Plesiosaur Vertebrae from Lyme Regis

Plesiosaur Vertebrae United!

Having been on the Cumbrian coast last week as the last vestiges of hurricane Gonzalo battered the UK, our thoughts turned to elsewhere in the UK where strong winds and high tides might also be damaging the coastline.  One area we considered to be under particular threat was the Jurassic coast of Dorset.  The cliffs around Lyme Regis are very unstable and adverse weather conditions could lead to further rock falls and mud slides.  Ironically, our chum Brandon Lennon sent us some amazing pictures over the weekend of Plesiosaur dorsal vertebrae that had been found in the Lyme Regis area.  Not only is this fossil specimen very beautiful, but it seems behind every string of articulated vertebrae there is an interesting story…

Whilst visiting Lyme Regis for the Fossil Festival (May 2014), enthusiastic fossil hunter Chris East decided to try his luck and explore the beach west of Lyme Regis (Monmouth).  He found a Birchi nodule with signs of a fossilised bone encased within it.  Birchi nodules are rounded, calcareous concretions that can be found deposited in a thin layer above the shales with beef strata.  They are often associated with fossils, particularly Ammonites such as Microderoceras birchi.  Finding evidence of a bone, he thought it best if this specimen was professionally prepared and cleaned.  A very sensible idea, as once the rock had been cleaned and carefully prepared the nodule was seen to contain a row of beautifully preserved and articulated Plesiosaur vertebrae.

Plesiosaurs were a diverse group of marine reptiles that thrived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous.  There were two main types, the long-necked forms (Plesiosaurs) and the closely related, short-necked forms commonly referred to as Pliosaurs.

An Illustration of a Typical Jurassic Plesiosaur

An Illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

An Illustration of a Plesiosaurus.

Fossils of Plesiosaurs from Lyme Regis are much rarer than Ichthyosaurs, discovering this set of articulated vertebrae is an exceptionally rare find indeed.  Whilst in Lyme Regis earlier this month, Chris took the opportunity to show the vertebrae fossils to local fossil expert Brandon Lennon.  To Chris’s great surprise Brandon, on hearing where the Birchi nodule had been found, was able to add to his specimen.  Fossil expert Brandon, who regularly takes guided fossil walks onto Monmouth beach, had identified some Plesiosaur bones whilst exploring a recent mudslip on Monmouth beach.  Brandon was able to confirm that the isolated bones did come from the same individual Plesiosaur as the bones found by Chris East some months before.

The Plesiosaur Vertebrae Found by Brandon Lennon

Fossil specimen found by Brandon Lennon.

Fossil specimen found by Brandon Lennon.

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

Thanks to one local man’s expertise, the Plesiosaur fossil material was re-united.

The row of Articulated Plesiosaur Vertebrae

A row of 8 Plesiosaur vertebrae with associated ribs fragments.

A row of 8 Plesiosaur vertebrae with associated ribs fragments.

Picture Credit: Brandon Lennon

The beaches around the Dorset town of Lyme Regis can still yield such treasures. Storms over the winter months are likely to expose yet more fossil finds, however, we would urge caution as the frequent rock falls and mudslips from the unstable cliffs coupled with dangerous tides make this part of the coast no place for the inexperienced fossil hunter.  Our best advice is to go on a guided fossil walk with a local expert.  A fossil expert, such as Brandon Lennon, can show visitors the best (and safest) places to find fossils, you never know, you might just find a vertebra or two from a marine reptile.

For information on guided fossil walks: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks

Jurassic World Trailer “Expected December 2014″

Jurassic World Trailer Delayed

Film buffs and dinosaur fans alike have been keen to hear news about the eagerly awaited release of the Jurassic World film trailer.  The movie itself, is scheduled to premier on June 12th 2015 and a number of formats will be available including 3-D and IMAX but rumours circulating indicate that the trailer is being delayed for a few more weeks at least.  Why all the interest in the trailer?  The answer is simple, Universal Pictures and director Colin Trevorrow  have been careful not to disclose any information about the actual prehistoric animals that will feature in the summer 2015 blockbuster, the fourth in the “Jurassic Park” cinema franchise.  So far only stills showing some of the actors and a few carefully managed pics hinting at the prehistoric animals in the film have been released.

