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/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

Fossil finds, new dinosaur discoveries, news and views from the world of palaeontology and other Earth sciences.

13 10, 2017

Ankylosaurus Not Your Typical Ankylosaur

By | October 13th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Ankylosaurus magniventris – Not Your Archetypal Ankylosaur

A newly-published study has provided fresh insights on Ankylosaurus.  This Ornithischian dinosaur, a contemporary of Tyrannosaurus rex in the Late Cretaceous of North America, is perhaps, one of the best-known of all the armoured dinosaurs in the minds of the public, however, this dinosaur star of stage and screen with such a high profile in the popular media, has actually a very fragmentary fossil record, when compared to its close relatives.  Palaeontologist and Ankylosauridae expert Victoria Arbour (Royal Ontario Museum), in collaboration with Jordan Mallon (Canadian Museum of Nature), writing in the Canadian open access science journal “Facets”, suggest that the dinosaur that gave its name to the family Ankylosauridae, is a very atypical member of this armoured dinosaur family.

A Model of an Ankylosaurus

An Ankylosaurus model.

 The armoured dinosaur – Ankylosaurus magniventris – not your typical armoured dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Examining Previously Unidentified Elements of the Holotype

Ankylosaurus (A. magniventris), is known from only a handful of fossil specimens excavated from Upper Cretaceous deposits in Montana, Wyoming, Saskatchewan and Alberta.  The researchers examined previously unidentified and not described fossil fragments associated with the holotype fossil AMNH 5895 (from Montana).  In addition, they revisited earlier research (Carpenter 2004), making further observations as to body mass, arrangement of the body armour, size of the tail club and the anatomy of Ankylosaurus.

Tail Club Comparison Anodontosaurus Compared to Ankylosaurus

Ankylosaur tail club comparisons.

Ankylosaur tail club comparisons (Anodontosaurus versus Ankylosaurus).

Picture Credit: “Facets Journal”

The picture above shows a comparison between the tail club of Anodontosaurus lambei, and the closely related Ankylosaurus magniventris (dorsal view).  The tail bones and club of Ankylosaurus are poorly known, although the specimen number AMNH 5214 includes a portion of the tail club and a well-preserved, bony knob.  The vertebrae that make up the handle are twice as wide as those corresponding vertebrae making up the handle on the Anodontosaurus club, but they are not longer.  The researchers suggest that the tail of Ankylosaurus may have been proportionately shorter than the tail of Anodontosaurus, or the tail may have had similar overall proportions but the Ankylosaurus tail club was smaller.  The handle vertebrae of Ankylosaurus are unique among ankylosaurids, with U-shaped neural spines in dorsal view compared with the V-shaped neural spines in Anodontosaurus, Euoplocephalus, Pinacosaurus, Talarurus, and most other ankylosaurids.  There may be an upward size limit for ankylosaurid clubs, the shape of the bony knobs (labelled “maj” and “min” for major and minor respectively in the diagram), are different between these two closely related genera, Ankylosaurus magniventris may have had an atypical tail club, one that was not representative of the Ankylosauridae.

One Large Skull Helping to Shape Our Understanding

The largest skull associated with Ankylosaurus is specimen CMN 8880.  It is huge and it was briefly described in 2004 (Carpenter), who regarded the dorsal surface as poorly preserved.  However, the skull was stored on its dorsal surface and it was not turned to permit a proper examination of what would have been the top of the dinosaur’s head.  In Arbour and Mallon’s new paper, they have had the chance to examine the dorsal surface of CMN 8880, which they found to be remarkably well-preserved.  As a result, the scientists have been able to compare and contrast the bony cranial morphology of the top of the skull and confirm that the arrangement of scales and scutes on the top of the skull was very different when compared to other North American ankylosaurids.

The Largest Skull of Ankylosaurus (Specimen Number CMN 8880)

Ankylosaurus cranial material.

Views of the largest Ankylosaurus skull found to date (CMN 8880).

Picture Credit: “Facets Journal”

The picture above shows the skull of CMN 8880, Ankylosaurus magniventris, in (A) dorsal, (B) ventral, (C) left lateral, and (D) right lateral views, note the scale bar equals ten centimetres.  The skull is well preserved on the dorsal and left lateral surfaces. The right lateral surface has caved inwards slightly, the researchers have measured the basal skull length as 671 millimetres, based on these measurements and other material reported in this scientific paper, the researchers were able to confirm that A. magniventris was much larger than other Late Cretaceous armoured dinosaurs.  The scientists reaffirmed the length of this dinosaur at around ten metres.

This review underscores the fact that although Ankylosaurus gave rise to the family name the Ankylosauridae, A. magniventris is far from typical of this family.  The teeth, the nares, the tail club and body size of Ankylosaurus tend to make it stand out from the other Laramidian Ankylosaurines.

Changing Views of Ankylosaurus magniventris

Changing views of Ankylosaurus (dorsal view).

Changing views of Ankylosaurus magniventris over the years.

Picture Credit: “Facets Journal”

In Competition with Edmontonia – Perhaps Not

It is thanks to this new study, that we have a better understanding of Ankylosaurus, it is not your typical Ankylosaur.  Intriguingly, the researchers postulate on the role of Ankylosaurus in the palaeoenvironment of Laramidia during the Late Cretaceous.  Fossils of this armoured dinosaur are very infrequently found and therefore it might have been ecologically rare, or just a very infrequent visitor to the coastal plain where fossilisation of corpses was much more likely than if these creatures habitually lived further inland away from rivers and large bodies of water.  The nodosaurid Edmontonia was contemporaneous with Ankylosaurus and the researchers comment on previous studies that have alluded to the fact that Edmontonia may have been ecologically separated from Ankylosaurus on the basis that Edmontonia seems to have been more abundant in coastal, lowland habitats.  It is likely that these animals did not compete directly with each other (different beak and tooth shapes – indicating niche partitioning).

