Dinosaur Extinction – A Perfect Storm

Bad Luck and Bad Timing for the Dinosaurs

A new collaborative study looking at the dinosaur fossil record from the Upper Cretaceous of North America suggests that if the extraterrestrial impact event had occurred a few million years before or after it actually hit, life on Earth could be very different today.  Dinosaurs could well be still roaming around.  If the Dinosauria (with the exception of the birds), had not gone extinct, then it could be argued that many of the families of mammals so familiar to us today may not have evolved.  The evolution of the primates, and indeed, our own species, might not ever have happened.

Unlucky Dinosaurs Sixty-six Million Years Ago?

Cataclysmic impact event.

Cataclysmic impact event.

Picture Credit: Don Davis (commissioned by NASA)

Similar studies into the extinction event that took place approximately 66 million years ago have been carried out before, however, this new research, published in the latest edition of the academic journal “Biological Reviews” and led by the University of Edinburgh, focused on examining an updated catalogue of North American dinosaur fossils, in a bid to understand how well the Order Dinosauria was doing in terms of species diversity at around the time of the impact event.

Previous studies, examining the number of different dinosaur species and genera preserved in Upper Cretaceous strata such as the Hell Creek Formation of the western United States, have showed that the number of different types of dinosaur fossils found declines in rocks that mark the time period towards the end of the Cretaceous.  A lack of diversity in an ecosystem, or the dominance of one particular type of creature, can make such ecosystems vulnerable to sudden and dramatic changes that ultimately lead to an extinction.  The research team, drawn from a number of universities and museums, conclude that prior to the impact event, our planet was experiencing dramatic environmental upheaval.  Changing sea levels, fluctuating global temperatures and enormous amounts of volcanic activity were all happening.  Many groups of animals and plants were under stress and the devastating impact from a six-mile-wide space rock provided the final “coup de grâce” that finished off the dinosaurs.

Soon to Become Extinct

Triceratops was one of the last dinosaurs to evolve.

Triceratops was one of the last dinosaurs to evolve.

Picture Credit: Julius Csotonyi

The research team which includes scientists from Edinburgh University, Birmingham University, Imperial College (London), Oxford University, University College (London) and Baylor University (Waco, Texas) suggest that the dinosaurs’ food chain was threatened by a lack of diversity amongst large herbivorous dinosaurs.  The lack of diversity, much of North America was dominated by a handful of plant-eating types of Ornithischian dinosaur, created a “perfect storm” and the vulnerable Dinosauria was unable to recover from the extraterrestrial strike and its aftermath.

Everything Dinosaur team members have provided a number of teaching resources to schools that help to explain extinction events.  To read an article specially prepared for use in schools at Key Stage 2 and 3 about the Cretaceous mass extinction event: Dinosaur Extinction Event – Providing Teaching Resources for Schools

Environmental change, even dramatic global events such as an asteroid impact can in fact provide a stimulus to evolution.  Earlier extraterrestrial impacts which at first caused devastation may actually have acted as catalysts helping certain types of life to flourish.  It can be argued that once the dinosaurs became extinct, the Mammalia were able to rapidly diversify and exploit the niches left vacant by the demise of the Dinosauria, back in 2010, Everything Dinosaur reported on a scientific paper that suggested that earlier cataclysmic events and significantly benefited life on Earth.

To read this article: Extraterrestrial Impact Led to Palaeozoic Explosion of Life

Dr. Steve Brusatte (School of GeoSciences at Edinburgh University) commented:

“Five million years earlier dinosaur ecosystems were much stronger, they were more diverse, the base of the food chain was more robust and it was harder to knock out a lot of species.  If they had a few million years more to recover their diversity they would have had a better chance of surviving the asteroid impact.  Dinosaurs had been around for 160 million years, they had plenty of dips and troughs in their diversity but they always recovered.”

A number of mass extinction events have been identified in the fossil record.  Such mass extinctions ultimately led to a change in direction for life on Earth, permitting new types of organism to evolve.

A Table Showing the Major Extinction Events of the Phanerozoic Eon

Mass Extinction in Summary

Table Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The research team hope to extend their study by taking into account vertebrate fossil data from Upper Cretaceous sediments that have been examined in China and Spain.  This will help the scientists to formulate a global picture.  Naturally, with such academic papers, there is always speculation as to whether or not the dinosaurs would have survived until the present day.  Some speculators go further and ask the question would the dinosaurs have evolved greater intelligence, perhaps evolving into the reptilian equivalents of primates and eventually into a form of humanoid dinosaur – a dinosauroid?