The movie moguls are not daft, their intention is to squeeze every last penny out of the film and the merchandising spin-offs.  They know that despite the strong cast list that includes Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Parks and Recreation), Bryce Dallas Howard (Spider Man 3, The Twilight Saga), child actor Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3), it is the dinosaurs that people want to see.  In terms of the Mesozoic cast list, the film makers have been keeping their cards very close to their chests.  However, Everything Dinosaur reported back in June that one of the super-predators to be seen in the film will be “Diablo rex” a mutated dinosaur which had elements of Tyrannosaurs, Velociraptors and the ability to camouflage itself thanks to chromatophores from borrowing the genes extracted from Cephalopods.

To read more about this and see some pics: First Glimpse of the Real Stars of Jurassic World

The official movie poster “Park Opens” shows a tyrannosaur skeleton in outline but film fans were hoping that the trailer would provide them with more information of the real film stars – the dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.

The Official Poster for the Forthcoming Film “Jurassic World”

Jurassic World Poster

Jurassic World Poster

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

Earlier in the summer, Everything Dinosaur posted up pictures of one of the movie props showing the layout of the theme park that is a location for this new dinosaur film.  The prop, which was a map of the attraction, contained an intriguing list of the prehistoric animals that could be viewed at the park.  However, fans are eagerly awaiting the trailer to see if they can get a glimpse of the dinosaurs as they will appear on the silver screen.  It had been planned to launch the trailer to Jurassic World in cinemas at the end of October, accompanying other trailers and advertisements prior to the showing of the Warner Bros movie “Intersteller”.  The trailer, although completed, has been re-scheduled for a December release to accompany the third part in the Hobbit trilogy.  The reason for the delay has been cited as purely a strategic reason.  Jurassic World is currently in post- production and due for global release in June 2015, but the powers that be when it comes to films, know that the longer they can keep the dinosaurs a mystery, the greater the hype there is going to be.

Everything Dinosaur will post up  the trailer when it is available.  All in good time…

Haverigg Primary School Pupils Study the Stone Age

School Pupils Learn All About Mammoths and Woolly Rhinos

Children in Year 3 at Haverigg Primary School were happy to show our dinosaur expert how much they knew about prehistoric animals.  Under the enthusiastic tutelage of the teaching team the children had been studying different parts of human history beginning with the Stone Age.  We were happy to point out how long ago dinosaurs lived before the likes of the Stone Age came along, a simple demonstration using a clapping exercise was a helpful way of illustrating just how deep geological time can be.  With the assistance of some very knowledgeable Year 3 students we explained how fossils form and what types of rock are likely to contain fossils.  In addition, we helped the children gain an appreciation about what fossils can tell us (and perhaps, as importantly), can’t tell us about animals and plants that lived long ago.

The children had created lots of very well labelled posters.  Each class had been split into teams and given the task of researching and writing about a certain type of prehistoric mammal that might have roamed the land now known as the United Kingdom sometime in the past.

Year 3 Children Research Prehistoric Mammals

All about Ice Age animals.

All about Ice Age animals.

Picture Credit: Haverigg Primary/Everything Dinosaur

In addition, we discussed the important role of Mary Anning and her contribution to the nascent science of palaeontology.  We set each class a couple of challenges as part of planned extension activities agreed with the teaching team.  The Everything Dinosaur team members are looking forward to seeing the results.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The children loved showing how much they had learned as they studied this topic.  They also enjoyed the fossil workshop immensely and we look forward to hearing how they have progressed with the extension activities we set after teaching about fossils in school.”

Collecta Announce New Prehistoric Animal Models for 2015

An Exciting Number of New Model Releases from Collecta in 2015.

Everything Dinosaur can exclusively reveal the list of new prehistoric animal models being introduced by Collecta in 2015.  It seems that next year is going to be a bumper year for Collecta with their “prehistoric life” model range.

Here is what Collecta will be bringing out and Everything Dinosaur will be stocking next year.

