Teaching Year 4 About Mary Anning

Year 4 Learn All About Mary Anning

When Everything Dinosaur team members attended the Blackpool Celebrating Science Conference last week, they helped organise a competition for the young scientists from the schools that attended.  As well as running a fossil hunting activity and conducting four dinosaur workshops over the course of the conference, team members also provided the school children attending with information on Mary Anning.  By name dropping scientists, the children could make up a list of famous contributors to scientific endeavour.  A prize was awarded to the school which created the longest list.

Naturally, with a fossil hunting activity as part of our dinosaur workshop, Mary Anning was an easy choice for ourselves.

Posting Up Information on Mary Anning

Helping Year 4 to learn all about scientists.

Helping Year 4 to learn all about scientists.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 The picture above is of the poster we put up on our fossil hunting workshop stand.  We put it in a prominent place so that all the children could easily spot it as they hunted for fossils on our artificial beach.  During the dinosaur workshop, which we especially created for this event, we made sure to mention the competition and Mary Anning so that the children could be encouraged to take part.

The dinosaur workshop that we had prepared for this conference involved looking at real dinosaur fossil bones, exploring how our bodies compare to those of dinosaurs and looking at some of the very latest research.  Teachers were also invited to break a few bones, nothing to worry about though, just a clever experiment that we thought up that helped the children learn what our bones (amphibian bones, reptile, bird and mammal bones) are composed of.  Collagen was indeed the word of the day and helped to link our dinosaur workshop together as well as tying it into important aspects of the Key Stage 2 science curriculum.

To contact Everything Dinosaur about dinosaur workshops in school: Contact Everything Dinosaur About School Visits

“Jurassic World” and the Velociraptor Called “Blue”

 Papo Velociraptor Model Turns “Blue”

With the release of “Jurassic World” last month, a whole new generation of young dinosaur fans were introduced to prehistoric beasties such as Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex and Apatosaurus.  Whilst chatting with fans of the film over the last few weeks we have discovered that one of the favourite dinosaurs from the whole movie is the Velociraptor known as “Blue”.  We don’t want to spoil the plot for those of you who have not seen it yet, but the pack of Velociraptors does play a pivotal role in the film and “Blue” the beta animal in the pack is a bit of a heroine (all the prehistoric animals in the film are female).

“Blue” One of the “Raptors” from “Jurassic World

The "beta" animal in the Velociraptor pack.

The “beta” animal in the Velociraptor pack.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios

 Now we know there has been a lot of discussion about how the “raptors” have been portrayed in the franchise.  After all, they tend to be somewhat oversized (the Jurassic World website states that they are five metres long), they also lack feathers and most palaeontologists agree that the two species of Velociraptor so far described probably were covered in a coat of feathers.  If we put these points aside for the moment, then one of the next questions Everything Dinosaur team members get asked is, “can you recommend a dinosaur model that looks like the Velociraptors from the movie?”

The Papo Velociraptor with its articulated jaw and scaly skin was nominated as a suitable model for anyone wishing to recreate their very own “raptor pack”.

The Papo Velociraptor Dinosaur Model Gets Our Vote

The Papo Velociraptor model closely resembles the "Jurassic World" Velociraptors.

The Papo Velociraptor model closely resembles the “Jurassic World” Velociraptors.

Picture Credit: Universal Studios with additional material from Everything Dinosaur

It seems that other discerning dinosaur model fans are in agreement with us.  One of our Facebook chums Tong from Taiwan very kindly sent us a picture of a Papo Velociraptor that had received a customised paint job to make it look even more like “Blue” from the film.

Papo Velociraptor Dinosaur Model Turned into “Blue”

Customising a model dinosaur.

Customising a model dinosaur.

By Taiwan 小模王 “

Tong told us that he purchased this customised model and what a splendid job the artist has done.  The Papo Velociraptor skin tone really lends itself to having a bespoke paint job.  We have seen a number of re-painted Papo dinosaur models over the years and it is great to see one of the dinosaurs from “Jurassic World” created this way.

“Blue”  Even Has an Articulated Lower Jaw

A "blue" dinosaur.

A “blue” dinosaur.

