Digitalised Dinosaur Leads to Dorking Museum Discovery

When is an Iguanodon Not an Iguanodon?

Yesterday, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of a giant whale tooth found in Beaumaris Bay (Victoria).  This significant fossil find, once again highlighted the importance of amateur fossil hunters when it comes to contributing to the Earth Sciences.  You don’t have to travel all the way to Australia to play your part, sometimes the geological collection housed at your local regional museum can provide an opportunity for you to make you mark.

Take for example, the vertebrate fossil collection at Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre.  Student Tom Fedrick has helped re-classify dinosaur tail bones originally described as belonging to an Iguanodon, but keen-eyed Tom, using knowledge gained from four years volunteering at the Museum, concluded that a centrepiece of the collection represented the bones of an entirely different, albeit related dinosaur – Mantellisaurus.

The Caudal Vertebrae on Display (Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis)

On display at the museum.

On display at the museum.

Picture Credit: Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre

Digitalising the Dorking Museum Collection

Much of the fossil collection is currently being catalogued digitally.  This will enable the collection to be accessed by other museums, researchers and academics.  A-level student Tom has been working on this substantial project and having completed work on around half of the collection, he turned his attention to the Iguanodon exhibit.

Tom explained:

“Looking at it [the Iguanodon exhibit] in the past I always thought it was odd, thinner than I would expect.  However with the catalogue entry in front of me my suspicions were confirmed: this was not an Iguanodon.  Though it was listed as Iguanodon atherfieldensis my background knowledge meant I knew that this species had been reclassified as a new genus entirely – Mantellisaurus by Gregory Paul in 2007.”

Tom Fedrick and the Re-classified Dinosaur Bones (Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis)

Tom a pupil at Reigate Grammar School oversees the cataloguing of the dinosaur bones.

Tom, a student at Reigate Grammar School oversees the cataloguing of the dinosaur bones.

Picture Credit: Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre

The Problem with Iguanodontids

The fragmentary nature of iguanodontid fossils excavated from various locations across the south of England have presented palaeontologists with a number of taxonomic puzzles to solve.  Iguanodon was the second dinosaur species to be named and described (although the genus name was erected before the Order Dinosauria had been established).  Gideon Mantell named Iguanodon, but at the time his paper was published, he failed to establish a holotype or indeed assign a trivial name to his specimen.  From that point on, the Iguanodon genus became a sort of dumping ground for any large Ornithischian dinosaur fossil material excavated from the Weald Clay Formations and the contemporaneous Wessex Formation of the Isle of Wight.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It’s complicated!  Lots of fossils found in Europe, Africa and North America formerly ascribed to Iguanodon, have been re-classified since the turn of the Century.  The holotype material for Iguanodon bernissartensis for instance, a genus synonymous with the term “English dinosaur”, has been reassigned to more complete Belgian fossil material and we congratulate Tom for spotting the incorrectly labelled museum specimen.”

Mantellisaurus

Mantellisaurus atherfieldenis  was established in 2007 by the American Gregory Scott Paul.  It is a more gracile animal than the robust Iguanodon bernissartensis  and considerably smaller, perhaps around seven metres in length.  Analysis of the forelimbs suggest that Mantellisaurus spent the majority of its time as a biped, although it could adopt a four-legged stance when desired (facultative quadruped).

Comparing Iguanodontid Skeletons (after Gregory S. Paul)

Iguanodontid comparisons. D. bampingi is regarded as Nomen dubium.

Iguanodontid comparisons. D. bampingi is regarded as Nomen dubium.

Picture Credit: Gregory S. Paul with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above compares the skeletons of three types of iguanodontids.  Although, Gregory S. Paul regarded Dollodon bampingi as a valid genus, more recent research suggests that Dollodon might be a synonym of Mantellisaurus.  The term “Nomen dubium” is given to any organism whose validity is in doubt.

This is the second time that a fossil specimen has been reclassified after research undertaken at the Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre.  Last year, Everything Dinosaur reported upon the reclassification of a marine reptile specimen, thought to have represented Polyptychodon interruptus.

To read this article: Pliosaur Skull Links Dorking to Kansas

The programme of digitally logging the collection at the Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre is progressing.  It is thanks to dedicated, hard-working individuals that our country continues to be blessed with a wealth of regional museums which contribute so much to our understanding of the world

Dorking Museum opening times: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10am – 4pm.
Admission: Adults £2, Concessions £1, Under-5s free, Family ticket £4.50 (prices correct at time of publication)

For more information on this fascinating regional museum visit: Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre

Giant Aussie Whale – A Terror of Pliocene Seas

Monster Whale Tooth from Beaumaris Bay (Victoria)

A fossil tooth of a giant, prehistoric whale found on a beach by an amateur fossil hunter has provided scientists with further evidence of monstrous whales that once ruled the oceans of the world.  The tooth, which weighs around three kilogrammes and measures a whopping thirty centimetres in length is not even complete, the tip of the crown is missing and the base of the root has broken off.  However, it is easily the biggest fossil tooth ever found in Australia.

Palaeontologist Erich Fitzgerald Holds the Giant Fossil Tooth

Palaeontologist Dr. Erich Fitzgerald holds the fossil whale tooth.

Palaeontologist Dr. Erich Fitzgerald holds the fossil whale tooth.