Medusaceratops (trend for Ceratopsians continues)
Daxiatitan – Chinese Titanosaur
Nasutoceratops (what did we say about Ceratopsians and trends)?
Xiongguanlong (Early Cretaceous tyrannosaur)
1:40 scale Pliosaurus (marine reptiles rock)!
1:40 Acrocanthosaurus (articulated lower jaw)
1:40 Feathered T. rex (articulated lower jaw)
1:4 scale Pterosaur with moving jaw – Guidraco
Moropus (knuckle-walker – Chalicothere)
Deluxe Smilodon
Deluxe Daeodon (vicious Entelodont)
Deluxe Temnodontosaurus (for those who wanted an Ichthyosaur)

More details and of course, pictures will follow soon.  It is Everything Dinosaur’s intention to stock them all.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s current range of Collecta replicas: Collecta Prehistoric Animal Figures

To view the Deluxe (scale model) series: Scale Models from Collecta

Deinocheirus – Done and Dusted (For Now At Least)

Solving the Mystery of “Peculiar Terrible Hand”

Back in November 2013, team members at Everything Dinosaur wrote about of the most intriguing reports to come out of the annual Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology meeting that had just come to an end in Los Angeles.  As the dust settled and the researchers made their way home, here was a chance to reflect on the remarkable work done to help finally resolve a fifty year mystery.  What type of dinosaur was Deinocheirus?

Huge fossilised forelimbs and shoulder bones, discovered by a joint Polish/Mongolian expedition to the Gobi desert in 1965 had fascinated scientists for nearly half a century.  The arms were massive, measuring some 2.6 metres in length (including shoulder blades) and each hand ended in three-fingers, each finger tipped with an enormous, curved claw which in one case was over twenty centimetres long.

Based on these huge arms and a few other scraps of fossil bone, most palaeontologists agreed that the fossils represented a giant form of ornithomimid, a member of the “Bird  Mimic” group of Theropod dinosaurs.  Although the arms were much bigger, they did resemble the arms and hands of agile, fast running ornithomimids such as Struthiomimus and Dromiceiomimus.  A formal announcement was made about the discovery in 1966, and Deinocheirus “Terrible Hand” was described based on this holotype material in 1970.

This was the cue for every dinosaur book publisher to include a picture of the fossil material in virtually every dinosaur book produced in the seventies and eighties, although very few attempts to illustrate the dinosaur were actually made if we recall correctly.

The Holotype Fossils of Deinocheirus (Deinocheirus mirificus)

Fearsome arms of Deinocheirus

Fearsome arms of Deinocheirus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The woman in the photograph is Professor Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska, the scientist who led the 1965 expedition.  Although the limbs have been repositioned and remounted since this picture was taken, it does provide a very good impression of the scale of those fossilised limbs.

Writing in the journal “Nature” the scientists behind the paper presented at the conference last year have revealed more about the “enigma” that is the Ornithomimosaur Deinocheirus mirificus.  Turns out that this bizarre Theropod is even more amazing than previously imagined.  In the journal, the scientists describe two new specimens of Deinocheirus that were discovered in the same formation (Nemegt Formation) as the original holotype material.  These much more complete fossil remains have enabled the researchers which include Phil Currie (University of Alberta), Yuong-Nam Lee and Hang-Jae Lee (Geological Museum, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources) as well as Pascal Godefroit (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences), to build up a comprehensive picture of what this dinosaur looked like, where it lived and what it ate.

A New Interpretation of Deinocheirus (D. mirificus)

A bizarre looking Theropod after all.

A bizarre looking Theropod after all.

Picture Credit: Yuong-Nam Lee/Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources

It is certainly the largest member of the Ornithomimosauria known to science, with an estimated length of around 11 metres, several tonnes in weight and standing about as tall as a modern-day Giraffe, but it was no vicious super predator.  Studies of the feet and hind legs indicate that this animal was probably a slow walker, one with a huge pot belly to boot.  A pot belly?  This dinosaur had an expanded pelvis with strong muscle attachments.  It probably had a large gut to help it digest the tough plant material that it ate.  The skull measures over a metre in length, but there were no teeth in the deep jaws.  Indeed, over a 1,000 gastroliths have been found in association with the fossils, along with fish remains in the body cavity indicating that this animal was probably a mega-omnivore, eating plants, but also insects, small animals and fish.