By Taiwan 小模王 “

We always marvel at the skill of the artists who dedicate their time to creating iconic dinosaur figures and models.  The Velociraptors have appeared in all four of the “Jurassic Park” films and we suspect that they will also have a pivotal role to play in the sequel to “Jurassic World”.  Our thanks to Tong from Taiwan for helping us with this article.  The film “Jurassic World” has taken something like $1.3 billion USD in box office sales since its world-wide release on June 12th, it will very probably end up one of the top five highest grossing films of all time.  It will certainly be vying with the new “Star Wars” film due out later on this year for the most successful film of 2015.

To view Everything Dinosaur’s collection of Papo prehistoric animal models: Papo Dinosaurs

New Oviraptorid from the Late Cretaceous of Southern China

Huanansaurus ganzhouensis – Demonstrating the Diversity of the Oviraptorids

Some very peculiar things can turn up at railway stations, just ask anyone who works in a lost property office.  However, for one group of construction workers helping to build the new Ganzhou Railway Station in Jiangxi Province (southern China), they got rather a big surprise when they unearthed the partial remains of a new type of Theropod dinosaur.  The new dinosaur has been identified as a member of the Oviraptoridae family, an extremely bird-like group of dinosaurs, it has been named Huanansaurus ganzhouensis and it suggests that there were many different types of Oviraptorids living in the same environment but each type may have evolved a different feeding and foraging habit.

An Illustration of H. ganzhouensis (Male and Female)

A new feathered dinosaur from China.

A new feathered dinosaur from China.

Picture Credit: Chuang Zhao

Although no feather impressions have been found with the fossils, it is assumed that this lithe dinosaur was indeed feathered.  The illustrator has also assumed that the males had different colouration when compared to the females.  In this imagined scene, one of a breeding pair approaches the other which is sitting on a nest of eggs.  More than two hundred Oviraptorosaurian nests have been found in the Ganzhou area and this part of the world seems to have been a hot bed of Oviraptorid evolution with a total of five genera now known from the strata around the city of Ganzhou.

Size estimates vary, but based on skull measurements and comparisons with other Asian Oviraptors, Everything Dinosaur’s team members estimate that Huanansaurus would have measured around 1.5 metres long and stood over a metre tall, making this dinosaur about half the size of its closest relative Citipati (C. osmolskae), fossils of which come from the Gobi Desert (Djadokhta Formation), that lies some 1,800  miles to the north-east of Jiangxi Province.  It is analysis of the beautifully preserved skull material that has permitted the research team to conduct a phylogenetic analysis placing Huanansaurus close to the Citipati genus in the Oviraptoridae family.  Huanansaurus is distinct from the other four other types of Oviraptorid discovered to date from the Upper Cretaceous rocks (Nanxiong Formation),  located around Ganzhou city.

The four other types of Oviraptorosaurs found in this area are:

  • Banji long (named and described in 2010)
  • Ganzhousaurus nankangensis (named and described in 2013)
  • Jiangxisaurus ganzhouensis (also named and described in 2013)
  • Nankangia jiangxiensis (named and described in that bumper year for southern Chinese Oviraptorosaurs, 2013)


A Line Drawing of the Skull and Cranial Material (HGM41HIII-0443)

Left side (lateral view) of the skull and jaws.

Left side (lateral view) of the skull and jaws.

Picture Credit: Journal Science with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

Like most of the later Oviraptorosaurs, Huanansaurus lacked teeth, the shape and size of the skull along with the morphology of the jaws suggests that lots of different types of feathered Oviraptorid dinosaur were able to live in the same environment.  These little dinosaurs co-existed as they probably had different foraging and feeding strategies.  The prevalence of Oviraptorosaurs in southern China indicates that other parts of Asia may have had different types of Oviraptorid present within their biota, but these fossils may not have been found as yet.

The researchers involved in this study include scientists from Japan, South Korea, Uppsala University (Sweden), Henan Geological Museum and the Chinese Academy of Scientists.  The fossils are currently stored in the vertebrate fossil collection of the Henan Geological Museum.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur explained:

“In simple terms, the jaw shapes and sizes are different in the Jiangxi Province Oviraptors.  Although these feathered dinosaurs all lived at the same time, the very late Late Cretaceous and they shared the same environment, they probably specialised in eating different types of food.  For example, the lower jaw tip of Banji long is very strongly curved downwards, whilst the same part of the jaw found in Nankangia jiangxiensis is not.  Both Jiangxisaurus and the newly described Huanansaurus come somewhere in between these two extremes.  It is likely that each type of dinosaur occupied a different ecological niche in the Late Cretaceous palaeoenvironment.”