Ecosystem Engineer Like a Modern Elephant – Unlikely

Ankylosaurus probably fed on low-growing vegetation, ferns, flowers and shrubs, with an estimated consumption of about 60 kilogrammes of vegetable matter per day, about the same as an elephant. It did not chew its food, food processing taking place in the enormous gut.

Modern elephants with their ability to knock down trees and strip bark, are regarded as ecosystem engineers, helping to shape the environment.  It is suggested that Ankylosaurus did not carry out this role, tree felling, bark stripping and environmental engineering was more likely to have been undertaken by the equally massive and much more ubiquitous hadrosaurids.

Although Ankylosaurines are typically categorised as herbivores, the unusual narial anatomy of Ankylosaurus could reflect a change in diet or feeding strategy relative to other Ankylosaurs and the researchers suggest this warrants further investigation.  The smaller, posteriorly set, and dorsally roofed external nares in Ankylosaurus could have evolved as these animals grubbed in the soil for nutritious grubs, earthworms, insects or plant tubers.  The broad muzzle and powerful front limbs would have made Ankylosaurus an accomplished digger.  So perhaps Ankylosaurus had a different lifestyle compared to other members of the Ankylosauridae, it may have foraged through leaf litter or turned over the soil, like a giant hog.

The scientific paper: “Unusual cranial and Postcranial Anatomy in the Archetypal Ankylosaur Ankylosaurus magniventris” by Victoria M. Arbour and Jordan C. Mallon, published in the Canadian open access journal “Facets”.

Link to the paper: Ankylosaurus Paper

12 10, 2017

Reaffirming Protoichthyosaurus as a Valid Genus

By | October 12th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Muddy Water Surrounding Protoichthyosaurus and Ichthyosaurus Just Got a Little Clearer

A type of British Ichthyosaur, first identified nearly forty years ago, but then dismissed as a distinct genus, has been re-examined and found to be a new type of marine reptile after all.  British palaeontologist Dr Robert Appleby, in 1979, conducted a review of Ichthyosaur fossil material found around the UK and announced a news species which he named Protoichthyosaurus.  Two separate species were assigned to this genus P. prostaxalis and P. prosostealis.  Erecting this genus with its two component species proved controversial and a number of other scientists have dismissed this assessment, reassigning the fossil material to the Ichthyosaurus genus.

One of the Fossil Specimens from the 1979 Marine Reptile Study

Protoichthyosaurus fossil material.

One of the original skeletons of Protoichthyosaurus described by Robert Appleby in 1979.

Picture Credit: National Museum of Wales/Dean Lomax

A detailed study which involved making comparisons between Protoichthyosaurus and Ichthyosaurus by Dean Lomax, (Manchester University), Rashmi Mistry (University of Reading) and Professor Judy Massare (State University of New York), published in the “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology” has established Protoichthyosaurus as a separate genus once again.

The researchers found major differences in the number of bones in the front fin, or forefin, of both species.  The team posit that this fundamental difference in anatomy probably reflects the way both species used their forefins to manoeuvre whilst swimming.  Differences were also found in the skulls.

Scientists Studying the Fossil Material

A Protoichthyosaurus fossil is studied by palaeontologists.

Bill Wahl, Prof. Judy Massare, Dr David Large and Dean Lomax study the fossil.

Picture Credit: University of Nottingham

Fin Grabs Attention

During this research, another discovery about the fins was made, palaeontologist Dean Lomax explained:

“This unusual forefin structure was originally identified by Robert Appleby in 1979, but some of the historic specimens he examined had been ‘faked’, and this fakery had been missed until now.  In some instances, an isolated fin of an Ichthyosaurus had been added to a Protoichthyosaurus skeleton to make it appear more complete, which led to the genuine differences being missed.  This has been a major problem because it stopped science from progressing.  We also found some pathological fins, including Ichthyosaurus fins with pathologies that mimic the Protoichthyosaurus forefin structure”.

Dean and Judy teamed up with former undergraduate student Rashmi Mistry, who had been studying an unusual Ichthyosaur in the collections of the Cole Museum of Zoology, (University of Reading), as she prepared her undergraduate dissertation.

Rashmi added:

“Whilst doing my dissertation in 2016, I studied several Ichthyosaurs in the collections, including a very small skeleton.  It had an unusual forefin that matched Protoichthyosaurus, which I understood to be a widely unrecognised genus.  However, when I contacted Dean, he was very excited.  He told me that this little skeleton is the only known small juvenile Protoichthyosaurus.”

The Juvenile Protoichthyosaurus Specimen

Protoichthyosaurus (juvenile).

The juvenile Protoichthyosaurus fossil.

Picture Credit: University of Reading

More Than Twenty Specimens of Protoichthyosaurus Identified

As a result of this extensive study, more than twenty specimens of Protoichthyosaurus have been identified.  This is highly significant as each specimen (with a forefin) has the same structure.  The specimens all date from the early Jurassic geological period (200-190 million years ago) and they are geographically dispersed with specimens reported from Dorset, Somerset, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Glamorgan (Wales)

Links with the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition

As part of his research, Dean examined a nearly complete skeleton which is part of the vertebrate collection at the museum of Nottingham.  This specimen turned out to be different from all the other known examples of Protoichthyosaurus (autapomorphies concerning the cranium and the shape of the humeri).  A new species of Protoichthyosaurus has been erected, it has been named  Protoichthyosaurus applebyi, in honour of Dr Appleby and in recognition of his work some forty years ago that established the Protoichthyosaurus genus in the first place.