Deinocheirus lived next to a large river.  Seventy million years ago, this part of Mongolia resembled the Upper Nile.  The broad, wide toes with their blunt claws were ideally suited to assist this animal when walking over soft mud. It probably wandered into the river to feed on soft water plants, to catch the occasional fish and to avoid the attentions of the Tyrannosaur Tarbosaurus.  However, evidence that Tarbosaurus fed on Deinocheirus has been preserved on some of the bones.  Whether or not the bite marks and feeding gouges that have been identified indicate that Tarbosaurus predated on these large bipeds, or whether these marks were made as a result of scavenging a carcase remains unclear.  However, the deep, “U-shaped” wishbone of this dinosaur and those big shoulder bones suggest that this ponderous giant could inflict some serious damage should any unwary tyrannosaurid venture too close to those huge arms.

This dinosaur had a number of unique skeletal features, it had a pygostyle (fused vertebrae on the end of the tail), like a bird and a much thicker tail than its smaller ornithomimid relatives.  Perhaps one of the most intriguing features are the large number of tall neural spines.  The dorsal and sacral vertebrae have flat, blade-like extensions (neural spines).  To us, these spatulate spines resemble the bones seen in the humps of Bison.  Deinocheirus could have had a sail-like structure on its back, or maybe even a large hump.  It has been suggested that the hump, originally reported upon in 2013, could have been exaggerated. These neural spines could have supported a network of ossified tendons to help support this dinosaur’s huge gut and heavy tail.

An Illustration of Deinocheirus (D. mirificus)

A mega-omnivore that had to watch out for Tarbosaurus.

A mega-omnivore that had to watch out for Tarbosaurus.

Picture Credit: Michael Skrepnick

The model making company Collecta introduced a 1:40 scale replica of the mysterious Deinocheirus back in 2012.  At the time, we commended them for bringing out a model of this dinosaur when so very little of the total skeleton had been studied and described.  With the information regarding the hump, we at Everything Dinosaur amended our scale drawing to give an impression of a small hump over the pelvis, but the latest illustrations really emphasis the hump or sail on this animal’s back.  Ironically, Collecta gave their Deinocheirus model feathers, no evidence of feathers on the original holotype material or indeed on the more recently discovered fossils have been found, but it is thought that a number of ornithomimids were indeed, feathered.

An Illustration of the Collecta Deinocheirus Model (2012)

Scientists speculate that Deinocheirus was covered in simple feathers.

Scientists speculate that Deinocheirus was covered in simple feathers.

As lead author of the scientific paper, Yuong-Nam Lee states the researchers were just as surprised as anyone when they put the complete dinosaur together based on the three main specimens that had been found to date.

Yuong-Nam Lee went on to add:

“The discovery of the original specimen almost half a century ago suggested that this was an unusual dinosaur, but did not prepare us for how distinctive Deinocheirus is.  A true cautionary tale in predicting forms from partial skeletons.”

To view Everything Dinosaur’s origin article on this research, published in November 2013: A Helping Hand for Deinocheirus

To view the range of Collecta scale models available including the 1:40 replica of Deinocheirus: Collecta Scale Models of Prehistoric Animals

Prehistoric Times Issue 111 Reviewed

A Review of Prehistoric Times (Issue 111) Autumn 2014

Summer may be over for us in the northern hemisphere and for the UK the clocks go back next week heralding some months when nights are going to be longer than days.  However, perfect fireside reading has arrived in the nick of time, in the shape of the latest edition of the quarterly magazine “Prehistoric Times” and once again it is jam packed with interesting articles, fantastic artwork and features.  Decorating the front cover is a beautiful rendering of a Cretaceous fight scene between an unfortunate Hippodraco (iguanodontid) and a mob of Utahraptors.  This artwork was created by the very talented Julius Csotonyi and inside this issue there is a super interview with the palaeo-artist and a review of his new book “The Palaeoart of Julius Csotonyi” by Julius and Steve White.  Everything Dinosaur team members were sent a copy of this hardback a few months ago, it really is an excellent book showcasing the talents of a remarkable artist.  The interview with Julius conducted by “Prehistoric Times’s” editor Mike Fredericks, is supported by lots of illustrations which show the range of prehistoric animals and time periods covered by Julius in his new publication.  The scene featuring several Late Cretaceous herbivores demonstrating “dietary niche partitioning” is my personal favourite, although my nephew likes the eyeball-plucking raptor best – still that’s kids for you.

The Front Cover Artwork (Prehistoric Times Issue 111)

Prehistoric Times magazine.