What did Oviraptor-like dinosaurs eat?  That remains a bit of a mystery, we suspect that they were omnivorous with perhaps each animal adapted to eating different types of seed, fruit and nuts as well as catching and eating amphibian, small mammals and insects.

Celebrating Science with Blackpool School Children

Blackpool Celebrating Science Conference 2015

Another busy day yesterday as team members at Everything Dinosaur took part in the Blackpool Celebrating Science Conference (BCSC2015).  Schools from all over the Blackpool area attended the event which was held at Unity Academy, with the conference taking place in the Academy’s spacious hall and the various science activities organised in nearby classrooms.  Everything Dinosaur was located in Mr Goldie’s classroom, we are grateful to Mr Goldie and his class for letting us use their room for the four dinosaur themed workshops we conducted with Year 4 and Year 5 pupils over the morning.

“Tyrannosaurus Sue” took charge of our conference stand and organised a fossil hunting activity for the children.  She had a very busy day with lots and lots of enthusiastic young palaeontologists exploring the fossil trays looking for ammonites, belemnites, brachiopods, petrified wood and coral.

Preparing the Everything Dinosaur Stand at the Start of the Conference

Getting the stand and fossil hunting activity for the conference.

Getting the stand and fossil hunting activity ready for the conference.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We posted up some pictures of the fossils the children could find, they were really impressed with the shark teeth and loved looking at their fossil discoveries with the large magnifying glasses we provided.   We also included lots of information about Mary Anning, as one of the competitions on the day for the children was to collect as many names of famous scientists as they could.

In the meantime, in the classroom we had been looking at animals with backbones and exploring the vertebrae of dinosaurs.  In the second part of the workshop, Everything Dinosaur explained some of the aspects relating to new research into the Dinosauria.  Our well received workshop involved “Jurassic World” and breaking some bones, the activities and experiments delighted teachers and children alike.   We were very busy with the workshops and did not have a lot of time to organise feedback from the eight schools we were scheduled to work with.  However, we did get two teachers to provide some feedback on the workshops that we delivered.  It seems we got 5 out of 5 stars for our workshop.  This feedback is extremely helpful as the short lesson we provided was one that we had developed especially for the conference.

Feedback from Teachers after the Everything Dinosaur Workshop

5 stars for Everything Dinosaur.

5 stars for Everything Dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

More Feedback from Everything Dinosaur’s Workshop

Everything Dinosaur gets rave reviews for workshop.

Everything Dinosaur gets rave reviews for workshop.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

All to soon it was time to pack up, after all, we have to prepare for some more dinosaur themed workshops in schools.   Our thanks to Unity Academy for being such gracious hosts and for Cheryl Langley and Jane Walpole for organising the Blackpool Celebrating Science Conference.  We really appreciate the “tweeted” pictures of us as well.

Carbon Dioxoide Emissions Threaten Ocean Ecosystems

Marine Life Could Be Irreversibly Damaged

Increased carbon dioxide emissions will cause great damage to oceanic ecosystems that cannot be reversed warns an international team of scientists.  In a new paper, published in the academic journal “Science”, researchers, which include Dr. Carol Turley OBE, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory state that unless CO2 emissions are curbed, the temperature of the oceans will continue to rise, oxygen levels will continue to fall and more seawater acidification will occur.  The scientists paint a very gloomy picture for the Earth’s oceans declaring that CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels was increasing the acidity of the oceans at a faster rate than at any time since the End Permian extinction event some 250 million years ago, that led to the greatest mass extinction known in the fossil record.  Something like 95% of all the life on Earth died out during this extinction event.

The researchers looked at a number of scenarios and models and the scientists stated that the two degree Celsius maximum temperature rise as agreed by governments is not enough to stave of the damaging effects of increased CO2.  In a very pessimistic outlook, the scientists claim that the range of options is decreasing and the cost of coping with the implications will rocket.   The team of twenty-two leading marine scientists report that politicians are not responding as quickly as they should to the approaching crisis.  The oceans of the world are at risk and more must be done to deal with the impact of global climate change.