The Protoichthyosaurus applebyi Specimen

Protoichthyosaurus applebyi fossil specimen.

Protoichthyosaurus applebyi fossil.

The fossil specimen is currently on display at the Nottingham Lakeside Arts centre, as part of the “Dinosaurs of China” exhibition.  If you want to catch this marine reptile and take in all the beautiful feathered dinosaurs in this exhibition, you had better hurry, “Dinosaurs of China” closes at the end of the month.

Everything Dinosaur Team Members Viewed the Specimen at the “Dinosaurs of China” Exhibition

Protoichthyosaurus applebyi

The Nottingham Ichthyosaur (P. applebyi).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The scientific paper: “The Taxonomic Utility of Forefin Morphology in Lower Jurassic Ichthyosaurs: Protoichthyosaurus and Ichthyosaurus” by Lomax, D. R., Massare, J. A. and Mistry, R.  Published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

10 10, 2017

Fused Bones in Primitive Birds Earlier than Previously Thought

By | October 10th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Evolution of the Light but Strong Skeleton for Powered Flight

It is widely accepted that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  The Order Dinosauria is now classified into two parts, the non-avian dinosaurs, which are extinct and the avian dinosaurs (the birds), which are very much still with us.  However, the evolution of the specialised anatomy that enables powered flight is not well understood.  Birds have several skeletal modifications that greatly assist them when it comes to their aerial abilities.  Any aeronautical engineer will expound the virtues of a light but strong frame for an aircraft, birds have a light but strong skeleton with many elements fused for greater rigidity.  A team of scientists writing in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, have provided new evidence to help explain how these remarkable anatomical modifications came about.  This evolutionary story is likely to be much more complicated than previously thought.

Some Theropod Dinosaurs Evolved into Birds Skeletal Similarities and Differences

Bird skeleton compared to ground dwelling dinosaur skeleton

A skeleton of the Theropod dinosaur compared with a simplified skeleton of a modern bird.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows the skeleton of the recently described oviraptorid Corythoraptor jacobsi compared to that of a modern bird.  The bird skeleton shows a number of adaptations for powered flight, such as fused hand and foot bones and an enlarged sternum but the ground-dwelling Oviraptor possesses number of anatomical characteristics which show its affinity to modern birds.  Both Aves and the Oviraptoridae are included together in the clade Maniraptora which consists of modern birds and their closest extinct relatives from the Coelurosaurian Theropods.

Pterygornis dapingfangensis – Fused Bones

A second, beautifully-preserved specimen of the Early Cretaceous Enantiornithine bird Pterygornis dapingfangensis has fully fused hands (carpometacarpus bones) as well as a fused pelvic girdle.  Dating from around 120 million years ago, this specimen is the oldest known bird fossil which shows these modifications for powered flight.  The fossil comes from the Jiufotang Formation of Liaoning Province (north-eastern China).  This sparrow-sized creature is one of several genera known from these Lower Cretaceous deposits, only the Solnhofen deposits of Germany are older in terms of the bird fossils they contain.  The exquisite specimen shows that the carpometacarpus and the pelvis are completely fused, it had been thought that these traits did not appear in Aves until the Late Cretaceous.   The fossil record had shown that all bird fossils associated with Upper Cretaceous deposits have a completely fused hand and pelvis.  Thanks to this newly published scientific paper, the historical origin of these avian bone fusions has been pushed back some forty million years.

The Second Specimen of Pterygornis dapingfangensis

Pterygornis dapingfangensi helps scientists to better understand bird evolution.

Pterygornis dapingfangensis fossil.

Picture Credit: W. GAO (Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Great Fossils but Squashed Flat!

Named in 2015 from a single, disarticulated specimen, discovered near the town of Dapingfang, Chaoyang County in Liaoning Province, Pterygornis shows a number of unique autapomorphies that distinguishes it from other Enantiornithines and the second fossil has shown that the body plan for a rigid, fused skeleton was present in at least one species of bird from the Early Cretaceous.

Dr Steve Brusatte (University of Edinburgh), who reviewed the scientific paper, commented:

“These [fused bones] are fundamental features of the modern bird blueprint, and are integral to giving birds the strength and rigidity needed to fly.  There seems to have been a lot of experimentation among early birds, with different species trying out different ways of making their skeletons stronger and better able to withstand the rigours of flight.”

Sadly, many of the fossils from the Jiufotang Formation have been compressed and distorted as a result of the fossilisation process.  However, despite the taphonomy that ends with a lot of the fossils from these rocks being squashed flat, the researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences were able to identify that the fused bones in the second known specimen of Pterygornis were not a result of pathology or the fossilisation process.

The Disarticulated Holotype Specimen of Pterygornis dapingfangensis

Pterygornis dapingfangensi holotype material.

The scattered and disarticulated fossil remains of Pterygornis dapingfangensis.

Picture Credit: Wang Min

The lack of transitional fossils has hindered the process of identifying the evolutionary process towards the modern bird skeleton.  However, in this research paper the authors outline how the fusion of pelvic bones and those in the hands and feet may have evolved independently in non-avian dinosaurs, primitive and more advanced birds.  The scientists speculate that varying degrees of bone fusion were likely to have evolved in basal birds, perhaps as a result of environmental pressures or related to a refinement of flight capability.  It seems that the developmental pathway from ground-dwelling dinosaur to the skeletal shape of living birds has a few more surprises to spring before it is more fully understood.