Prehistoric Times magazine.

Picture Credit: Prehistoric Times

One of the featured prehistoric animals is Baryonyx and there are oodles (scientific term), of great illustrations sent in by readers on this member of the Spinosauridae and we greatly appreciated the article by Phil Hore on this Theropod.  We too, like Phil, have speculated on how many fossil specimens ascribed to prehistoric crocodiles in the past may well turn out to be evidence of widely dispersed spinosaurids.  Special mention to our chum Fabio Pastori for a simply stunning Baryonyx drawing.

The magazine has a bit of an “English theme” running through it.  Dinosaur discoveries of southern England are documented in another article, which features the artwork of John Sibbick and there is a well written piece by John Lavas that discusses the impact of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lost World”, a novel that we are informed has not been out of print since its publication back in 1912.  Bringing things right up to date, our review of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” is featured, a book which documents and catalogues the Dinosauria known from these shores.

Tracy Ford continues his series on how to draw dinosaurs by discussing integumental coverings – feathers, quills and bristles on the Dinosauria.  He makes some excellent points and it is great to see a piece that features one of our favourite dinosaur discoveries of recent times, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus.  This little feathered, plant-eating dinosaur makes another appearance in the Palaeo News section, along with updates on the Spinosaurus quadruped/bidped debate, giant prehistoric birds, a newly described Archaeopteryx specimen and a short report on Dreadnoughtus schrani .  Dreadnoughtus is important as a large number of bones have been found, helping palaeontologists such as Dr. Kenneth Lacovara (Drexel University), to estimate the body mass of this huge Titanosaur.  This dinosaur discovery adds a whole new dimension to body mass estimations using femora radii.  Everything Dinosaur wrote a short article on this discovery, it was favourably commented upon by the scientists behind the research paper and we basked in the glory of being praised by the researchers (for a few days at least).

To read more about “Prehistoric Times” and to subscribe: Prehistoric Times Magazine

Dan LoRusso is interviewed about his work on the Battat “Terra” model range and there is a special feature on the bizarre, sabre-toothed Thylacosmilus.  The “English” theme is re-visited once again with a fascinating article penned by Allen A. Debus which examines the way palaeontology was depicted in the popular press of the 19th Century, the list of references at the end of this article is especially helpful.  Amongst the many other features and news stories is an interview with Todd Miller, the director of the film all about the controversy surrounding the Tyrannosaurus rex named “Sue”, the thirteenth documented T. rex dinosaur discovery hence the film’s title “Dinosaur 13″.  We had the very great pleasure of meeting Pete Larson in London just a few weeks before the film’s August 15th premier.  Pete chatted about the documentary and Everything Dinosaur did some work on behalf of the media company responsible for the distribution of this excellent film in the UK back in the summer.

Ah well, summer may be over but at least we have another super edition of “Prehistoric Times” to keep us occupied over those long autumn evenings.

Schleich Anhanguera Model Update

Schleich Anhanguera with Articulated Lower Jaw

Thanks to all those dinosaur fans who sent in questions with regards to the new prehistoric animal models being introduced by Schleich in 2015.  Everything Dinosaur team members have responded to all the emails, Tweets and Facebook comments received and we have hopefully, answered the majority of enquiries.  However, to help answer a couple of the more common questions we are posting up this short blog article.

Mini Dinosaurs (Set of 8)

Mini Dinosaurs from Schleich.

Mini Dinosaurs from Schleich.

Picture Credit: Schleich

The mini dinosaurs will be launched in late January 2015.  Although, marketed as a set of 8 dinosaurs, one of the models will be a Pterosaur (Quetzalcoatlus).  The models will range in size from 3cm to about 5.5cm in length.  They are aimed at the collecting market.

Mini Dinosaurs – Name the Prehistoric Animals

Available from Everything Dinosaur in 2015.

Available from Everything Dinosaur in January 2015.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Schleich

One of the questions we have been asked is which prehistoric animals do the models represent?  Here is the answer for you:

  1. Triceratops
  2. Stegosaurus
  3. Velociraptor
  4. Quetzalcoatlus (Pterosaur)
  5. Pentaceratops
  6. Spinosaurus
  7. Tyrannosaurus rex
  8. Saichania

Other new introductions by Schleich for January 2015 are in the World of History model series (larger models from 6cm to around 20cm in length).  These models are the Kentrosaurus and Anhanguera (another Pterosaur).  Yes, we can confirm that the Anhanguera has an articulated lower jaw.