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria

The fossil was discovered back in February by Murray Orr as he explored the famous Beaumaris Bay area to the south-east of Melbourne (Victoria).  The sandstone cliffs and foreshore of this bay represent sandstone deposits laid down between ten and five million years ago in an estuarine and marine environment.  The strata preserves fossils of a huge number of invertebrates as well as the fossilised bones of penguins, ancient seals, sharks and other fishes.  The bones of giant birds have also been found along with fossils representing terrestrial marsupials whose bodies must have been washed down the Yarra River and out to sea.

Such is the importance of the Beaumaris Bay area and the Pliocene-aged strata that a lobby group has been formed to help preserve the two mile long beach area by awarding it UNESCO World Heritage status.

Significant Australian Fossil Find

The tooth is estimated to be around five million years old and would have come from a Cetacean similar to the giant of Peru – Livyatan melvillei, formerly known as Leviathan melvillei.

To read about the discovery of L. melvilleiThe Nightmare Whale from Prehistory

Although the teeth are very similar, it is unlikely that the Australian tooth represents the same genus, as the Peruvian fossil material has been dated to around 12 million years ago, so the Beaumaris Bay specimen is considerably younger.  The tooth is internationally significant, as it represents the first evidence of massive sperm whales present outside the Americas.  The tooth is indeed immense and dwarfs a tooth from the jaw of an extant Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus).  It even makes the teeth of Tyrannosaurus rex look quite dainty in comparison.

Tooth Comparison – T. rex versus the Extinct Sperm Whale and a Modern Sperm Whale Tooth

The fossil whale tooth (centre) compared to a T. rex tooth (left) and an extant Sperm Whale tooth (right).

The fossil whale tooth (centre) compared to a T. rex tooth (left) and an extant Sperm Whale tooth (right).

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria

The picture above provides a comparison between the tooth of a Tyrannosaurus rex (left), the extinct fossil whale (centre) and a modern-day Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) on the right.

A Scale Drawing Providing an Estimate of the Size of the Extinct Toothed Whale

Estimated size of toothed whale based on the fossil tooth - around 18 metres.

Estimated size of toothed whale based on the fossil tooth – around 18 metres.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Although it is difficult to provide an accurate estimate of size based on a single tooth, it has been suggested that this whale could have reached lengths in excess of eighteen metres and it might have weighed some forty tonnes.  Murray Orr has donated his remarkable fossil find to Museum Victoria, thanking Mr Orr for his kind donation, the museum’s senior curator of vertebrate fossils, Dr. Erich Fitzgerald stated:

“It’s a first for the entire continent of Australia and it’s a fossil of a whale that has never thought to be here before.”

Dr. Fitzgerald is no stranger to the Beaumaris Bay area and he has worked on a number of important fossil discoveries from this area.  For example, back in 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported on the discovery of the first seal bones from this locality: Australia’s First Seal – A Pliocene Pinniped.

Fossils from Beaumaris Bay have even proved that giant, toothed birds once flew Australia’s coastline: Giant Toothed Birds Once Soared Over Australia

As the fossil is believed to be around five million years old, it is the youngest known fossil of a whale-eating Sperm Whale.  Extant Sperm Whale males can reach fifteen metres in length and they are predators but they only have teeth in their narrow, lower jaw.  They specialise on feeding on squid and fish, the fossil tooth indicates that in the southern hemisphere giant marine, super-predators were geographically widely dispersed.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It is a truly remarkable find and this discovery once again shows the important contribution that amateur fossil hunters can make to science.  As for naming this beast, it would be hard to erect a new genus from a single fossil tooth but precedence has been set before.  Perhaps we should refer to this simply as “Murray’s Monster”, after all, given the size of the tooth, albeit missing part of the root and the tip of the crown, this toothed whale really was a monster!”

The Beaumaris Bay area of Melbourne provides a remarkable insight into the ancient fauna of Australia.  Giant marsupials roamed the estuary with seals and ancient penguins basking on the beach, whilst flying overhead giant toothed birds soared out to sea, where perhaps a massive toothed whale lurked offshore to pick off any unwary seals.

An Illustration of Beaumaris Bay During the Pliocene

Beaumaris bay, (Victoria, Australia) some five million years ago.

Beaumaris bay, (Victoria, Australia) some five million years ago.

Picture Credit: Monash University

JurassicCollectables CollectA 2016 Unboxing (Part 1)

JurassicCollectables CollectA Unboxing Video

CollectA have got so many new for 2016 prehistoric animal models coming out, that those clever people at JurassicCollectables have had to split their unboxing video into two parts.

JurassicCollectables – CollectA Unboxing Video Review

Video Credit: JurassicCollectables

Everything Dinosaur sent out a complete set of these new for 2016 CollectA replicas and in this unboxing video the narrator takes viewers through a summary of the models that were included in the first batch of releases.  It’s an impressive line up with the terrific Tyrannosaurus rex corpse up first and JurassicCollectables provide lot of amazing close ups of the injuries sustained by this unfortunate tyrannosaurid.  Then it’s on to the hunting T. rex model as our narrator makes short work of the product packaging to reveal this replica in all its glory.  Check out the 1:40 scale CollectA feathered T. rex video review on the JurassicCollectables YouTube channel.  It has over ten thousand video views already and it has only been up a few weeks.