Could the Earth Have Been Dominated by “Intelligent Dinosaurs”?

What intelligent life on Earth might have looked like if the dinosaurs had not become extinct.

What intelligent life on Earth might have looked like if the dinosaurs had not become extinct.

Picture Credit: Boxtree

Dr. Brusatte speculates that the Dinosauria could well have survived and that non-avian dinosaurs could make up a significant proportion of the fauna today, whilst other scientists, including a number who worked on this study remain less sure.

For example, Dr. Richard Butler (Birmingham University) stated:

“We can’t re-run the tape of life and see whether an impact at a different time would have led to total extinction.  But it [extraterrestrial impact event] did come at a particularly bad time.”

Prehistoric Times Issue 110 Reviewed

A Review of the Summer 2014 Edition of Prehistoric Times Magazine

Featured on the front cover of issue 110 is a fantastic sculpture of an Giganotosaurus by the highly talented prehistoric animal sculptor Galileo Hernandez Nunez and inside the magazine, editor Mike Fredericks conducts an in depth interview with the Mexican artist and some of his amazing work is showcased.  Nice to hear that señor Hernandez loves the English language, his English is obviously much better than our Spanish.  During the interview, what inspires him is discussed as well as his influences and he makes some very interesting points about the future of palaeo-sculpture with the advent of affordable three-dimensional printers.  The theme of 3-D printing is taken up by Mike Eischen in a special feature on digital dinosaurs.

The Front Cover of Prehistoric Times Magazine (110)

Giganotosaurus on the front cover.

Giganotosaurus on the front cover.

Picture Credit: Mike Fredericks

Fans of prehistoric snakes will be delighted to hear that Titanoboa (T. cerrejonensis) and other massive serpents are featured in the magazine.

The description of this enormous snake certainly captured imaginations when it was first described over five years ago now.  Phil Hore does a splendid job writing about the multitude of “twenty footers plus” that have left traces of their existence preserved in the fossil record.  Our article on the discovery of Titanoboa remains one of the most popular news stories that we have covered on this blog site.

To read an article on the discovery of Titanoboa: Huge Prehistoric Snake from Columbia

Phil is also responsible for producing the article on the early representative of the Centrosaurine horned dinosaurs “Devil Horned Face” – Diabloceratops and once again the article is very informative and accompanied with lots of reader submitted artwork.  Reports on visits to a number of dinosaur exhibits, museums and attractions are provided including an article about the Der Sauiermuseum in Switzerland, an establishment that we at Everything Dinosaur know very well.

The magazine is also packed full of information for model makers, book reviews and news stories, we especially like the feature by Robert Telleria on dinosaur calendars and the hints and tips on prehistoric dioramas written by Fred M. Snyder.

Once again a very well written and produced magazine for the dinosaur enthusiast.

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

To conclude this brief review, we ought to give a special mention to Tracy Lee Ford, who tackles the eye-opening topic of palpebral bones in Ornithischian dinosaurs.  The palpebral is a small bone found in the region of the eye socket in certain groups of animals such as monitor lizards and eagles (Everything Dinosaur team members think crocodilians have them too).  It is also found in the fossil record in marine reptiles and Ornithischian dinosaurs but not as far as we are aware in the Saurischia.  The function of this bone remains a bit of a mystery.  It can be pointed, prong-like or curved and Tracy Lee Ford covers how this anatomical feature would alter the appearance of a dinosaur such as an iguanodontid.  Dinosaurs with scowls and fierce looking expressions indeed.

A Video Review of the Collecta Arsinoitherium Model

Collecta 1:20 Scale Deluxe Arsinoitherium Reviewed

Another day and another video review to post up onto the Everything Dinosaur blog, this time a video review of the Collecta Deluxe 1:20 scale model of Arsinoitherium.  One of the most bizarre-looking mammals that ever existed, if team members at Everything Dinosaur were asked to sum up this huge, plant-eater in one sentence, something like “here was a distant relative of elephants, that looked a bit like a rhinoceros and probably lived a bit like a hippopotamus”, would probably be appropriate.

The Collecta Arsinoitherium Model Reviewed

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The video runs for seven minutes and in the video we review this model, assign a species name to it and discuss what the fossil record tells us about these ancient creatures that roamed what was to become Egypt around thirty million years ago.  We even suggest some uses for those enormous horns that grew out of the skull.  The Arsinoitheres died out during the Mid Oligocene epoch and there is not a single species of animal alive today that is directly descended from this group, which is a shame.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta Deluxe models, including Arsinoitherium: Collecta Deluxe Models

Did All Dinosaurs Have Feathers?