Schleich Anhanguera (articulated lower jaw)

Moveable lower jaw on figure.

Moveable lower jaw on figure.

Picture Credit: Schleich/Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur team members know all about the other Schleich model introductions, but for the time being we are not able to post up these details.  However, expect to hear some interesting and intriguing news about Schleich’s plans for later on in 2015.  Keep checking out this blog site or our Facebook page for additional information.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s existing rang or large Schleich dinosaur models: Schleich World of History Prehistoric Animal Models

Those Plucky Placoderms

Armoured Fish Made a Significant Contribution to Vertebrate Evolution

The Placoderms were a hugely diverse and very successful group of fishes, whilst they lasted. For in terms of this groups’ persistence, in geological terms they make a relative short appearance in the history of life on Earth.  As a group the Placoderms were around for approximately sixty-five million years, not a bad innings but nothing like the longevity of other types of fish such as the sharks, rays and certain Actinistians, the Coelacanth for example.  The Placoderms, or to be more correct, the Class Placodermi first evolved in the Late Silurian and they disappear from the fossil record at the end of the Devonian Period.

Perhaps the most famous Placoderm is the giant predator Dunkleosteus.  Several species are known and with some specimens estimated to have reached lengths of around ten metres or more, at the time, (Dunkleosteus lived towards the end of the Devonian something like 370 – 360 million years ago), this fish would have been one of the largest vertebrates ever to have evolved.

Dunkleosteus – An Illustration

Fearsome marine predator of the Late Devonian.

Fearsome marine predator of the Late Devonian.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Dunkleosteus may have looked like a typical Placoderm with its head and thorax covered in articulated armour plate, but the Placodermi, it turns out are being seen as one of the most important group of vertebrates to have existed  It is not just because they evolved into the likes of Dunkleosteus, regarded by many as the world’s first, vertebrate, super-predator, but this group of armoured fishes seems to have achieved a number of “firsts” in terms of the Chordata (animals with a spine or spine-like structure in their bodies).

Firstly, palaeontologists have found a number of fossils that suggest that early members of the Placodermi were amongst the first types of vertebrate to evolve a jaw.  Recently, Everything Dinosaur wrote a short article about a remarkable fossil discovery form China which reveals some remarkable features: A Jaw Dropping Discovery.

In addition, although the majority of Placoderms seemed to have been poor swimmers, with most of them living close to the bottom, a number of families were active and nektonic, indeed these types of fish were the first to evolve paired pelvic fins, a fishy equivalent of legs, although not connected with the spine.  Paired pelvic fins are an anatomical feature found in most types of extant fish today.

Those plucky Placoderms may have been amongst the first types of animal to develop teeth.  Recently a team of scientists from Australia and Bristol University studying fossilised remains of Placoderms from Western Australia found evidence of the first types of teeth, teeth with a structure very similar to our own.  To read more about this: The Origins of a Toothy Grin

Fossils from the same rocks (Go Go Formation) western Australia gave palaeontologists a remarkable insight into the reproductive strategies of many types of ancient fish.  One species of Placoderm, known from just a single fossil specimen represents the oldest example of a vertebrate capable of giving birth to live young (viviparity). Materpiscis attenboroughi was a small, bottom of the reef dwelling fish whose fossilised remains preserved in a limestone nodule showed evidence of an embryo and an umbilical cord.  This was evidence of internal fertilisation within the fossil record and the oldest known case of viviparity.

Materpiscis attenboroughi – A Remarkable Placoderm

Materpiscus means "Mother Fish".

Materpiscus means “Mother Fish”.

Picture Credit: Museum Victoria

The remarkable Placodermi may have just added another evolutionary “first” to their string of impressive attributes.   A scientific paper published in the journal “Nature” provides details on a fossil discovery that hints at the very first example of copulation amongst vertebrates.  The international team of researchers that led the study into the Antiarch (an-tee-arc) Placoderm called Microbrachius dicki state that this was the earliest animal known from the fossil record to stop reproducing by spawning (external fertilisation).