Find JurassicCollectables on YouTube:  Check out the JurassicCollectables on YouTube

Everything Dinosaur Fact Sheets Get a Mention

The reviewer mentions that Everything Dinosaur supplies a fact sheet on every named prehistoric animal that we supply, we do like to go the extra mile when it comes to looking after our customers.  We have several hundred prehistoric animal fact sheets and the latest, Nanshiungosaurus (number 807) is currently being checked before final approval. 

Nanshiungosaurus Illustration for the Everything Dinosaur Fact Sheet

The illustration ready for our Nanshiungosaurus fact sheet.

The illustration ready for our Nanshiungosaurus fact sheet.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Why might Everything Dinosaur have researched and written a Nanshiungosaurus fact sheet?  All will be revealed next month…

Next up on the CollectA unboxing video (part 1) is the horned dinosaur Mercuriceratops and JurassicCollectables lets the viewer take in all the exquisite details on this model.  The Metriacanthosaurus replica follows and it is great to see CollectA making a model of another type of British Theropod dinosaur.

Last but not least we have the two 1:40 scale dinosaur replicas that have come out in the first part of this year.  There is the 1:40 scale feathered Beishanlong and to conclude this video, the CollectA 1:40 scale Torvosaurus is shown.  This model seems to be the narrator’s favourite and what a splendid dinosaur model it is too.  In the video review, reference is made to the articulated jaw and in the comments section on the YouTube video we added further information about this feature.

All these models are available from Everything Dinosaur, to see the complete CollectA range of not to scale models (Prehistoric Life): CollectA Prehistoric Life Range of Not to Scale Replicas

For the CollectA Deluxe range of scale models: CollectA Deluxe Prehistoric Animal Models

Part of the New for 2016 CollectA Prehistoric Animal Model Range

Just some of the fantastic CollectA prehistoric animal models new for 2016.

Just some of the fantastic CollectA prehistoric animal models new for 2016.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The JurassicCollectables YouTube channel is crammed full with lots of very well made and extremely informative dinosaur and prehistoric animal videos, if you have not already checked out this most professional YouTube site we urge you to take a look and we advise readers to subscribe: Check out the JurassicCollectables YouTube Channel

We look forward to the next part of this CollectA unboxing video (CollectA new for 2016 part two), from JurassicCollectables.

Prehistoric Times (Spring 2016) Reviewed

A Review of Issue 117 of Prehistoric Times Magazine

First into the office this morning and it has benefits, pick of the biscuits and a chance to read the latest edition of Prehistoric Times magazine (spring 2016), that arrived over the weekend and what a jam-packed, splendid edition it is.  The front cover features Carnotaurus artwork by Kurt Miller which dovetails nicely into an informative feature on this, perhaps the most famous of the abelisaurids, by the talented Phil Hore.  Phil begins his article with a short fantasy piece before providing a detailed biography of this long-legged hunter from South America.  The article is illustrated with copious amounts of reader submitted artwork.  As Prehistoric Times editor, Mike Fredericks freely admits, he was somewhat overwhelmed by the number of Carnotaurus illustrations he received for this issue.  It’s hard to pick a personal favourite, Todd Mills gave his Carnotaurus a bright yellow throat pouch, whilst Ashli Lenox’s drawing was very reminiscent of the Papo Carnotaurus replica – all great stuff.  A special mention goes to Wade Carmen for providing a beautiful illustration of the skull of this Late Cretaceous predator.

Carnotaurus Artwork by Californian Artist Kurt Miller on the Front Cover of Issue 117

The front cover of the next edition of "Prehistoric Times" magazine.

The front cover of “Prehistoric Times” magazine.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

Paying Tribute to Zdeněk Burian

Weaving its way through issue 117, like the ossified tendons associated with caudal vertebrae on a Edmontosaurus, is a super article all about the ground-breaking palaeoartist Zdeněk Burian.  John R. Lavas, the writer, has provided a comprehensive guide to this famous Czech painter’s legacy and of course there are lots and lots of examples of his spectacular artwork.  Tracy Lee Ford gives budding artists a bit of head’s up in the second part of his thought-provoking feature regarding how to illustrate feathered dinosaurs.  Readers of this quarterly magazine might remember that in issue 116 Tracy called for a curtailing on the amount of feathered dinosaur drawings being produced, this time, the focus is on feathered Theropods and how to interpret fossil feather impressions.  The article concludes with some well drawn sketches including an interpretation of the recently described Dakotaraptor steini.

To read more about the discovery of this new, very large Maniraptoran dinosaur: Dakotaraptor – A Giant Raptor and Niche Partitioning

Phil Hore’s other major contribution to the spring edition is to provide the text on the Bear Dogs (Amphicyonidae), a family of geographically diverse carnivores that early hominids would have done well to avoid.  Some great reader submitted artwork once again, including the rather cute image sent in by David Hicks of one of these apex predators taking an interest in a butterfly.  Phil’s debut novel gets a mention.  “The Order of the Dragon”, the first in the bloodline, gothic fantasy trilogy and a jolly good read it is too.  For a review of “The Order of the Dragon”: The Order of the Dragon Book Review

 Mesozoic Media Section Features “Tracks in Deep Time”

"Tracks in Deep Time" features in a Mesozoic media review.

“Tracks in Deep Time” features in a Mesozoic media review.