6 10, 2017

New Prehistoric Crocodile with a Tough Skull

By | October 6th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Ieldraan melkshamensis – The Monster of Melksham

A new species of prehistoric marine crocodile has been described after an amazing effort by the preparators at the Natural History Museum (London), to separate this crocodile’s partial skull and fragmentary jaw bones from an extremely hard concretion, in which the fossils were entombed.  Although in very poor condition, the research team from the University of Edinburgh as well as the Natural History Museum, were able to identify enough unique anatomical traits (autapomorphies), to allow a new species to be erected.  The new marine crocodile (metriorhynchid) has been named Ieldraan melkshamensis, the species name honouring the town of Melksham in Wiltshire where the fossil material was unearthed.

Ieldraan melkshamensis – One Tough Crocodylomorph with a Very Tough Skull

Ieldraan melkshamensis fossil material.

Ieldraan melkshamensis fossil with the inset showing a large, conical tooth in detail.

Picture Credit: University of Edinburgh/Davide Foffa

The specimen was acquired by the Natural History Museum in 1875, but because of its poor condition it did not attract a lot of scientific attention.  The fossil being entombed within an extremely hard concretion (septarian concretion), meant any form of scientific study was extremely limited.

Mark Graham, Senior Fossil Preparator at the Natural History Museum explained the problem:

“The specimen was completely enclosed in a super-hard rock nodule with veins of calcite running through, which had formed around it during the process of fossilisation.  The work took many hours over a period of weeks, and great care had to be taken to avoid damaging the skull and teeth as they became exposed.”

Newest member of the Metriorhynchidae

Measuring more than three metres in length, Ieldraan melkshamensis was one of the most powerful and dangerous marine predators in the warm, shallow seas of western Europe some 163 million years ago (Callovian faunal stage of the late Middle Jurassic).  The teeth with their distinctive striations (series of ridges running down the length of the teeth) indicate that this large crocodylomorph, which was very distantly related to today’s crocodilians, fed on large prey items.  It might have hunted other marine reptiles as well as preying on squid and fish.  It has been classified as member of the Metriorhynchidae family, specifically assigned to the sub-family Geosaurinae and a phylogenetic analysis places Ieldraan as the sister taxon of Geosaurus, perhaps the best-known of all the metriorhynchids, having been named and described over 100 years ago.

A Model of a Typical Metriorhynchid Crocodylomorph (Plesiosuchus)

Plesiosuchus marine crocodile model.

Available from Everything Dinosaur a Plesiosuchus model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Plesiosuchus model shown above is part of the Wild Safari Prehistoric World model collection, replicas of marine crocodiles are quite rare, to learn more about this model series and to view the range at Everything Dinosaur: Safari Ltd: Wild Safari Prehistoric World”

The authors of the scientific paper, published in the “Journal of Systematic Palaeontology” conclude that if this new species is a sister taxon to Geosaurus, this places it in the Geosaurini clade and this data suggests that the major Geosaurini lineages originated millions of years earlier than previously thought.

Lead author Davide Foffa (School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh), stated:

“It’s not the prettiest fossil in the world, but the Melksham Monster tells us a very important story about the evolution of these ancient crocodiles and how they became the apex predators in their ecosystem.  Without the amazing preparation work done by our collaborators at the Natural History Museum, it would not have been possible to work out the anatomy of this challenging specimen.”

Prehistoric Marine Crocodile on Patrol – Plesiosuchus manselii

Marine crocodile (Plesiosuchus).

Plesiosuchus manselii illustrated.  A typical metriorhynchid.

Picture Credit: Fabio Manucci/University of Edinburgh

5 10, 2017

Thailand’s Biggest Dinosaur Discovery Reported

By | October 5th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossils of Biggest Dinosaur Found to Date in Thailand Reported

Everything Dinosaur has received reports that news sources are stating that fossils of a very big dinosaur, a Sauropod, have been found in Thailand.  The first dinosaur bone from Thailand was discovered back in 1976, since then, as the country’s geology has been mapped and explored, a number of exciting dinosaur fossil discoveries have been made, mostly by employees of the Department for Mineral Resources, which is part of the Ministry for Natural Resources and the Environment.  Thailand has quite extensive Mesozoic-aged exposures from both marine and non-marine environments.  To date, team members think that the largest dinosaur known from Thailand would be Phuwiangosaurus (P. sirindhornae), which is estimated to have reached a length of about twenty metres and weighed as much as seventeen tonnes.

The First Every Dinosaur Fossil from Thailand

Partial Sauropod femur (Thailand)

The distal end of a Sauropod femur.

Picture Credit: Department of Mineral Resources (Thailand)

The photograph above shows the first dinosaur fossil to have come to the attention of science found in Thailand.  The distal end (the part furthest away from the body) of a femur was found eroding out of a stream bed in 1976.  Since then, a number of dinosaur genera have been named and described including an Iguanodont (Sirindhorna khoratensis) and two sizeable Theropods (Siamotyrannus isanensis and Siamosaurus suteethorni).

A senior government official (Niwat Maneekut, deputy director-general of the Department of Mineral Resources), is reported to have said that the fossils come from the north-east of the country.  A single fossilised bone was found by a villager in the Nong Bua Raheo district of  Chaiyaphum province, around two hundred miles north-east of the capital Bangkok, last year, but more recent excavations led by palaeontologists from the Department of Mineral Resources had recovered a further twenty pieces of bone.

Information remains patchy, but the fossils are estimated to be around 100 million years old and scientists are conducting more research.

Phuwiangosaurus is Believed to be a Member of the Euhelopodidae and Therefore Similar to Euhelopus

Scale drawing - Euhelopus.