Professor John Long (Flinders University, South Australia), was the lead author of the academic paper.  The Professor, a renowned expert on Devonian fishes had earlier worked on Materpiscus attenboroughi.  The fossils of M. dicki are relatively common.  This small freshwater Placoderm grew to about ten centimetres in length and lived around 385 million years ago.

Professor Long Explains the Key Points of the Research

Studying Placoderms and other Devonian fish.

Studying Placoderms and other Devonian fish.

Picture Credit: Flinders University

Commenting on the research, Professor Long stated:

“We have defined the very point in evolution where the origin of internal fertilisation in all animals began.  That is a really big step.”

A close inspection of a fossil revealed that one of the Microbrachius specimens had a peculiar “L-shaped” appendage.  Further study revealed that this was the male fish’s genitalia.

The Professor pointed out:

“The male had large bony claspers, These are the grooves that they used to transfer sperm into the female”.

On the other hand, the females had a small bony structure at the rear that helped to lock the male organ in place during mating.  Constrained by the anatomy, the fish probably had to mate side by side, a sort of “square dance position” as described by the researchers.

An Illustration Showing the Proposed Mating Position of M. dicki

Mating "square dance" style.

Mating “square dance” style.

Picture Credit: Flinders University/Nature

However, copulation using this method does not seem to have stayed around for very long in these Devonian fish.  As fish evolved, they reverted back to external fertilisation (spawning), whereby male and females release sperm and eggs respectively into the water and fertilisation relies more on chance.  It took several more millions of years before the ancestors of today’s sharks and rays evolved copulation.

The Placodermi may be most famous for the likes of Dunkleosteus, but scientists are beginning to realise that these strange, armoured fish may have contributed much more to the evolution of the vertebrates than just the first, back-boned  super-predator!

Nosing Around Dinosaurs

New Study Sniffs Out Details of the Pachycephalosaur Nose

A study into the nasal passages conducted by a team of scientists from Ohio University suggests that certain types of dinosaur used their complicated noses to help cool their brains as well as to enhance their ability to smell.  The study, which focused on specimens from the Pachycephalosauridae family (the bone-heads), involved the development of computer models derived from CT scans of fossilised skulls in order to map the airflow in and out of a dinosaur’s snout.  Palaeontologists have known for some time that a number of different types of dinosaur had very complex nasal passages.  The nasal region although mostly associated with breathing (respiration), also plays an important role in helping to define and enhance a creature’s sense of smell.  In addition, the ability to bring in air at an ambient temperature into the skull may have a function in helping the brain to keep cool.  In the Late Cretaceous of North America, Pachycephalosaurs may have had small brains in their heavily armoured skulls but they did not want them to cook inside those thick heads.

A Model of a Typical Member of the Pachycephalosauridae Family

Nosing around the nasal passages of dinosaurs.

Nosing around the nasal passages of dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lead author of the research, which has just been published in the academic journal “The Anatomical Record”, Jason Bourke (Ohio University) states:

“Figuring out what’s going on in their [dinosaurs] complicated snouts is challenging because noses have so many different functions.  It doesn’t help that all the delicate soft tissues rotted away millions of years ago.”

In order to gain an appreciation of the nasal passages of long extinct dinosaurs, the team examined the snouts of extant relatives of the Dinosauria, namely birds, crocodiles and other reptiles including lizards.  The study of fossil skulls of Pachycephalosaurs was supported by lots of dissections, blood-vessel injections to map blood flow as well as CT scans.  The researchers also relied upon computer models that provided a three-dimensional analysis of airflow.

A technique more commonly applied to the study of airflow in the aerospace industry, a technique called computational fluid dynamics was used to better understand how extant animals such as Alligators and Ostriches breathe.

As PhD student Jason Bourke explained:

“Once we got a handle on how animals breathe today, the tricky part was finding a good candidate among the dinosaurs to test our methods.”

The team turned to a family of bird-hipped dinosaurs known as the Pachycephalosaurs, the bone-headed dinosaurs.  These particular dinosaurs were chosen as a number of specimens were readily available to study in the United States/Canada and skulls attributed to several genera were known.   The thick skulls with their ornamentation may have been used  by these relatively small dinosaurs for head-butting or visual displays.  The skull bones, some of which are several inches thick, has helped to preserve details of the nasal passages which the scientists were able to map and analyse in great detail.