Kulindadromeus Discovery Gets Palaeontologists into a Flap

The embargo has been lifted and we can now talk about the amazing new fossil discovery from Siberia, details of which has just been published in the academic journal “Science”.  News of the discovery of the first ever plant-eating dinosaur with feathers as well as scales has been announced.  So what does this mean?  Feathered dinosaurs have been discovered before right?  True, but and it is a big “but“, feathers have only been associated with one group of dinosaurs up until now, the Theropods, the group of dinosaurs most closely related to birds.

The dinosaur has been named Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus and at just over a metre in length, it is not going to be breaking any size records when it comes to extinct prehistoric animals.  Indeed, if we had the technology to travel back 175 million years or so, to the area surrounding what was to become the Siberian city of Chita, this little dinosaur would have probably gone almost unnoticed.  However, the publication of this long-awaited scientific paper is very important and over the next few paragraphs we will try to put this fossil discovery into perspective.

The Order Dinosauria (the dinosaurs) can be split into two distinct groups based on the structure and position of their hip bones.  These two sub-divisions are the Ornithischia (bird-hipped dinosaurs) and the Saurischia (lizard-hipped dinosaurs).  Those Theropods many of whom were feathered, belong to the Saurischians.   The Siberian fossils show that a member of the Ornithischian group also had feathers.

Feathers Amongst the Dinosauria

Ornithischians had feathers too.

Ornithischians had feathers too.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the dinosaurs split into two groups, on one side of the dinosaur family tree are the lizard-hipped dinosaurs, the long-necked Sauropods and the Theropods, those mainly meat-eating dinosaurs who are the closest related to birds (Aves).  The other part of the Dinosauria consists of the bird-hipped Ornithischians, an almost entirely vegetarian group consisting of the horned dinosaurs, duck-bills, armoured dinosaurs and such like.  Kulindadromeus, described as a neoornithischian dinosaur and definitely amongst the bird-hipped dinosaurs, shows that other types of dinosaurs, not just the Theropods had feathers too.

The terms “bird-hipped” and “lizard-hipped” can be a little confusing, especially when we are trying to identify the ancestors of birds.  These terms were first coined by Henry Govier Seeley in 1887.  He divided the dinosaurs into two groups, based on the fact that all the dinosaurs known at the time (and the majority of dinosaurs discovered to date for that matter), had a pelvis that followed one of two distinctive shapes.  There was a bird-like pelvis, where the pubis bone points backwards and the lizard-hipped configuration where the pubis bone points forward.  It is the lizard-hipped dinosaurs,the Theropoda, that are most closely related to the Aves and indeed one group of Theropods, the Maniraptorans that are the direct ancestors of today’s birds.

Classifying the Dinosauria

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Classifying dinosaurs by the shape of their hip bones.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Back in 2010, a scientific team led by Sofia Sinitsa, a geologist at the Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology from the Siberian city of Chita, explored some highly fossiliferous strata located in the nearby Kulinda valley.  The site represented a low energy depositional environment with freshwater crustaceans, insect larvae and plant fossils.  The strata was laid down by the edge of a large lake, evidence of ash in the layers of rock indicated that there were volcanoes in the neighbourhood too.  Fragmentary fossils indicating the presence of small dinosaurs were also discovered but their poor state of preservation led the scientists to focus on other fossil material.  Expeditions to the same locality found more fossils of dinosaurs over the next two summers and as a result, Pascal Godefroit, a palaeontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels) was contacted along with other scientists as the implications of the discovery began to dawn on the Russian team.

Dr. Godefroit commented:

“We were completely shocked by the discoveries.”

Pictures from the Dig Site and Some of the Fossil Material Collected

A vast amount of fossil material was collected.

A vast amount of fossil material was collected.

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

Bristle-like and brush-like structures had been identified in a number of Cretaceous species of Ornithischian dinosaur, most notably in dinosaurs such as Psittacosaurus and Tianyulong, but these quills, brushes and bristles have been described by researchers as representing the very earliest development stage of feathers, what scientists call proto-feathers.

To read an article by Everything Dinosaur on the evidence of quills and bristles in later Ornithischian dinosaurs:

Evidence of feathers in psittacosaurids: Upsetting the Apple Cart

The scientists claim that these new fossils differ from the the bristle-like structures found in much later Ornithischian dinosaurs as they have complex, multi-filamented structures typical of the feathers associated with the Theropoda.

Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus (pronounced Cul-lin-dah-dro-me-us zah-bay-cal-lik-us) had been named after the Kulinda valley locality and from the Greek “dromeus”, which means runner.  The trivial name honours the Zabaikal krai region of Siberia in which the Kulinda valley can be found.