Euhelopus scale drawing.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

3 10, 2017

Squid the Last Meal of a Baby Ichthyosaurus

By | October 3rd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|1 Comment

Baby Ichthyosaurus communis Dined on Squid

A team of UK-based scientists have identified the youngest and therefore the smallest specimen of Ichthyosaurus communis known to science and, just for good measure, they have found what could have been the marine reptile’s last meal.  Inside the body cavity of the seventy-centimetre-long fossil, the researchers found tiny “hook-like” structures, these are the less digestible parts of squid and therefore, the scientists were able to deduce that this young Ichthyosaurus had recently fed on cephalopods.

A Young Ichthyosaurus communis Attacking a Prehistoric Squid

A neonate Ichthyosaurus communis feeding on a squid.

A neonate Ichthyosaurus attacks a squid.

Picture Credit: Julian Kiely

The artist Julien Kiely has kindly reconstructed the new-born in this fantastic scene, which depicts the moment a newly born Ichthyosaurus communis attacks a squid.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, one of the authors of the scientific paper, published today in the journal “Historical Biology – The International Journal of Paleobiology”, Dean Lomax stated:

“It is amazing to think we know what a creature that is nearly 200 million years old ate for its last meal.  We found many tiny hook-like structures preserved between the ribs.  These are from the arms of prehistoric squid.  So, we know this animal’s last meal before it died was squid.”

From the Biggest to the Smallest

University of Manchester palaeontologist Dean Lomax, in collaboration with German colleagues, had recently published a paper describing the largest specimen of Ichthyosaurus communis, a female that turned out to be pregnant when she died.  Everything Dinosaur wrote an article about the research in August*, as well as having described the biggest I. communis, just a few weeks later, this new paper, describes the smallest.

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax Holds the Neonate Ichthyosaurus communis Specimen

Dean Lomax holding the neonate Ichthyosaurus fossil.

Palaeontologist Dean Lomax holding the baby Ichthyosaurus fossil.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/University of Birmingham

*To read the article about the largest Ichthyosaurus communis specimen: Palaeontologists and the Pregnant Ichthyosaurus

Ichthyosaurus communis

Several species of Ichthyosaurus have been identified, but Ichthyosaurus communis was the first, being named and described in 1822 from fossil material discovered by Mary Anning.  These reptiles were viviparous and a number of specimens showing embryos preserved inside their mothers are known.  However, this Ichthyosaurus is one of only a handful of fossils that represent very young animals.  As it was not preserved in association with a larger specimen (the mother) and as there are stomach contents present, it is likely that this fossil represents an independent, recently born animal, the first neonate Ichthyosaurus communis skeleton to be described.

The Ichthyosaurus Fossil on Display at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, University of Birmingham

The neonate Ichthyosaurus communis fossil specimen.

The neonate I. communis specimen.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/University of Birmingham

The fossil is definitely a new born and not a dwarf species of Ichthyosaur as the scientists noted the large ring of sclerotic bone relative to the eye socket and the poorly ossified (highly cancellous) bones of the skull and other parts of the skeleton, these signs all indicate that these are the fossilised remains of a very young marine reptile.

Niche Partitioning in the Ichthyosauria

The new specimen is from the collections of the Lapworth Museum of Geology, (University of Birmingham).  Palaeontologist Nigel Larkin, a research associate at Cambridge University, cleaned and studied the specimen in 2016,  as he prepared the fossil, he became aware of its potential significance.  Nigel has recently been involved in an extensive restoration project at Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire.  He has been helping to restore the Victorian Geological Gallery at this National Trust property to its former glory.  As one of the most highly respected fossil preparators in the UK, Nigel was able to reveal the fossil’s secrets as he cleaned and helped to preserve the delicate marine reptile skeleton.

To read an article about the Geological Gallery preservation project at Biddulph Grange: Fossil Hunting at Biddulph Grange

The discovery of squid remnants in the gut area suggests these types of Ichthyosaur specialised in hunting cephalopods.  Commenting on the implications of this fossil, Dean Lomax explained:

“This is interesting because a study by other researchers on a different type of Ichthyosaur, called Stenopterygius, which is from a geologically younger age, found that the small – and therefore young – examples of that species fed exclusively on fish.  This shows a difference in prey-preference in new-born Ichthyosaurs.” 

This could hint at niche partitioning, whereby similar species use different resources within an environment to reduce direct competition and to help them co-exist.

Dean Lomax and Nigel Larkin in Front of the Jurassic Seas Exhibit (Lapworth Museum of Geology)

The neonate Ichthyosaurus fossil on display.

Dean Lomax (left) and Nigel Larkin (right) in front of the Lapworth Geological Museum exhibit.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester/University of Birmingham

How Old is the Fossil?

The specimen, part of the vertebrate fossil collection of the Lapworth Museum of Geology, (University of Birmingham), has no provenance data associated with it.  Unfortunately, there were no collection notes or other details to help the palaeontologists to identify where the fossil came from.  However, permission was granted for Nigel to remove a small portion of the matrix surrounding the fossil.  He passed this on to Ian Boomer (University of Birmingham) and Philip Copestake (Merlin Energy, Resources Ltd), so that they could analyse the rock for microscopic fossils.  Based on the types of microfossil preserved, the scientists were able to identify that this Ichthyosaur was around 199-196 million years old, (uppermost Hettangian faunal stage to lowermost Sinemurian of the Early Jurassic).

Nigel outlined the difficulties the team faced:

“Many historic Ichthyosaur specimens in museums lack any geographic or geological details and are therefore undated.  This process of looking for microfossils in their host rock might be the key to unlocking the mystery of many specimens.  Thus, this will provide researchers with lots of new information that otherwise is lost.  Of course, this requires some extensive research, but it is worth the effort.”