The World’s Oceans are Under Threat

Increased CO2 emissions could spell disaster for the oceans.

Increased CO2 emissions could spell disaster for the oceans.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Nearly 30% of the carbon dioxide produced since 1750 has been absorbed by the ocean.  As CO2 is slightly acidic it is changing the chemistry of the water and making it more acidic.  This is disastrous for those organisms that use calcium or argonite to build shells or to construct colonies.

Dr. Turley stated:

The ocean is at the frontline of climate change with its physics and chemistry being altered at an unprecedented rate so much so that ecosystems and organisms are already changing and will continue to do so as we emit more CO2.  The ocean provides us with food, energy, minerals, drugs and half the oxygen in the atmosphere, and it regulates our climate and weather.  We are asking policy makers to recognise the potential consequences of these dramatic changes and raise the profile of the ocean in international talks where, up to now, it has barely got a mention.”

Recently, Everything Dinosaur reported on the research conducted by scientists at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, the University of California, Stanford University, Princeton University and the University of Florida that concluded that our planet was entering a sixth, global mass extinction phase.

To read more about this research: Study Suggests Sixth Mass Extinction Event in Earth’s History

Staff Make Dinosaur Day Extra Special

Children Enjoy a Dinosaur Day at Broadoak Primary School

The teaching team at Broadoak  Primary School in Ashton-under-Lyne went that “extra mile” when it came to organising a memorable dinosaur day for the children at Key Stage 2.  They not only booked Everything Dinosaur to conduct a series of dinosaur and fossil themed workshops with Year 3 through to Year 6, but they converted the gazebo in the spacious school playground into a “crime scene” containing a dinosaur’s nest.  It was great to see such an imaginative use of the facilities at the school and with a redevelopment and extension programme being planned for this larger than average primary school, we suspect that the new premises and facilities will be used to continue the inspiration teaching.

Staff at Broadoak Primary Convert the Gazebo into a Dinosaur Nest “Crime Scene”

Creative use of school resources.

Creative use of school resources.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

 Our dinosaur expert did his best to field all the questions from the children.  The experiments we conducted and the information we imparted went down very well with the pupils, who were all eager to learn more about prehistoric animals as well as demonstrating what they already knew by telling Everything Dinosaur about their favourite “terrible lizards”.

The Dinosaur Nest in the School Gazebo

A dinosaur discovery at a school.

A dinosaur discovery at a school.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s work with schools: Contact Everything Dinosaur/Request a Quotation

The dinosaur workshops that we conducted went down very well with the teaching team as well, here is an example of some of the feedback we received:

“5 out of 5 stars”

“Very child friendly, loved the fact that everything was put into context for the children.”

“Lots of child participation and positive reinforcement.”

“Worked fantastically well with the children and kept them all engaged and wanting to learn more, the children enjoyed exploring all the artefacts and fossils.”

“All the staff involved would highly recommend this workshop.”

The teaching team at Broadoak Primary supported by the office staff and the site supervisors really went out of their way to make the dinosaur day extra special for the children.  Well done to everybody involved.

Dinosaur Tracks Vandalised

Dinosaur Tracks Vandalised – Plaster Casts Attempted

We have picked up a number of reports from the United States that several dinosaur tracks have been vandalised at the Manti-La Sal National Forest, a national park managed by the United States Forestry Service.  Manti-La Sal National Forest straddles the State border between Utah and Colorado and a number of important vertebrate fossils including dinosaur bones and tracks are located within the 1.4 million acre park.  It is illegal to collect or make duplicates of any vertebrate fossils, including trace fossils from lands managed by the U.S. Forestry Service without the correct permits.  Permits are normally only issued to qualified palaeontologists and those parties involved in federally approved research.

A spokesperson from the Manti-La Sal National Forest, explained that three-toed dinosaur tracks in the Moab (Utah), area had been vandalised and a number of suspects identified.  As we at Everything Dinosaur understand the situation, no arrests have been made yet.

Tracks Filled with Plaster in an Attempt to Create Moulds

Dinosaur footprint vandalised.

Dinosaur footprint vandalised.