Picture Credit:  H. K. Luterman of Cedar City, Utah

Lots of new books get reviewed including Tracy Lee Ford’s first fiction novel (did he get the idea from co-contributor to Prehistoric Times, Phil Hore we wonder)?  There is also the chance to learn a little about a newly published textbook all about the amazing trace fossils from the St George Dinosaur Discovery Site (Utah).   Look out also for a tour of Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences, fossil news stories and more reader art, in what is a very full edition.

To learn more about Prehistoric Times magazine and to subscribe: Prehistoric Times Magazine

Cherilea – The First All-British Dinosaur Toy Range

Last but not least, a quick mention of the three-page spread dedicated to the Cherilea range of prehistoric animal models, a range that can claim to be Britain’s first dinosaur set.  In production, as far back as the late 1950’s, author and model dinosaur Anthony Beeson pays tribute to these trail blazers.

Seed Eating May Have Helped Birds Survive

Seed Clue to How Birds Survived the Cretaceous Extinction Event

The birds that are around today, might have the seed-eating habit of an ancestor to thank for enabling their kind to survive the extinction event that saw the demise of the dinosaurs.  A study published in the scientific journal “Current Biology” suggests that whilst the meat-eating and insectivorous feathered Maniraptoran dinosaurs did not survive into the Tertiary, toothless, beaked birds may have coped with the devastation that wiped out 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates, by eating seeds.  The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum, involved the analysis of 3,104 Maniraptoran fossil teeth from eighteen different sites in western North America (Montana, USA and Alberta, Canada).

Late Cretaceous North America – Survival of the Seed Eaters?

Study suggests the evolution of a toothless beak ideal for seed eating may have had evolutionary advantages at the end of the Cretaceous.

Study suggests the evolution of a toothless beak ideal for seed eating may have had evolutionary advantages at the end of the Cretaceous.

Picture Credit: Danielle Dufault

The beautiful illustration above, depicts an imaginary scene in the forests of Late Cretaceous North American (Maastrichtian faunal stage).  There were probably large numbers of Maniraptoran dinosaurs represented by numerous families but these types of dinosaur along with the toothed birds did not survive the End Cretaceous mass extinction.  Those members of the Maniraptora clade that had evolved an edentulous (toothless) beak capable of holding, manipulating and cracking seeds may have had an evolutionary advantage.  In the picture above, a large dromaeosaurid dinosaur pursues a toothed bird in the background, whilst a smaller dromaeosaurid pounces on an unsuspecting lizard resting on a log.  Emerging from the hollow log is a hypothetical, toothless bird, closely related to the earliest modern birds.

A Nuclear Winter

Many scientists believe that after the extraterrestrial impact that marked the beginning of the end for the non-avian Dinosauria, the impact threw up huge amounts of dust and debris into the atmosphere.  This would have blocked out sunlight, leading to a nuclear winter with plant populations (reliant on photosynthesis to make food), crashing.  The loss of the plants led to a collapse of the entire food chain.  The plant-eaters would have died out and once there were no carcases left to scavenge, the meat-eaters would have perished too.  This new paper is one of a number of recent studies that attempts to explain why some types of animals survived, whilst other, often closely related species did not.

Toothed Dromaeosaurs Faced Extinction

A typical dromaeosaur dinosaur.

A typical dromaeosaur dinosaur.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

The Maniraptora fossil record (dinosaurs and the birds) is very incomplete.  The research team knew that they only had a limited number of fossils of Late Cretaceous Maniraptorans to examine and that in all likelihood there were many more species living towards the end of the Age of Dinosaurs than have been identified to date.  In addition, there was very little direct evidence of fossil species surviving the extinction event.  So to help unravel the puzzle as to why some animals died but their close relatives survived, the scientists examined the fossil record of isolated teeth.  Shed teeth tend to be more robust than the delicate and light bones of Maniraptorans and they are more numerous, so the research team had a more substantial data set to work with.

The team concluded that seeds would have survived the global devastation that occurred.  Seeds already in the ground would have been available as a food source for anything with a beak capable of eating them.

Commenting on why some animals survived whilst others went extinct, lead researcher, Derek Larson (University of Toronto) explained:

“We came up with a hypothesis that it had something to do with diet.  Looking at the diet of modern birds, we were able to reconstruct a hypothetical ancestral bird and what its likely diet would have been.  What we are envisaging is a seed-eating bird, so you’d have a relatively short and robust, strong beak, which would be able to crush these seeds.”

In August 2014, Everything Dinosaur published a study which had been conducted by an international team of researchers that looked at the rapid evolution and diversification of the  Maniraptora.   These dinosaurs evolved very rapidly and probably made up a significant proportion of the terrestrial vertebrate fauna in a number of Late Cretaceous ecosystems.

To read more about the rapid evolution of the Maniraptora: Downsizing Dinosaurs the Key to Survival

The challenge to palaeontologists is to find fossil evidence of seed-eating birds being prevalent prior to the End Cretaceous extinction event and then evidence of radiation and diversification in strata laid down in younger sediments deposited beyond the famous K-T extinction boundary.

What About the Mammals?

This very interesting piece of research raises a number of other questions.  For example, a number of Cretaceous  small mammals would also have very probably eaten seeds, just like many kinds of small mammals do today.  Could seed-eating also have helped several different types of mammal survive the extinction event?  Given the success of the Maniraptora and their diversity it seems peculiar that no member of the Dinosauria evolved to take advantage of seeds as a source of food.  Many members of the Maniraptora were small, around the size of many seed-eating birds today, why weren’t these dinosaurs also able to take advantage of this food source to help them endure the nuclear winter?