In addition, establishing a microfossil signature for a fossil may also help in those cases where theft of fossil material is suspected.

As part of the study, the skeleton was Micro CT-scanned and a three-dimensional digital model was created by Steve Dey of ThinkSee3D Ltd.  Using medical imaging software, Steve converted the three sets of CT cross-sectional images (from scans of the tail, middle section and head) into a single digital three-dimensional model of the whole animal.  This non-destructive technique provided further key information helping to identify the species and potentially, helping to provide new data on Ichthyosaur ontogeny.

The beautiful new-born Ichthyosaurus is on display in the recently refurbished Lapworth Museum of Geology, University of Birmingham, which was nominated for the 2017 Art Fund Museum of the Year.

The scientific paper: “The First Known Neonate Ichthyosaurus communis Skeleton: A Rediscovered Specimen from the Lower Jurassic, UK” by Lomax, D. R., Larkin, N. R., Boomer, S., Dey, S. and Copestake, published in “Historical Biology”.

1 10, 2017

Pterosaur Study Sheds New Light on Jidapterus

By | October 1st, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Jidapterus edentus Gets Grounded

A team of researchers, writing in the on-line, academic, open access journal PLOS One, have published a reassessment of the Early Cretaceous Pterosaur Jidapterus (J. edentus).  This flying reptile, with a wingspan estimated to be between 1.6 and 1.7 metres, is one of a number of flying reptiles known from the Lower Cretaceous deposits of the Jiufotang and Yixian Formations, which between them have helped palaeontologists to build up a detailed picture about life in northern China some 125 million years ago (Jehol Biota).  In this new study, Jidapterus is identified as a valid genus (there had been some doubts raised over whether or not the single fossil specimen known represented another closely related Pterosaur species – Chaoyangopterus zhangi).  In addition, the authors postulate that Jidapterus might have been a ground dwelling forager, Everything Dinosaur team members have speculated that Jidapterus only took to the trees to evade predators or perhaps to roost.

The Only Known Specimen of Jidapterus edentus with an Accompanying Line Drawing

Line drawing and holotype of Jidapterus edentus.

The holotype fossil of Jidapterus edentus and accompanying line drawing.

Picture Credit: PLOS One

Tricky Pterosaur

Named in 2003, Jidapterus is known from a single, partially articulated and nearly complete specimen (holotype RCPS-030366CY).  It is a member of an enigmatic family of Pterosaurs called the Chaoyangopteridae (pronounced Chow-yang-op-tery-rid-aye).  Several species have been named, from Brazil (Lacusovagus) and from Lebanon (Microtuban), to read more about the Lebanese Pterosaur, the first flying reptile to be described from this part of the world: Pterosaur Fossil Flies Home.  Most of what palaeontologists know, about this family of flying reptiles, distantly related to the giant azhdarchid Pterosaurs, comes from studying the fossilised remains of chaoyangopterids from northern China.  Trouble is, these delicate flying reptile specimens associated with Liaoning Province are squashed as flat as a pancake.  The researchers identify a number of anatomical traits (autapomorphies) that reinforce the idea that Jidapterus should be considered as a distinct genus.

In addition, the scientists examined the feet and claws of Jidapterus and concluded that this flying reptile, once thought to have been a piscivore, was probably omnivorous, foraging on the forest floor for seeds and other plant material, as well as snatching up invertebrates and small creatures.  Whether or not the narrow, pointed beak (labelled in the diagram above) was entirely toothless remains open to debate.

The scientific paper: “The Toothless Pterosaur Jidapterus edentus (Pterodactyloidea: Azhdarchoidea) from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota and its Paleoecological Implications” by Wen-Hao Wu, Chang-Fu Zhou and Brian Andres published in PLOS One.

30 09, 2017

Strong-armed Sabre-Tooth Kittens

By | September 30th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|1 Comment

Sabre-Toothed Kittens and Their Strong Arms

A new study undertaken by scientists from California State Polytechnic University, the University of Wisconsin and colleagues at Bristol University, has concluded that Smilodon (S. fatalis), kittens were born with strong arms, stronger than similarly-sized modern big cats.  However, their pattern of bone development was congruent to other members of the Felidae.

Strong Kittens Grew up to be Strong Cats

Sabre-Toothed Cats

The famous “Sabre-Toothed Cat” – Smilodon.  Strong kittens – strong cats.

Picture Credit: BBC

The Treasure Trove of Fossils at La Brea

Using the extensive Smilodon fossil record preserved at the La Brea Tar Pits (Los Angeles, California), the researchers measured the limb bones of these big cats.  Only unbroken limb bones were included in the growth analysis.  Fortunately, given the huge number of Smilodon fossil specimens associated with this natural predator trap, the researchers, which included Donald Prothero, the author of “The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals”, that Everything Dinosaur was invited to review earlier this year* had a substantial data set to study.  For example, the scientists included thirty, Smilodon upper arm bones (humeri) representing cats at various growth stages in this study.  Their ontogenic analysis revealed that young animals had thicker and more robust bones than other members of the cat family (Felidae).  The bones did not become more robust as the cats grew, it seems Sabre-Tooths were born with big, strong arms.

Comparing the Upper Arm Bones of Big Cats Extant and Extinct 

Sabre-Toothed Cats were born with strong arms.

Comparing the humeri of extinct and extant big cats.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/DRP

The photograph shows a comparison of five big cat upper arm bones (the humerus).   The bones come from adult animals and provide a visual guide to the forelimb size of large felids.