This part of Utah is famous for its amazing dinosaur fossils.  Sadly, Everything Dinosaur team members have reported on numerous occasions deliberate damage being caused to fossil sites, or the theft of dinosaur bones and tracks.  With private collectors prepared to pay large sums of money for dinosaur fossils, there is a big black market in illegally acquired artefacts.  Last year we reported on the theft of a dinosaur footprint from a Bureau of Land Management managed site, not too far away from this incident.  A local man (Jared Ehlers) was arrested and sentenced to six months house arrest, fined and given an additional one year probation sentence.  Mr Ehlers claimed he had stolen the footprint as he wanted to make a coffee table out of it.  The stolen footprint has not been recovered.

In this latest incident, although no footprints were actually taken, the plaster poured into the footprint impressions will have caused some damage to these important trace fossils.   The dinosaur tracks, probably made by a large, carnivore, have been preserved in hyporelief (depressions), such tracks are relatively rare and the Utah specimens are of exceptional quality, the consistency of the sediment at the time the dinosaur walked on it was just right to permit an accurate footprint impression to be created.  Palaeontologists can use these footprints to explore Theropod locomotion by calculating the way the foot moves as it contacts and leaves the sediment surface.  Although the plaster can be carefully removed and the footprints cleaned, subtle details related to the dinosaur’s locomotion will be probably obliterated.

Everything Dinosaur would like to take this opportunity to advise readers that no collection permits for any type of fossil (plants, invertebrates, vertebrates or trace fossils), are issued by the U.S. Forestry Service  for commercial purposes.  The selling, trading or bartering of any fossil material from National Forest System Lands is strictly prohibited.

The “Grandfather” of All Tortoises and Turtles

German Fossil Discovery Could be Transitional Fossil

How did the turtle get its shell?  It sounds like the opening line from one of Aesop’s fables but in reality this question has been vexing palaeontologists for the best part of two hundred years.  Thanks to some remarkable fossil discoveries from southern Germany (Baden-Württemberg) and the work of scientists from the Natural History Museum of Stuttgart and the Smithsonian Institute (National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.), we might be one step closer to solving this puzzle.

About thirty-five miles north-east of the city of Stuttgart, lies the picturesque town of Vellberg, there are a large number of quarries extracting Triassic-aged limestone and other materials in this locality, as in this part of the Germany, there are extensive outcrops of Lower Keuper sedimentary material.  In a band of claystone, which represents strata from the Erfurt Formation, (Lower Keuper stratigraphic unit), scientists have excavated eighteen specimens of a small reptile, the fossils of which, could represent a transitional fossil between basal Chelonians (turtles and tortoises) and the types of turtles and tortoises we see today.

The claystone represents sediments deposited at the bottom of a large lake that existed some 240 million years ago in the Middle Triassic ((Ladinian faunal stage).  Although the claystone layer is relatively thin, no more than fifteen centimetres deep at its thickest part, palaeontologists have been exploring these rocks since 1985 as the fossils they provide give a unique insight into the fauna of this part of the world a few million years after the End Permian extinction event, at around the time of the very first dinosaurs.

Dr. Rainer Schoch at the Excavation Site (Erfurt Formation)

Dr. Rainer Schoch working at the claystone bed.

Dr. Rainer Schoch working at the claystone bed.

Picture Credit: Dr. Rainer Schoch/Natural History Museum of Stuttgart

The reptile has been named Pappochelys rosinae, the genus name translates from the Greek meaning “grandfather turtle”, the species name honours Isabell Rosin of the Natural History Museum of Stuttgart as she was responsible for preparing the fossil specimens for study.  This little reptile measured around twenty centimetres in length, the long tail made up about fifty percent of the total body length.  Anatomical features indicate that this reptile is a transitional animal from the more primitive and older Eunotosaurus known from strata dating from approximately 260 million years ago and the more recent Odontochelys, whose fossils come from Chinese rocks and date from about 220 million years ago.

Pappochelys could be an intermediary form in between Eunotosaurus and Odontochelys.  It helps to fill the forty million year gap in Chelonian fossils.  Whilst Odontochelys, lacked the full turtle shell (carapace) it did possess a hard, flat underbelly (plastron).  P. rosinae lacks a plastron, but the gastralia (belly ribs) on its underside are broader and closer to fusing than in Eunotosaurus.

To read about the discovery of Eunotosaurus: An Insight into Chelonian Evolution

Associated Post Cranial Material of Pappochelys rosinae

Post cranial fossil material including the thickened trunk ribs.