An Illustration of Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus

Feathered dinosaur down amongst the horsetails.

Feathered dinosaur down amongst the horsetails.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin

Dated to around 175 to 160 million years ago (Aalenian to Early Callovian of the Mid Jurassic), this one metre long plant-eater had filamentous structures covering most of its body, including its head, neck and chest.  The more complex feather-like structures are confined to the upper arms and upper legs, an arrangement found in a number of fossils of small Theropod dinosaurs excavated from Cretaceous strata in the famous Lioaning Province of north-eastern China.

Explaining the significance of this discovery, Dr. Godefroit stated:

“For the first time we found more complex, compound structures together with simpler hair-like structures in a plant-eating dinosaur that really resemble the proto-feathers in advanced meat-eaters”.

Multiple Filamentous Structures Associated with the Femur (Thigh Bone)

Complex feather-like structures on the thigh

Complex feather-like structures on the thigh

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences/ Dr. Pascal Godefroit

The scientists are confident that these little, fast-running creatures could not fly, so why evolve feathers then?  The answer is quite simple, feathers first evolved for other purposes and they only became adapted for flight much later.  These feathers probably helped to keep these small animals insulated and warm.  This suggests that contrary to popular opinion, most dinosaurs were endothermic (warm-blooded  like mammals and birds) and not cold-blooded like today’s reptiles.  The longer, more complex feather structures may have had some role in display and visual communication.  In total, at least six fossil skulls have been found along with a large number of fossilised bones from many individuals and lots of different growth stages have been recognised.  The abundance of fossil material will give the palaeontologists the chance to study how feathers changed as animals grew and matured.

If this neoornithischian had complex feathers then this also throws up an intriguing set of possibilities.  The common ancestor of both the Ornithischian and Saurischian dinosaurs could have been feathered, or perhaps, feathers evolved in different types of dinosaur, an example of convergent evolution.

Chinese palaeontologist Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (Beijing), someone who has intensively studied the Lioaning feathered dinosaurs commented:

“The finds are a fantastic discovery”.

However, he warns against getting too carried away, stating that the fossils are too fragmentary to be certain that the more complex feathery structures actually correspond to those found later in birds.  We suspect that further research is going to be carried out into the nature of these branched integumentary structures, before palaeontologists will agree that feather-like structures were widespread amongst the Dinosauria.

One of the co-authors of the scientific paper, Professor Danielle Dhouailly from the Université Joseph Fourier in La Tronche (France ), has been examining these ancient structures and comparing them to the down and feathers found in modern birds.  The lake sediments also preserved scales, so scientists now have evidence that both scales and feathers could be found on individual dinosaurs.  In addition, scientists now know that the leg scales found in modern birds are essentially aborted feathers.

The Ancient Lake Sediments Preserved Evidence of Scales

Fossilised bone (sandy colour) surrounded by evidence of small scales on the foot.

Fossilised bone (sandy colour) surrounded by evidence of small scales on the foot.

Picture Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences/ Dr. Pascal Godefroit

Professor Dhouailly added:

“Developmental experiments in modern chickens suggest that  avian  scales are aborted feathers, an idea that explains why birds have scaly legs.  The astonishing discovery is that the molecular mechanisms needed for this switch might have been so clearly related to the appearance of the first feathers in the earliest dinosaurs”.

There is more research to be done, but this discovery has potentially huge implications for our view of the Dinosauria.  Ironically, back in the beginning of 2014, Everything Dinosaur team members were asked to predict what news stories might occur over the year and they did predict that a discovery regarding feathered Ornithischian dinosaurs would be announced.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s full list of 2014 predictions: 2014 Palaeontology Predictions

Team members congratulate all those involved in this exciting fossil discovery and the subsequent research.

Young Palaeontologists Design Dinosaur T-shirts

Competition Winners Receive Their Dinosaur T-Shirts

A very big thank you to the many clever, creative fans of all things Cretaceous who entered Everything Dinosaur’s design your own dinosaur themed T-shirt competition.  We had no idea how powerful social media could be and thanks to all our friends on Facebook, Twitter followers and such like we were inundated with entries.

Our idea was simple, if Everything Dinosaur team members having put down their geological hammers and magnifying glasses, were working on some ideas for a range of children’s tees with a prehistoric animal theme, why not, just for a bit of fun, give budding young palaeontologists a go too.  So we posted up on our Facebook page, Blog, Twitter etc. information about the competition and offered as a prize the winning design being made up into a T-shirt – a sort of “dinosaur designer label” that would be unique to our contest winner.