Teeth Representing a Variety of Different Members of the  Maniraptora Were Studied

No evidence of teeth adapted to seed-eating were found in the study.

No evidence of teeth adapted to seed-eating were found in the study.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum/University of Toronto with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a typical selection of the shed teeth used in the fossil study.  Four different types of Maniraptoran were incorporated into the study.  Firstly, there were the Troodontidae, (top left) with their proportionately broader and much more prominent tooth serrations (denticles), an example of a typical Late Cretaceous North American Troodontidae would be Troodon inequalis.  Secondly, there were members of the genus Richardoestesia (top right).   These Maniraptoran dinosaurs are known from a pair of jawbones and many shed teeth, two species have been assigned, based on tooth differences.  Then there are the dromaeosaurids (Dromaeosauridae).  The teeth tend to be much more finely serrated than troodontid teeth and a typical North American dromaeosaurid would have been the two metre long Saurornitholestes langstoni.  Even though only a handful of fossil bones ascribed to Aves (birds) have been found in places such as the Dinosaur Provincial Park (southern Alberta), those bones that have been discovered indicate that some volant (flying) birds as big as modern-day raptors existed during the Late Cretaceous.  Many examples of teeth from toothed birds are known from the Dinosaur Provincial Park, and at least three types of Neornithine birds have been described.

This research, that examined Maniraptoran teeth across the last 18 million years of the Cretaceous, supports the idea of a sudden extinction event and the survival of Neornithine lineages as a result of some forms having evolved to exploit seeds as a food source.

St George’s Day – Dragons A Plenty

St George’s Day and Dragons

Today, April 23rd, is the saint day in England (and in a number of other countries), of St George.  St George is famous for slaying a dragon one of a number of stories and legends associated with this figure who was believed to have been a Roman soldier and become a martyr following his execution for refusing to denounce his Christian faith in the year 303 AD.  St George’s Day is traditionally celebrated on the 23rd April as this is thought to have been the date of his execution.

The St George and the dragon legend was brought back to Europe by Crusaders.  Dragons and dinosaurs are synonymous, after all, the Chinese dragons, which actually pre-date St George by several hundred years were probably thought up to explain the large fossil bones found in many parts of China.  Those early Chinese scientists were remarkably close to the truth.

The Dragon Myth Probably Inspired by Dinosaur Fossils

The dragon myth was very probably inspired by the discovery of dinosaur fossils.

The dragon myth was very probably inspired by the discovery of dinosaur fossils.

 

Whilst delivering a dinosaur themed workshop in school at Oasis Academy (Short Heath, West Midlands), one of our fossil experts was shown a display of model dragons made by the children.  It certainly was a wonderful display.

To read more about this and to see pictures of the dragons that the children made (some we suspect with a little help from parents) and to learn more about the dinosaur and dragon connection: The Dinosaur/Dragon Connection

Chinese Dragon Dinosaurs

The Chinese word for dragon is translated as “lóng”  or “long” and given the plethora of Chinese dinosaur discoveries over the last fifty years or so, it is no surprise that a number of Chinese dinosaur genus names refer to dragons, examples being Dilong, Guanlong and the recently described (2015) Zhenyuanlong suni (see picture below).

Zhenyuanlong suni – Known from  Lower Cretaceous deposits of Liaoning Province, north-eastern China.

Very probably a ground-dwelling predator.

Very probably a ground-dwelling predator.

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang

As far as we at Everything Dinosaur are aware, the majority of the dinosaurs named “dragon” in China are representatives of the Theropoda.  There are exceptions, for example the basal Ceratopsian Yinlong (the name means “hidden dragon”.  In the case of Zhenyuanlong suni, the name translates as “Mr Zhenyuan’s sun dragon”.  The genus name honours the person who was able to acquire the fossil material for the scientists to examine.

The Latin Term for Dragon – Draco

The Latin term for dragon is “draco”.  There are a number of non-Chinese dinosaurs with the “draco” prefix, Everything Dinosaur team members were able to list five genera*.  It seems when it comes to the Latinised form “draco”, western scientists tend to apply this term to a wider range of dinosaurs, not just predominately Theropods.

Our list*

  1. Dracopelta – An Ankylosaur named from Late Jurassic-aged fossil material found in Portugal.  The genus name means “dragon shield”.
  2. Draconyx – A very poorly known Iguanodont, also from Portugal.  The name translates as “dragon claw”.
  3. Dracovenator – An Early Jurassic Theropod dinosaur from South Africa, believed to be related to Dilophosaurus (the name means “dragon hunter”)
  4. Dracoraptor – The “dragon thief”, the very recently described dinosaur discovered in very Early Jurassic sediments from Wales – : Article about Dracoraptor
  5. Dracorex – A North American Pachycephalosaur named by school children.  The name means “dragon king”.

A Model of the Pachycephalosaur – Dracorex (D. hogwartsia)

Dracorex Dinosaur Model Available from Everything Dinosaur

Dracorex Dinosaur Model Available from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Can you name other dinosaurs which are named after the Latin term for dragon?  Now that’s a challenge to get your teeth into on St George’s Day.