Post cranial fossil material including the thickened trunk ribs.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Stuttgart

Hans-Dieter Sues, (Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.) explained:

“In the case of Pappochelys, we see that its belly was protected by an array of rod-like bones, some of which are already fused to each other.  Such a stage in the evolution of the turtle shell has long been predicted by embryological research on present-day turtles but never observed in fossils – until now.”

An Illustration of Pappochelys and Outline Plan of Key Bones

Illustration and outline plan of bones - ribs (yellow), gastralia (red), shoulder girdle (green), pelvis (brown), femur and vertebrae (mustard)

Illustration and outline plan of bones – ribs (mustard), gastralia (red), shoulder girdle (green), pelvis (brown), femur and vertebrae (yellow)

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Stuttgart

The diagram shows the thickened trunk ribs of this ancient reptile and the lacustrine (lake) deposit might provide a clue as to why such creatures eventually evolved a hard shell.  The bones are thickened and more dense, if this animal was semi-aquatic, then the heavier bones would help to provide ballast and counter the animal’s natural buoyancy in water.  The more robust, heavier bones might have helped this reptile to dive deeper and to stay underwater for longer.  The pelvis and the shoulder girdle are very similar to those found in Odontochelys, which is regarded by many scientists as the earliest true turtle.

A Dorsal view of the Bauplan Showing Modified Ribs and Gastralia

Expanded ribs (yellow) gastralia (red)

Expanded ribs (mustard) gastralia (red)


Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Stuttgart

The picture above shows a skeletal reconstruction of Pappochelys.  The ribs (mustard) and the gastralia (red).

Dr. Sues outlined the anatomical developments leading to modern-day turtles that could be traced from the fragmentary fossils found at Vellberg.  The paper on these specimens, which Dr. Sues co-authored has just been published in “Nature”.

He stated:

“It [Pappochelys] has real beginnings of the belly shell developing, little rib-like structures beginning to fuse together into larger plates and then ultimately making up the belly shell [plastron].”

Where do the Tortoises and Turtles Fit in with Other Reptile Groups?

The origins of the Chelonia (turtles and tortoises) remain controversial.  More modern Chelonia, such as those genera still around today do not have teeth.  Instead, they have a beak.  Pappochelys had teeth, (some cranial material including jawbones and teeth have been found) and it is known that Odontochelys also had teeth (the genus name translates as “toothed turtle with half a shell”).  However, scientists have long argued where in the Order Reptilia the Chelonia actually sit.  They are regarded as a very ancient group of reptiles.  It had been thought that turtles and tortoises were descended from ancient Parareptiles, but the skull bones of Pappochelys reveal an affinity to the Diapsid reptiles, a wide-ranging group that includes lizards, snakes, crocodiles as well as extinct marine reptiles and the Dinosauria.

It had been thought that tortoises and turtles were Anapsids, lacking temporal fenestrae (holes behind the eye socket in the skull, but the Pappochelys cranial material shows a pair of openings in the skull behind each eye socket.  This suggests that the Chelonia are not descended from Parareptiles but have phylogenetic affinities to the Diapsids.  This places them in the same clade as lizards and snakes.

Year 1 Children Become “Dinosaur Detectives”

Dinosaur Detectives at St Joseph’s RC Primary

Year 1 at St Joseph’s RC Primary had the opportunity to become “dinosaur detectives” on Wednesday afternoon as a team member from Everything Dinosaur joined their class to conduct a dinosaur workshop in their school.  The afternoon session was split into two parts.  Firstly, the children joined our dinosaur expert in the hall for a tactile exploration of fossils and all things dinosaur.  One of the key learning objectives as outlined by Miss Stanton (class teacher), was to encourage the children with their writing and vocabulary development.  The focus was on thinking of adjectives to help describe the different dinosaurs and to express just how big some of them were.  The lesson plan we had prepared dove-tailed nicely into the scheme of work the children had been undertaking in the morning.  There were some wonderful examples of great use of adjectives to describe Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex in the children’s work books.

Dinosaurs Help Children Develop Their Vocabulary

Children gain confidence using adjectives.

Children gain confidence using adjectives.