We had freakish flying reptiles, cute baby dinosaurs, marauding marine monsters, Triassic terrors – all sorts of amazing drawings and pictures sent into us from all over the world.  Fortunately, those clever primates from Shirt Monkey, the direct to garment T-shirt design specialists with whom Everything Dinosaur has been working with on this project, were able to help out and after much deliberation a winning design was chosen.

One of the Many Dinosaur Themed T-Shirt Designs Received

Great  volcano design - thanks Mariread

Great volcano design – thanks Mairead (age 10)

Picture Credit: Mairead (thanks Carol [mum])

The competition was won by 12 year-old Holly who lives in France.  The winning design showed a huge dinosaur foot crushing a tea cup with the caption “T (tea) Wrecks”.  Holly’s mum contacted Everything Dinosaur and asked whether two “unique” tees could be made up as Harri, Holly’s younger sister, wanted one as well.

Holly and Harri Show Off their Winning T-Shirts

"Tea wrecks T-shirts"

“Tea wrecks T-shirts”

Sue Judd from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is the first time that we have involved our social media following in a new product range launch such as this.  We had competition entries from all over the world and in addition, we got some amazing feedback as we posted up some of our own T-shirt designs and ideas.  It’s been a real consultation process and we are grateful for all the advice and feedback received.”

Holly’s Winning T-Shirt Design Coming off the Production Line

The winning design comes off the production line.

The winning design comes off the production line.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Shirt Monkey

Holly wants to be a palaeontologist when she is older, with a new dinosaur species being named every 20-30 days or so there are going to be a lot of new dinosaurs for Holly to study.

The Completed T-Shirt “Tea Wrecks” Ready for Shipping

A giant T. rex foot about to wreck an enormous tea cup.

A giant T. rex foot about to wreck an enormous tea cup.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Shirt Monkey

The first three dinosaur themed T-shirts from Everything Dinosaur are going into production next week, and should be up on line at Dinosaur Themed Clothing very shortly.

A Trio of Dinosaur Themed Tees

The first of the dinosaur themed T-shirts from Everything Dinosaur.

The first of the dinosaur themed T-shirts from Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur/Shirt Monkey

The 100% cotton T-shirts will be available in size ranges from 3-4 years up to age 9 to 11 and at each stage of the design process Everything Dinosaur consulted with its Facebook fans and social media followers to seek advice and approval for the work being done.  The use of social media has provided the company with yet more channels to build up two-way communication with its customers and fans.

To visit those clever T-shirt specialists at Shirt Monkey: Direct to Garment Specialists Shirt Monkey

Collecta Carcharodontosaurus – A Video Review

Collecta Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus Dinosaur Model Reviewed (Video)

With a new batch of Collecta Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus dinosaur models newly installed into our warehouse, it was time to make a brief video review of this dinosaur model.  Introduced  by Collecta in 2014, in the company’s Deluxe range of scale models of prehistoric animals, this replica of potentially one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs that ever lived, has proved to be a big hit.  In this short video (seven minutes and twenty-two seconds), team members at Everything Dinosaur discuss the model in detail and provide information on the fossil discoveries made in Africa.

Everything Dinosaur’s Video Review of the Collecta Carcharodontosaurus

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In this video we hint at the role that the sea may have played in the evolution of carcharodontosaurids and their eventual extinction.  A blog article has been prepared which provides further information on this theory.

To read the blog article: The Evolution and Extinction of the African Carcharodontosauridae

To view Carcharodontosaurus and other Collecta scale models available at Everything Dinosaur: Collecta Deluxe Scale Prehistoric Animal Models

This dinosaur genus provides and exemplar for the way in which study of the Dinosauria has progressed in the last decade or so.  The genus was erected in 1931 and it had one species assigned to it.  However, fossil discoveries in the late 1990′s led to the description of a second species (Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis).  This new species was announced just seven years ago.  It is likely that more species of carcharodontosaurid dinosaur (and abelisaurid, for that matter), will be discovered in Africa.

Look out for more news on the “shark toothed lizards”.

In the meantime, check out Everything Dinosaur’s article on the announcement of the second species of Carcharodontosaurus species from 2007: New Giant African Meat-Eater

Evolution and Extinction of the African Carcharodontosauridae

“Shark Toothed Lizard” – The Rise and Fall of Carcharodontosaurus

The Carcharodontosaurus genus currently consists of two species, the first of which Carcharodontosaurus saharicus  (originally called Megalosaurus saharicus), is known from fossil material found in North Africa.  The second species, named and described in 2007, was erected following fossil finds, including skull material from the Echkar Formation of Niger, this species is known as C. iguidensis.  Although both species are known from fragmentary material and a few isolated teeth, differences in the shape of the upper jaw and the structure of the brain case enabled scientists to confidently establish Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis as a second, distinct species.

