toy competition runs until Friday 12th February 2016.

Winner will be notified by private message on Facebook.

Prize includes postage and packing

For full terms and conditions contact: Contact Everything Dinosaur

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