The Gradual Decline of the Dinosaurs – Earth Day Thoughts

The Gradual Decline of the Dinosaurs – Earth Day Thoughts

Today, the 46th commemoration of Earth Day, some 171 nations signed and ratified the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.  In essence, the Agreement sets out that the global increase in temperature will be limited to no more than around two degrees Celsius as countries work together to cut greenhouse gas emissions, widely believed to be responsible for a rapidly warming Earth. Some fifteen nations had already signed this international accord prior to today, mainly small island states in the Pacific, but with the addition of the 171 signatories, this is a record number for a new treaty.

Commenting on the importance of this Agreement, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated:

“Paris will shape the lives of all future generations in a profound way – it is their future that is at stake.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Addresses Delegates in New York

Ban Ki-moon address the conference in New York

Ban Ki-moon address the conference in New York

Picture Credit: Getty Images

The Two Degree Limit

The Paris Agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.  Although, the implementation of the agreement will not be easy and several countries, including a number from Africa and central Asia have not signed, if the Earth continues to warm, then our own species could well be threatened.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained that as the planet experienced record highs in average annual temperatures:

“We are in a race against time.  I urge all countries to join the agreement at the national level.  Today we are signing a new covenant for the future.”

Yesterday, Everything Dinosaur reported on some new research conducted by scientists at Reading and Bristol Universities that looked at the extinction of the dinosaurs.  A statistical study (Bayesian analysis), revealed that the Dinosauria had been in gradual decline for some fifty million years before finally becoming extinct. To read an article on this research: Fifty Million Year Decline of the Dinosauria

Extinction of the Dinosaurs Will the Human Race Go the Same Way Due to Global Climate Change?

Unless there is a proactive plan to tackle global climate change a mass extinction event cannot be ruled out.

Unless there is a proactive plan to tackle global climate change a mass extinction event cannot be ruled out.

Picture Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“There is already quite a strong body of evidence indicating that our planet is experiencing a mass extinction event.  Many key species are endangered or threatened and as we are top of the food chain it is in all our interests to try to limit greenhouse gas emissions so that a global climate catastrophe can be avoided.”

One of the authors of the research into the decline of the dinosaurs, that we reported upon yesterday, Dr. Sakamoto, pointed out that the research into the demise of the Dinosauria might have a significance with regards to what we are experiencing today.

He stated:

“Our study strongly indicates that if a group of animals is experiencing a fast pace of extinction more so than they can replace, then they are prone to annihilation once a major catastrophe occurs.  This has huge implications for our current and future biodiversity, given the unprecedented speed at which species are going extinct owing to the ongoing human-caused climate change.”

If the UN General-Secretary calls this a “race against time”, then this is one race that the human race cannot afford to lose.

The Fifty Million Year Decline of the Dinosaurs – It was the “Stats Wot Did It”

Bayesian Analysis Sheds New Light on Dinosaur Decline

This week has seen the publication of a splendid piece of research by scientists from Reading and Bristol Universities.  The research team, which included lead author Dr. Manabu Sakamoto and his colleague Dr. Chris Venditti (Reading University), along with Professor Mike Benton (Bristol University), conclude that far from a sudden and abrupt end to the Dinosauria, as a result of a culmination of catastrophes around sixty-six million years ago, the dinosaurs were already on their way out.  In fact, according to their calculations, the dinosaurs had been in decline for the previous fifty million years.

An Extraterrestrial Impact Might Have Been the “Last Straw for the Dinosaurs”

Scientists suggest a slow decline for the dinosaurs.

Scientists suggest a slow decline for the dinosaurs.

Long-term Decline Versus a Sudden Population Collapse

The debate regarding whether the Dinosauria declined very rapidly or whether they were in a long-term, terminal decline, has raged for decades.  Everything Dinosaur team members remember a study undertaken into the diversity of the dinosaurs from the Hell Creek Formation.  This study calculated the number of different types of dinosaur associated with different layers of rock.  It was concluded that at the point where the non-avian dinosaurs disappear from the fossil record (K-T boundary), there were much fewer species present then in rock strata that represented slightly older sediments.  The overwhelming dominance of horned dinosaurs and Hadrosaurs compared to other types of dinosaur preserved in the bedding planes studied, also suggested a relatively unhealthy balance in the ecosystem.

Two years ago, Everything Dinosaur reported on another piece of research that concluded that the demise of the dinosaurs was a result of “bad luck and bad timing”.

To read more about this study: Dinosaur Extinction – “A Perfect Storm”

Bayesian Analysis Points the Way

The difficulty with a debate like this is that palaeontologists do not have a complete data set to work with.  The fossil record is simply not complete enough to provide definitive proof, one way or another.  It’s not just that there are not enough body and trace fossils of dinosaurs around from the Cretaceous, but scientists have very limited information on other types of fauna, the mammals for example.  Mammalian diversity may have been very apparent had you or I been able to travel back in time and wander through the temperate conifer forests of northern Laramidia for example, but in the absence of a time machine, we have to work with inadequate and far from complete information.  However, in this paper, perhaps for the first time, Bayesian analysis has been applied to assess the evolutionary dynamics in terms of how quickly the dinosaurs were able to evolve into new species to replace other species that had died out.

The scientists find that their Bayesian analysis provides overwhelming support for the theory of a long-term decline across all three sub-clades of the Dinosauria (the Ornithischia, Sauropodomorpha and the Theropoda).  The rate of new species development slowed down over time and this was ultimately overtaken by the species extinction rate tens of millions of years before the Cretaceous mass extinction event.  Or putting it another may, that extraterrestrial object that smashed into the Gulf of Mexico was tens of millions of miles away when the dinosaurs actually began to die out.