An Illustration of a Typical Carcharodontosaurid Dinosaur

Fearsome "Shark Lizard"

Fearsome “Shark Lizard”

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Carcharodontosaurus means “shark-toothed lizard”,  a reference to the fact that the teeth of this huge carnivore, reminded scientists of the teeth of sharks belonging to the Carcharodon genus of sharks, such as the teeth of the Great White Shark (C. carcharias).  It is ironic that this terrestrial predator should be named after a marine carnivore, as changing sea levels very probably influenced the evolution of these dinosaurs and may have ultimately led to their extinction, at least from Africa.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta dinosaur models including a 1:40 scale Deluxe Carcharodontosaurus: Collecta Scale Dinosaur Models

Pronounced - Car-car-oh-dont-toe-sore-us, the oldest dinosaur currently assigned to the Carcharodontosauridae family is Veterupristisaurus (Vet-ter-roo-pris-tee-sore-us).  This dinosaur was named and described in 2011, although the fossil material was discovered over seventy-five years ago.   The fossils come from the famous Tendaguru Formation of Tanzania, it lived during the Late Jurassic and the trivial name V. milneri honours the now retired Angela Milner who worked at the Natural History Museum (London).

Carcharodontosaurus lived during the Cretaceous (Late Albian to mid Cenomanian faunal stages).  During this time, the great, southern super-continent called Gondwanaland continued to break up and as sea levels rose, so populations of dinosaurs became separated by the inflow of sea water.

Rising Sea Levels Influence Dinosaur Evolution

Rising sea levels but off dinosaur populations.

Rising sea levels cut off dinosaur populations.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Communities became isolated and this may have provided a boost to the evolution of new species.  The map shows the approximate location of fossil material associated with C. saharicus and C. iguidensis.  Populations of carcharodontosaurids may have become cut-off from each other and this gave rise to new species of Carcharodontosaurus.  This may help to explain the abundance of super-sized predators that lived in this part of the world during the Cretaceous.  Both species of Carcharodontosaurus shared a common ancestor, but their separation led to the evolution of two, distinct species.  This natural process is called allopatric speciation.

Sadly for the mega fauna that inhabited the coastal swamps and verdant flood plains of North Africa, rising sea levels in the later stages of the Cenomanian led to the destruction of much of this habitat.  The loss of habitat probably led to the demise of the ecosystem and the vulnerable apex predators such as the carcharodontosaurids and the spinosaurids became extinct.

To read an article on the discovery of C. iguidensisNew Giant Meat-Eating Dinosaur from Africa

Brain of World’s First Super Predator Studied

Brain Provides Clue to the Descendants of the Cambrian Anomalocaridid Lyrarapax unguispinus

An international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Arizona have identified and mapped the brain in an anomalocaridid that swam in the ancient seas that existed in the Cambrian geological period.  Their study of the brain of this twelve centimetre long predator provides clues as to the taxonomic relationship that this extinct group has to extant members of the Animalia Kingdom.  In addition, the remarkably well preserved fossil that is around 520 million years old, suggests that the brains of the anomalocaridids were relatively simple, the brains of their prey were, in many cases more complex.  This leads to the intriguing thought that the evolution of apex predators could have given a boost to the evolution of better senses and ultimately bigger and more sophisticated brains.

The scientific paper, published in the journal “Nature” describes for the first time, the brain of an anomalocaridid, a group of extinct, early members of the Arthropoda that evolved into the first group of animal super-predators known in the fossil record.  The largest specimens of Anomalocaris measure around a metre in length and it is now known that this group of nektonic predators survived into the Ordovician.

An Illustration of a Typical Anomalocaridid

The Terror of the Trilobites - Anomalocaris

The Terror of the Trilobites – Anomalocaris

Picture Credit:  BBC Worldwide/Framestore

An extensive analysis of the beautifully preserved fossils of a new to science, species of anomalocaridid predator discovered in Yunnan Province (China), suggests that these creatures have an affinity with the bizarre velvet worms (Onychophorans).  These strange little creatures are found in the southern hemisphere and they are classed in the taxon Panarthropoda.  Unlike true Arthropods these creatures do not have an exoskeleton and they live in the undergrowth and leaf litter feeding on smaller animals such as insects and mites.