From the left – the first, whitish bone is the humerus of a Mountain Lion (Cougar) – Puma concolor.  The second, whitish bone is the humerus from a Tiger, Panthera tigris.  The Tiger is a much bigger and heavier than the Mountain Lion.  The bone in the middle is the humerus of Smilodon fatalis, it is much thicker and more substantial.  The third whitish bone comes from a Lion Panthera leo.  The dark bone on the far right, comes from an extinct species that was contemporaneous with Smilodon.  This is the humerus of an American Cave Lion (Panthera atrox), the P. atrox bones used in the study also came from La Brea Tar Pits.

How Did the Limb Bones of Smilodon fatalis Change as the Cats Aged?

The research team discovered that whilst the arm bones of Smilodon, were more robust than those or extant big cats, they did not become more robust as the cats got older.  Smilodon kittens had big limb bones to begin with.  Mapping the bone growth (ontogeny), using the many specimens representing animals of different ages from the La Brea fossil collection, the team found that Smilodon grew in a similar way to other, primitive members of the Felidae and in the same way that many living cat species do today.  The bones lengthen and become more slender before they thicken.  This study, published in the on-line, open access journal PLOS One suggests that Felidae growth and development is much more constrained than previously thought, even in genera with very different morphotypes and bone structures.

Comparing the Radii of Big Cats (Living and Extinct)

Smilodon Limb Growth Study.

Comparing the radius of extinct and extant cat species.

Picture Credit: PLOS One/DRP

The photograph (above) shows the radii of the five species of big cat, laid out in the same order as the photograph which showed the humeri.  The radius is one of a pair of bones found in the forearm, it is the bone that is lateral to the body (facing the outside).

Left to Right:

  • Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)
  • Tiger (Panthera tigris)
  • Sabre-Toothed Cat (Smilodon fatalis)
  • African Lion (Panthera leo)
  • American Cave Lion (Panthera atrox)

Professor Prothero stated:

“Sabre-Tooth cats have extraordinarily strong front limbs for tackling and subduing prey before they slashed their throats or bellies with their sabre-like canine teeth.  Using the extraordinary collection of limb bones of Sabre-tooth kittens at La Brea, we found that their limbs don’t become more robust as they grew up, but instead retain the stereotypical growth pattern where the limbs grow longer more quickly than they grow thick.  To compensate, Sabre-tooth kittens were born with unusually robust limbs and retained that pattern as they grew.”

The limb measurements demonstrated that Smilodon fatalis kittens had the same growth curve graph as those of Tiger or Mountain Lion kittens, but they tended to be thicker from the outset.  For the same length of bone, the Sabre-Tooth kitten forelimb element (radius or humerus) always had a larger circumference than a comparably sized Mountain Lion or Tiger.

A Comparative Analysis of the Tibia of Smilodon (S. fatalis) Different Growth Stages

Smilodon tibia comparison.

Comparing the size of Smilodon leg bones (tibia).

Picture Credit: PLOS One/DRP

* Everything Dinosaur’s review of “The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals” by Donald R. Prothero: Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals – Book Review

The scientific paper: “Did saber-tooth kittens grow up musclebound?  A study of postnatal limb bone allometry in felids from the Pleistocene of Rancho La Brea” by Katherine Long, Donald Prothero , Meena Madan, Valerie J. P. Syverson published in PLOS One.

28 09, 2017

New Basal European Ornithopod Described

By | September 28th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Burianosaurus augustai  – Unappreciated Ornithopods

If you were able to book yourself onto a time-travelling safari to the Cretaceous, before journeying into the long distant past, you might explain to the travel guide that you would be hoping to spot a Tyrannosaur, get up close to a browsing armoured dinosaur or possibly take some photos of Triceratops.  However, we suspect, that even if such a venture was possible, few tourists would spare a thought for one group of dinosaurs, that ironically, you would be much more likely to encounter.  These are the Ornithopods, that diverse and extremely successful group of bird-hipped dinosaurs, that are often overlooked.  A new basal Ornithopod has been named and described this week – Burianosaurus augustai.  A plant-eating dinosaur named after the palaeoartist Zdeněk Burian, who, in his lifetime did much to raise the profile of the Dinosauria.

An Illustration of Burianosaurus (B. augustai)

Burianosaurus augustai illustrated.

An illustration of the basal Ornithopod from the Czech Republic – Burianosaurus augustai.

Picture Credit: Edyta Felcyn

The Dinosaur Equivalent of Antelopes

They lacked horns, body armour and for the majority, they did not reach huge sizes, but these herbivores would have made up a significant component of the dinosaur fauna in most Cretaceous ecosystems.  If you were to go on a safari to the Maasai Mara of Kenya or the Serengeti of Tanzania, tourists might be keen to spot lions, leopards and elephants but in all likelihood, you would encounter a great many different types of antelope.   Dinosaurs like the newly described Burianosaurus can be considered as being the dinosaur equivalent of today’s antelopes.

Described from a single, well-preserved, left femur (thigh bone), Burianosaurus is the first dinosaur to be named from fossils found in the Czech Republic.  It is not the first dinosaur fossil from the Czech Republic to be scientifically described, that honour goes to a single, broken tooth from an indeterminate Theropod from Upper Jurassic sediments that was described in 2014, coincidentally by the lead author of the paper describing Burianosaurus, Daniel Madzia (Polish Academy of Sciences).

The Fossilised Thigh Bone of Burianosaurus (Various Views)

Specimen number NBP oB 203 (Burianosaurus left femur)

Views of the left femur, the only fossil from which the basal Ornithopod Burianosaurus augustai has been described.