A Slow Decline According to the Statistics – Dinosaurs Did Not Go Out with a Bang!

Cataclysmic impact event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Cataclysmic impact event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs?

Picture Credit: Don Davis commissioned by NASA

Commenting on the implications for other terrestrial vertebrates, one of the authors of the scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Chris Venditti stated:

“The decline of the dinosaurs would have left plenty of room for mammals, the group of species which humans are a member of, to flourish before the impact, priming them to replace dinosaurs as the dominant animals on Earth.”

What is Bayesian Analysis?

It’s complicated, named after the mathematician Thomas Bayes (1701-1761), Bayesian analysis is a statistical methodology that takes into account the absence of complete data.  By looking at the existing information, a more complete picture can be built up using information inferred from the data that you do have.  Bayesian analysis relies upon interpretations of probability which are based on degrees of belief.  There are a number of different forms of analytical technique that can be applied based on these principles.

In simple terms, imagine you have a dinosaur themed jigsaw that is made up of 24 pieces:

  • If you have all 24 pieces then it is easy to put together the jigsaw puzzle and see 100% of the picture.
  • BUT… if you were to ask another person to complete the puzzle but only gave them 12 pieces (50%), then that person would only have half the data to work on.
  • To solve the puzzle, that second person would have to examine the patterns made by the 12 pieces, to look at their shapes, their size, their colours and to use their existing knowledge about what the complete picture might be in order to compensate for the lack of all the jigsaw pieces to play with.
  • Using the Schleich Mini Dino Landscape “Discovery” Set seen below as an example, the second person would have to infer from the information available what the completed jigsaw puzzle would actually look like – this is essentially what Bayesian analysis permits you to do.

A Dinosaur Jigsaw Puzzle Helps to Explain Bayesian Principles

Green Velociraptor,  Torosaurus, Stegosaurus and Quetzalcoatlus are included.

Green Velociraptor, Torosaurus, Stegosaurus and Quetzalcoatlus are included in this Schleich jigsaw puzzle set.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Professor Mike Benton, explained that the dramatic impact event was probably the last straw for the remaining types of dinosaur:

“All the evidence shows that the dinosaurs, which had already been around, dominating terrestrial ecosystems for 150 million years, somehow lost the ability to speciate fast enough.  This was likely to have contributed to their inability to recover from the environmental crisis caused by the impact.”

The Bayesian analysis shows that the Sauropodomorphs, the long-necked, super-sized herbivorous Titanosaurs were declining the fastest, whilst the Theropods (mostly meat-eaters), were declining at a more gradual rate.

A Stylised Graph Indicating Rate of Decline for the Three Main Sub-Clades of the Dinosauria

Plotting the demise of the dinosaurs.

Plotting the demise of the dinosaurs.

Graph Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The graph above is intended to illustrate that, in this new Bayesian analysis, the Sauropodomorpha clade was shown to be declining most rapidly.  The Theropoda was in decline but the speed of de-speciation was lower and the Ornithischia was also in decline too but the rise of the Hadrosauriformes (duck-billed dinosaurs) and the rapid diversification of the Ceratopsidae (horned dinosaurs), temporarily bucked the downward trend.

Exceptions to the Rule

The only exceptions to the general trend are the Cretaceous herbivores, the duck-billed dinosaurs and the horned dinosaurs.  These two types of dinosaur show rapid species proliferation throughout the Late Cretaceous.  However, the research team conclude that overall, the Dinosauria showed a marked reduction in their ability to replace species that had died out with new species.  This made the dinosaurs vulnerable to extinction and unable to evolve quickly enough to allow them to recover from the catastrophic events that mark the end of the Mesozoic.

Countdown to the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

Countdown to the 10th Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

Just a few days to go until the start of the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival.  The festival, celebrating its tenth year kicks off with two days dedicated to supporting science teaching in schools before opening to the public on Saturday 29th April.  In a packed programme, there are a wide variety of family themed activities and events aimed at all ages to celebrate the natural and cultural history of this Dorset town and its prominent place on England’s Jurassic Coast.

This Year Marks the Tenth Anniversary of the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival - lots of activities to explore.

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival – lots of activities to explore.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The theme for this year’s Fossil Festival is getting young people enthused by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. Everything Dinosaur knows STEM very well, our own dinosaur and fossil workshops are prominently displayed within the STEM directory of school activities.  Indeed, our educational workshops have recently been revised and upgraded to further enhance science learning objectives.  All part of our support for the Royal Institution, who now manage the on line STEM database.

Down on the seafront, three marquees will host a range of displays and activities, with experts on hand to answer questions and provide advice on careers in the Earth Sciences.  The Palaeontological Association will provide a tactile introduction to fossils and the Geological Society might be able to tempt you with some fossil casting, whilst the Scott Polar Research Institute will be looking for volunteers to dress like an explorer and if you fancy it, you can see how you measure up against a penguin with the British Antarctic Survey.

Will You Get Lucky and Find a Fossil?

Will you find a fossil at Lyme Regis?