An Illustration of a Velvet Worm (Peripatus)

Peripatus - creatures like this may have been the first to walk on land.

Peripatus – creatures like this may have been the first to walk on land.

Picture Credit: BBC

The fossil material comes from the famous Chengjiang Formation (Yunnan Province), which rivals the Burgess Shale of British Columbia in terms of the variety of Cambrian fauna that is preserved.  First explored by Chinese palaeontologists in 1984, the members that make up this part of the Chengjiang Formation have preserved in exquisite detail ancient marine creatures.  The degree of fossil preservation is so good that even internal structures such as nervous systems can be studied.

One of the Fossils of the Newly Described L. unguispinus Showing Brain Morphology

This photograph and corresponding drawing show the flattened, fossilized trace of the brain of the world's earliest known predator; the X-like structure in the head denotes the fossilised brain.

This photograph and corresponding drawing show the flattened, fossilised trace of the brain of the world’s earliest known predator; the X-like structure in the head denotes the fossilised brain.

Picture Credit: University of Arizona

The “X-shaped” structure seen clearly in the line drawing interpretation of the fossil denotes the fossilised brain.  Two dark round spots represent the optic ganglia with nerves that lead from the eye-stalks into the head.  The smaller, almond-shaped areas just in front would have supported the creature’s grasping appendage.  The main brain region is in front of the mouth, giving rise to two nerve cords leading down along the animal.

Commenting on the research, lead author of the scientific paper, professor Nicholas Strausfeld (Director of Arizona University’s Centre for Insect Research) stated:

“It turns out the top predator of the Cambrian had a brain that was much less complex than that of some of its possible prey and that it looked surprisingly similar to a modern group of rather modest worm-like animals.”

The new species has been named Lyrarapax unguispinus, this translates from the Latin to mean “spiny clawed lyre shaped predator”.  It is likely that this creature was an active predator hunting other invertebrates and perhaps preying on the recently evolved primitive, jawless vertebrates, the fore-runners of the first fish.

Lyrarapax Attacks a Shoal of Primitive Fish

Artist's impression of Lyararapax, one of the species of the world's first predators, the anomalocaridids, chasing its possible prey, primitive fishes that also existed in the Lower Cambrian

Artist’s impression of Lyrarapax, one of the species of the world’s first predators, the anomalocaridids, chasing its possible prey, primitive fishes that also existed in the Cambrian

Picture Credit: Professor Nicholas Strausfeld/University of Arizona

Professor Strausfeld and his colleagues have made some remarkable discoveries amongst the Chengjiang biota, back in the autumn of 2013, Everything Dinosaur reported on the mapping of the brain and nervous system of a Cambrian Arthropod, fossils of which had been recovered from the same location as the Lyrarapax fossil material.

To read more about this remarkable discovery: Mapping the Ancient Brains and Nervous Systems of Cambrian Arthropods

By examining in minute detail the brain morphology of this long extinct species, the scientists were able to compare the neuroanatomy with extant velvet worms (Onychophorans).  The terrestrial velvet worm, such as Peripatus, has a simple brain located at the front of the mouth and a pair of ganglia, a group of nerve cells, located in the front part of the optic nerve and at the base of long, sensory feelers.

The anomalocaridid fossil resembles the neuroanatomy of today’s Onychophorans (velvet worms) in several ways, according to Strausfeld and his collaborators. Onychophorans have a simple brain located in front of the mouth and a pair of ganglia – a collection of nerve cells – located in the front of the optic nerve and at the base of their long feelers.  Anomalocaridids do not have these feelers, but they do have a pair of grasping claws extending out from the front of their heads.

Professor Strausfeld explained:

“Surprise, surprise, that is what we also found in our fossil.  These top predators in the Cambrian are defined by just their single pair of appendages, these wicked-looking graspers, extending out from the front of their head.  These are totally different from the antennae of insects and crustaceans.  Such frontally disposed appendages are not found in any other living animals with the exception of the velvet worms.”

Study Suggests Velvet Worms are Descended from Anomalocaridids

A side-by-side comparison reveals the similarity between the brain of a living Onychophoran (green) and that of the anomalocaridid fossil Lyrarapax unguispinus (grey)

A side-by-side comparison reveals the similarity between the brain of a living Onychophoran (green) and that of the anomalocaridid fossil Lyrarapax unguispinus (grey)

Picture Credit: Professor Nicholas Strausfeld

The relatively simple brain structure of these large, apex predators may have driven the evolution of more sophisticated senses and brains in their intended prey.