Picture Credit: St Joseph’s RC Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

The children had lots of questions about dinosaurs, we were even asked about Pterosaurs, so once we returned to the office we were able to send over some images of flying reptiles to help the teaching team explain what these animals looked like.  In addition, we were asked “which dinosaur is best?”  What a super question!  Rather than have our dinosaur expert answer it, we challenged the class to hold their own “dinosaur beauty contest” and vote for their favourite.

We emailed over a set of six different dinosaur scale drawings and we put a special fact on each drawing about that specific prehistoric animal.  We then challenged Miss Stanton and her enthusiastic teaching assistant Mrs Sheikh, to get each child to pick their own personal favourite.  Could the children create a table to display the results?  What about making a line graph to show the voting preferences?

Microraptor – One of the Dinosaurs Chosen for the Classroom Vote

A great way to introduce things like tally counts and line graphs.

A great way to introduce things like tally counts and line graphs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The second part of the dinosaur workshop was located in the classroom.  We showed the children several fossil teeth and then we got them to measure various dinosaur footprints and to compare the size of dinosaur’s feet to their own hands.  Lots of measuring cubes were used in this exercise and the children added and subtracted to work out how many one centimetre cubes bigger/smaller their own hands were when compared to the footprints.

This is the first time that the teaching team responsible for Year 1 have introduced a dinosaur themed term topic.  The children were really enthusiastic and keen to learn about prehistoric animals.  As a topic it is proving flexible enough to fit in with the demands of the new curriculum.

To learn more about Everything Dinosaur’s work in schools: Contact Everything Dinosaur

A Colourful Dinosaur Theme “Wow” Wall

A colourful dinosaur themed display.

A colourful dinosaur themed display.

Picture Credit:  St Joseph’s RC Primary School/Everything Dinosaur

All to soon it was time to prepare for the end of the school day, but we did promise the children that when we got back to the Everything Dinosaur office we would email over additional teaching resources to help Miss Stanton, Mrs Sheikh and Year 1 to continue their “Dinosaur Detectives” topic.

Finally Getting to Look at the Face of Hallucigenia

Bizarre Hallucigenia Gets a Face

Growing up with an interest in fossils and prehistoric life, for many team members at Everything Dinosaur, meant that during their formative years, one of the most bizarre of all the animals that are known to have existed, would periodically enter their lives.  The mysterious Hallucigenia, fossils of which are found in the famous Burgess Shale deposits of British Columbia, would have a new research paper published and there would be a fresh perspective on this most peculiar looking creature.

Fossils of the Very Mysterious and Bizarre Hallucigenia

A fossil of Hallucigenia (Burgess Shale)

A fossil of Hallucigenia (Burgess Shale)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The facial features and the mouth of this little animal have finally been revealed.  A study conducted by scientists Dr. Martin Smith (Cambridge University) and Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron (Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology, Royal Ontario Museum, Canada), has led to some of the mysteries surrounding Hallucigenia being resolved.  For example, we know now which end was the head and which end was the tail.  In addition, electron microscopy has shown that Hallucigenia had a ring of teeth inside its mouth and a further set of teeth running down its throat.  These teeth in the throat probably served as ratchets.  Palaeontologists think that the tube like body of Hallucigenia was designed to digest food that it sucked into the opening at the front of its body, the simple mouth.  The teeth in the throat may have helped to push food particles down the gut as well as preventing food from being sucked out again as the animal pumped in mud and water as part of its feeding mechanism.  This previously unidentified feature (a throat lined with needle-like teeth), helps connect this Cambrian sea creature to extant Velvet Worms and the evolution of the Arthropods, which today make up more than 80% of all the animal life on Earth.

Commenting on the discovery of Hallucigenia’s facial features, Dr. Smith explained:

“When we put it into the electron microscope, we were delighted to see not just a tiny pair of eyes looking back at us, but also beneath them a really cheeky semi-circular smile.  It was as if the fossil was grinning at us at the secrets that it had been hiding.”

This new study into Hallucigenia, the first fossils of which were found by Charles Walcott who discovered the Burgess Shale fossil site in 1909, has also solved another mystery.  Although, specimens are relatively rare in the Burgess Shale biota, a number of fossils that have been found show a tear shaped blob preserved adjacent to the body.  For some years, this was thought to be the head, or possibly some sort of appendage of the animal.  However, the new paper, published in the journal “Nature”, identifies these strange blobs as gut contents.