Will you find a fossil at Lyme Regis?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Fossil Walks

Over the weekend, the festival will also be running a series of guided fossil walks.  There will also be a programme of talks and presentations given by leading scientists and academics.  A highlight will be the fossil polishing workshops planned by the Lyme Regis Museum, you can also pick up tips on how best to display your own fossil discoveries.  Local fossil expert Brandon Lennon has promised to send us some pictures, as our own teaching and field work commitments mean that we can’t make the festival this year, so disappointing, especially when Brandon tells us that there have been some exciting fossil finds over the winter and this spring.

Brandon explained:

“The winter storms and the high tides have battered the cliffs once again and there have been a large number of fossils washed out onto the foreshore, it looks like it is going to be a very exciting time to be visiting the Dorset coast looking for fossils and with the festival taking place there is going to be plenty of experts on hand to provide advice, support and assistance.”

One of the best ways to explore the geology of this beautiful part of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is to participate in a guided fossil walk.  For further information on fossil walks and tours: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

A Wonderful Family Friendly Festival

Prehistoric animal drawing fun at the Lyme Regis fossil festival.

Prehistoric animal drawing fun at the Lyme Regis fossil festival.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Commenting on the large number of august scientific institutions attending this year’s event, Heather Prior, the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival co-ordinator stated:

“Teams will also be attending from the Jurassic World Heritage Site, The Geological Society, Natural England and universities.  The festival will provide plenty of information and inspiration so that young people can learn about educational and career opportunities.”

Look out too for “Iggy the Iguanodon Restaurant” which is making its debut at the festival.  Iggy is a thirty foot long replica of a Victorian representation of Iguanodon, reminiscent of the Crystal Palace model constructed by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.  This dinosaur (the second to be formally named), provides the stage for an innovative and educational piece of street theatre.  We suspect that the “restaurant” bit refers to the fact that a New Year’s Eve banquet was once held in part of the Iguanodon material destined for permanent display in the south of London.

To read more about this strange feast: Dinner Inside a Dinosaur

We at Everything Dinosaur would like to wish the organisers and everyone taking part in this year’s festival the very best of luck and we look forward to hearing more about the fun activities and events as well as posting up some pictures of this, the tenth, Lyme Regis Fossil Festival.

For further information on the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival and to view the programme of events: 2016 Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

Congratulations to Palaeontologist Dean Lomax

Honorary Scientist at The University of Manchester Wins Award

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax, an honorary scientist at Manchester University has been awarded the prestigious Edward Forbes Prize by the Palaeontographical Society.  This annual award aims to encourage young palaeontologists (or those within ten years of completing their doctorate), and it recognises Dean’s contribution to the advancement of our knowledge about life in the past.  Established in 1847, the Palaeontographical Society promotes the publishing of monographs on British fossils as well as supporting taxonomic research into British fossil faunas and floras through its own research fund.

Dr. Paul Barrett (President of the Palaeontographical Society) Presents the Award to Dean

Dr. Paul Barrett congratulates Dean Lomax on his award.

Dr. Paul Barrett congratulates Dean Lomax on his award.

Picture: courtesy of Dean Lomax

It has been a busy twelve months for Dean, at the moment he is in the United States ready to start work on examining the fossils of a new dinosaur, but the Edward Forbes Prize was awarded to Dean principally in recognition for his work on a Jurassic marine vertebrate specimen that once resided in one of those places where one would least expect to make a scientific breakthrough concerning ancient sea creatures – Doncaster, located in the heart of South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire’s Fossil Heritage

Doncaster may not readily spring to mind when it comes to Mesozoic fossils but a specimen of an Ichthyosaur thought to be replica residing in the collection of the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery caught Dean’s attention.  The sub-adult, “fish lizard” turned out to be a new species and this led to Dean co-authoring a scientific paper on Ichthyosaurus anningae last year.  The trivial name honours Mary Anning, the 19th Century Lyme Regis-based fossil collector, who coincidently died the same year that the the Palaeontographical Society was founded.

To read more about the discovery of Ichthyosaurus anningaeNew Ichthyosaurus Species Honours Mary Anning

This is not the first time that talented Dean has had his research recognised by his peers.  Dean has recently received a multitude of awards, including the Marsh Award for Palaeontology (November, 2015), The School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science (SEAES) Postgraduate Research Student Excellence Award (University of Manchester) – Best Contribution to Society for 2015 (November, 2015) and the Gold Medal (G.J. Mendel Award) – Set for Britain 2015 (March, 2015).

Dinosaurs of the British Isles

Readers of this blog, may already be quite familiar with Dean’s work.  Last August, he appeared in the two-part television documentary “Dinosaur Britain”, that explained the role of these islands in the history of dinosaur research.  The programmes were largely based on the highly acclaimed book “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura.

If you have missed out on this excellent book all about British dinosaurs, it can be found here: Purchase “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” Courtesy of Siri Scientific Press

Dean Has Written a Book All About British Dinosaurs

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Congratulations to Dean Lomax, it is always a pleasure to see that research is recognised in this way.  Palaeontology is blessed with a myriad of young, dedicated researchers just starting out on their careers and we predict exciting times ahead for Dean and his contemporaries.”

We suspect that Professor Edward Forbes himself, a palaeontologist and ardent supporter of the nascent Palaeontographical Society, would approve of Dean winning the award, after all, Professor Forbes spent much of his life studying the marine biology of the British Isles and he would have been very aware of the Ichthyosaur research undertaken by Conybeare, Georges Cuvier and Richard Owen.

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