Professor Strausfeld concluded:

“With the evolution of dedicated and highly efficient predators, the pressure was on other animals to be able to detect and recognize potential danger and rapidly coordinate escape movements.  These requirements may have driven the evolution of more complex brain circuitry.”

A Close up of the Head of Lyrarapax Showing a Powerful Grasping Claw

The grasping claw on this specimen can clearly be seen.

The grasping claw on this specimen can clearly be seen.

Picture Credit: Peiyun Cong

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of a University of Arizona press release in the compilation of this article.

A Video Review of the Collecta Saurophaganax Dinosaur Model

Collecta Saurophaganax – A Video Review

Everything Dinosaur team members have been busy writing scripts for video reviews on the latest batch of Collecta prehistoric animal models to be received into our warehouse.  The first of these model reviews features Saurophaganax, arguably one of the biggest meat-eating dinosaurs known to science.  In this short (six minutes, thirteen seconds) video, we look at the Collecta Saurophaganax in more detail, explain why there is still confusion over this genus and reflect on how a 145 million year old dinosaur is still capable of harming people today.

Everything Dinosaur’s Review of the Collecta Saurophaganax Dinosaur Model

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view Everything Dinosaur’s range of Collecta prehistoric animals: Collecta Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models

Collecta have made a number of allosaurid models, they certainly have expanded their model range in recent years and this Collecta Saurophaganax dinosaur model is a super addition to the company’s not-to-scale model series.

Record Breaking Apatosaurus Thigh Bone

Apatosaurus Femur Fossil – Biggest Apatosaurus Fossil Femur Found to Date

Reports received from Colorado state that a six foot seven inch long Sauropod femur has been safely removed from the Mygatt-Moore Quarry, a famous, highly fossiliferous site which has provided museums in the western United States with hundreds of Upper Jurassic dinosaur fossils.  The quarry has been excavated for many years but this new fossil extraction is something special.  The femur, believed to come from a species of Apatosaurus represents the largest thigh bone associated with the long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur to have been found to date.

An Illustration of Apatosaurus

Apatosaurus dinosaur model.

Apatosaurus dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

A number of Apatosaurus species have been described.  It was a member of the diplodocid clade of Sauropods and up until now the largest individuals of this species were around twenty-five metres in length.  However, this enormous femur (it measures 200.66 cm approximately), indicates that this genus could have reached lengths in excess of twenty-five metres.  Apatosaurus is one of the most popular of all the dinosaurs and it is often, still, referred to as Brontosaurus (Thunder Lizard).

For an explanation as to why the term Brontosaurus is no longer used to describe this dinosaur: Why Brontosaurus is no more

Volunteers and Scientists at the Fossil Dig Site

Giant dinosaur bone ready for lifting from fossil quarry.

Giant dinosaur bone ready for lifting from fossil quarry.

Picture Credit: Robert Gay (Museum of Western Colorado)

The excavation and extraction work was supervised by palaeontologists from the Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey Museum.   The fossil had been spotted back in 2010, but it has taken a number of summer expeditions to prepare the fossil for its removal.  Museum volunteers Kay Fredette and Dorothy Stewart originally spotted the fossilised thigh bone, slowly eroding out of the surrounding rock, at first, all that was exposed was a “pancake-sized” chunk of rock.

After the burlap and plaster fossil was lifted by crane onto awaiting transport, Kay Fredette commented:

“We’ve got to clean the bottom side of it and there’s so much other bone around it.  It is going to take a couple of years to finish this.”

In total, the fossil including the remaining matrix and its cradle weighed more than 1,270 kilogrammes, a spokes person from Everything Dinosaur explained that the plaster and burlap protected fossil would be transported to a laboratory and once installed inside, a team of preparators would begin the long process of cleaning the fossilised bone and extracting it from the surrounding rock.

Volunteer Kay Fredette (foreground) Next to Another Dinosaur Bone

Helping to dig up dinosaurs.

Helping to dig up dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Robert Gay (Museum of Western Colorado)

The Everything Dinosaur spokes person stated:

“To give readers an idea of the weight of the object, the fossil bones, its matrix and surrounding cradle that had to be lifted weighed about as much as a Ford Focus motor car”.

The Mygatt-Moore Quarry is located in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and the scientists at the Museum of Western Colorado hope to learn more about the potential maximum size of this iconic dinosaur.

Dr. Julia McHugh, who helped supervise the fossil extraction stated:

“So after the remaining matrix is removed and the bone is repaired it is going to be used to verify its taxonomic identity.  That means what animal it belongs to as well as whether it was a fully grown, mature adult.”

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