Dr. Smith stated:

“What our study shows is that it [the blob] has a different composition from the animal.  And rather than representing part of its body, it actually represents decay fluid – the contents of its guts – squeezed out as the animal was buried and fossilised.”

 What was that Mysterious Blob?

A Hallucigenia specimen (Royal Ontario Museum).

A Hallucigenia specimen (Royal Ontario Museum).

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum/Dr. Jean Bernard Caron with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The arrow in the picture shows the location of the strange blob.

Compared to the bountiful fossils of other species associated with the Burgess Shale Formation, Hallucigenia fossils are rare, so much so that the first species to be formerly described in the Hallucigenia genus was named H. sparsa. It was English palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris who established the Hallucigenia genus after he reviewed the earlier Walcott study.  Walcott had thought that this little animal was some form of early bristle worm (polychaete worm), like a Lugworm, but Conway Morris decided that this creature was so unique it deserved its own genus.  He established the genus Hallucigenia, so named for its “bizarre and dream-like appearance”.   Like a number of other Burgess Shale animals, Hallucigenia was thought to be an evolutionary experiment that left no descendants.   The Cambridge University/Royal Ontario Museum team have been able to map, approximately where the alien-looking Hallucigenia fits into the Kingdom Animalia.  It seems to be a precursor to the Velvet Worms (Onychophorans), that still can be found in the tropics today.  Velvet Worms, Arthropods and Tardigrades (Water Bears), belong to a huge group of animals that all moult, these are called Ecdysozoans.  The researchers were able to establish that Hallucigenia was not the common ancestor of these moulting animals but that it was an ancestor of the extant Onychophorans.  Finding the mouth and the  pharyngeal teeth (teeth in the throat), helped the scientists to determine that Velvet Worms originally had the same configuration, but these were eventually lost.

Dr. Smith explained:

The early evolutionary history of this huge group is pretty much uncharted.  While we know that the animals in this group are united by the fact that they moult, we haven’t been able to find many physical characteristics that unite them”.

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron added:

“It turns out that the ancestors of moulting animals were much more anatomically advanced than we ever could have imagined, ring-like, plate-bearing worms with an armoured throat and a mouth surrounded by spines.  We previously thought that neither Velvet Worms nor their ancestors had teeth.  But Hallucigenia tells us that actually, Velvet Worm ancestors had them, and living forms just lost their teeth over time.”

Team members at Everything Dinosaur have a lot of time for the Hallucigenia genus.  Most of the individuals are much smaller than people imagine.  The largest specimens are around thirty-five millimetres in length and when Conway Morris published his research in 1979, it turns out that his study depicted this animal the wrong way up and back to front.  Conway Morris illustrated Hallucigenia as walking on stiff spine-like legs, with a single row of tentacles waving around on its back.  A model was created that showed this new view of Hallucigenia.  The model can be seen at the start of the Royal Ontario Museum video featuring Dr. Caron who explains about the latest research.  Although, anatomically not correct, the model remains a curiosity that is kept at the Museum along with a large number of Burgess Shale specimens including many of the fossils collected by Charles Walcott.

The Original Simon Conway Morris Model of Hallucigenia

The very alien-looking Hallucigenia model.

The very alien-looking Hallucigenia model.

Picture Credit: Royal Ontario Museum

The bulbous head turns out to be the rear end of the creature and thanks to this new research (plus some similar types of Chinese fossils that have been extensively studied), we have a very different interpretation of this marine creature.  It looks quite graceful and delicate.  A picture of Charles Walcott can be seen in the background.

Based on the New Research The Reconstructed Hallucigenia

Scientists have been able to stare into the face of Hallucigenia for the first time.

Scientists have been able to stare into the face of Hallucigenia for the first time.

Picture Credit: Danielle Dufault

Those spines, once thought to be legs probably evolved as a number of predators shared Hallucigenia’s marine habitat.  The spines would have been an effective deterrent against attacks from nektonic Arthropods.

Hallucigenia remains one of the most remarkable animals within the Burgess Shale biota, but thanks to this new study some of the mysteries surrounding it have been solved.  It remains an enigmatic little creature and after more than a Century since its discovery it is still capable of springing a few surprises.  The story of Hallucigenia and how it has been interpreted and reinterpreted over the years provides a fascinating example of how new techniques and study methods can lead to a reinterpretation of the fossil evidence.

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