Getting Up a Dinosaur’s Nose

Airflow in the nasal passages in the Pachycephalosaur Stegosaurus validum is mapped.

Airflow in the nasal passages in the Pachycephalosaur Stegoceras validum is mapped.

Picture Credit: Ohio University/The Anatomical Record

One Pachycephalosaur that was studied was Stegoceras (S. validum) and the researchers were able to show that some of the airflow that they mapped would have carried odours to the olfactory region, helping to improve this dinosaur’s sense of smell.  In addition, the team tried to piece together the shape of the nasal concha, otherwise known as the turbinates, that help to direct and manage airflow through the nasal passage.  This small bone, superficially resembles a sea shell (hence the name) and the fossil evidence supports the presence of such a bone but it is not found in the Dinosauria fossil record (as far as we at Everything Dinosaur know).  As the researchers point out, there is the bony ridge preserved on Pachycephalosaur skulls that indicate its presence and when airflow models were created, the best and most efficient ones produced included a turbinate structure within the model.

Commenting on the research results, Jason Bourke stated:

“We don’t really know what the exact shape of the respiratory turbinate was in Stegoceras, but we know that some kind of baffle had to be there.”

Study co-author Ruger Porter (Ohio University), pointed out that turbinates may well direct air to the olfactory region, but they might have also played another critical role, helping to cool the brain or at least helping to conserve moisture that might have been lost during exhalation.

Porter pointed out:

“The fossil evidence suggests that Stegoceras was basically similar to an Ostrich or an Alligator.  Hot arterial blood from the body was cooled as it passed over the respiratory turbinates and then that cooled venous blood returned to the brain.”

Whether this new research supports the theory that these dinosaurs were warm-blooded (endothermic) is being debated, but it does suggest there was more going on within dinosaur’s noses than scientists had previously thought.  It is hoped that the research team will be able to apply their analytical methods to other types of dinosaur such as the Thyreophora (armoured dinosaurs), known for their notoriously complex nasal passages.  This research may also provide answers to the questions concerning the bizarre shape of many crests found in Lambeosaurine dinosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs).

Still Time to Enter Everything Dinosaur’s Book Competition

Competition Time – Win a Signed Copy of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

Calling all dinosaur fans and those who appreciate prehistoric animals and palaeontology.  There is still time to enter Everything Dinosaur’s fantastic competition to win a signed copy of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”, a super compendium of British dinosaur discoveries written by Dean Lomax and Nobumichi Tamura.

A Chance to Win “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

A comprehensive guide to British dinosaurs over 400 pages.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

This unique publication catalogues all the major dinosaur fossil discoveries from the British Isles.  With a foreward from Dr. Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum (London), Dean and his fellow author Nobumichi Tamura provide a comprehensive account on the dinosaurs of the entire British Isles.  It really is a most informative read.

How to Enter the Everything Dinosaur Competition

Our competition is this, if you were to discover a new species of dinosaur in the British Isles – what name would you give it?  We want you to come up with a name for a new British dinosaur!

To enter our “name a British dinosaur” competition, for a chance to win this truly amazing account of the dinosaurs of the British Isles, all you have to do is “Like” Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page, then leave a comment with your suggested name for a new British dinosaur on the picture of the front cover of  the book (shown above).

Click the logo to visit our Facebook page and to give our page a "like".

Click the logo to visit our Facebook page and to give our page a “like”.

Everything Dinosaur’s FACEBOOK page: “LIKE” Our Facebook Page and Enter Competition

We will draw the lucky winner at random and the British dinosaur name competition closes on 31st October.  Good luck to everyone who enters!

Terms and Conditions of Name a British Dinosaur Competition from Everything Dinosaur

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

Only one entry per person.

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

The Everything Dinosaur name a British dinosaur competition runs until Friday, October 31st 2014.

Winner will be notified by email or private message on Facebook.

Prize includes packing and postage.

For full terms and conditions simply email us: Contact Us

To read Everything Dinosaur’s Review of “Dinosaurs of the British Isles”: “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” Reviewed

Can’t wait to get hold of this book!  ”Dinosaurs of the British Isles” can be ordered direct from Siri Scientific Press: Visit Siri Scientific Press

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