Picture Credit: The Journal of Systematic Palaeontology

The photograph (above), shows various views of the left femur of Burianosaurus.  This is the holotype fossil (NMP Ob 203), from which this genus was described.  It is not common these days, to have a new dinosaur genus erected on the description of a single bone.  When this fossil was first studied back in 2005, it was assigned to the iguanodontids.  However, over recent years the Iguanodontia and their relatives have been subject to phylogenetic reassessment and many of the taxonomic relationships between different components of the Ornithopoda have been revised.  The single bone was preserved in such fantastic condition, that its shape and muscle scars proved crucial in assigning a new dinosaur genus.

The views of the femur are (A) a view from the front, (B) viewed from the back, (C) a medial view (the bone viewed from the side closest to the body, think of it as the “inside leg view”) and (D) a lateral view, the bone viewed from the side of the bone towards the outside of the body.  Photographs (E) and (F) are views of the bone from the top looking down (proximal) and from the bottom of the bone looking up (distal).

The scale bar is 10 centimetres and the white arrow in (A) indicates the site from which a small sample of fossil bone was taken to permit an internal examination of bone structure to take place.  This histology helped the research team, writing in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, to identify this specimen as coming from a young, adult animal.

Bigger than Hypsilophodon (H. foxii)

A lot of work has recently been undertaken in a bid to better understand how different Ornithopods were related to each other.  These dinosaurs are characterised by their small, quite triangular heads, large orbits (eye sockets) and relatively primitive dentition (at least when compared to their relatives that comprise the Ankylopollexia clade – more derived Iguanodonts, Camptosaurs and the duck-billed dinosaurs).  Their front limbs tended to be much shorter than their hind limbs, so these dinosaurs were probably bipedal, although capable of dropping onto all fours if needed.  Burianosaurus has been depicted as being very similar to Hypsilophodon (H. foxii), to which it was related.  However, the largest H. foxii thigh bone that we at Everything Dinosaur are aware of, is only about half the size of the holotype of B. augustai.  Based on this we estimate that Burianosaurus was around four metres long.

Size Estimate Burianosaurus Compared to Hypsilophodon

Hypsilophodon and Burianosaurus size comparison.

An approximate size comparison between Burianosaurus and Hypsilophodon (H. foxii).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Honouring Burian and Augusta

The genus name honours the famous palaeoartist Zdeněk Burian (1905–1981), whilst the species name refers to the influential palaeontologist and author Josef Augusta (1903 – 1968), who between them, did much to popularise the study of prehistoric animals.  Like Burianosaurus, both Burian and Professor Augusta came from the Czech Republic.  The single fossil bone that represents this new genus (the thigh bone), was found in the Korycany Beds of the Peruc-Korycany Formation.  These are a series of marine deposits laid down in a shallow sea, close to land during the Cenomanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous.  Team members at Everything Dinosaur estimate that Burianosaurus lived around 95 million years ago.

In the scientific paper, the researchers carry out  a series of phylogenetic analyses of Ornithopod data and as a result, B. augustai is classified as a basal Ornithopod, however, quite how the Ornithopoda is configured remains open to debate.  If you do ever get the chance to participate in a time-travelling safari to the Cretaceous, look out for these fast-running, bipeds, fossils of which are just as valuable to science as that of any other dinosaur.

The scientific paper: “A Basal Ornithopod Dinosaur from the Cenomanian of the Czech Republic” by Daniel Madzia, Clint A. Boyd and Martin Mazuch published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

26 09, 2017

California Adopts a State Dinosaur

By | September 26th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Augustynolophus Makes the Grade

The duck-billed dinosaur Augustynolophus morrisi has become the state dinosaur symbol for California. “Auggie” as this Late Cretaceous member of the Hadrosaurinae has been nick-named by campaigners, joins a long list of symbols for the “Golden State”.  Thus, California becomes the eighth state in the Union to adopt a dinosaur as an official state symbol.

Hadrosaur Becomes the State Dinosaur for California

Augustynolophus image.

Augustynolophus has now become California’s dinosaur symbol.

Picture Credit: Augustynolophus Twitter Account

The End of a Long Campaign

It was back in April that Everything Dinosaur first reported on moves within the Californian Senate to adopt a duck-billed dinosaur as a symbol for one of the most populous parts of the United States.  The Assembly member for Santa Monica, Richard Bloom, put forward the legislation for this long extinct reptile to become honoured in this way.  The fossils of this eight to ten-metre-long herbivore come from Upper Cretaceous (Maastrichtian deposits).  The fossil material, including several elements from the skull, have been excavated from marine deposits of the Moreno Formation, strata more frequently associated with Mosasaurs and Plesiosaurs.  It is likely that rivers in spate occasionally washed the carcasses of these dinosaurs out into the sea, the bodies settled on the seabed and were rapidly buried, thus preventing the corpses being broken up by scavengers.  California is the only place in the world where fossils of this particular duck-billed dinosaur have been found.  Two specimens are known, both are part of the vertebrate fossil collection of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

To read this earlier article: Moves to Adopt a Dinosaur State Symbol for California

Governor Jerry Brown announced earlier this week that the signing of a bill making “Auggie” one of the official insignia of California had taken place.

Once Saurolophus, now Augustynolophus but Always Californian

The first fossil evidence for the dinosaur that was to eventually become the newest Californian state symbol was found in the Panoche Hills of Fresno County in 1939.  A second specimen was excavated from strata in the nearby San Benito County two years later.  The excavation work was undertaken by field teams from the California Institute of Technology.  Both specimens were originally assigned to the Hadrosaur genus Saurolophus, a dinosaur that was first named and described in 1912 from fossils discovered in Canada.

Researchers Excavating the Fresno County Fossil Find (1940)

Augustynolophus excavation.

A field team from the California Institute of Technology excavating the fossils of Augustynolophus.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

A review of the fossil specimens led to an assignment of a new species within the Saurolophus genus – S. morrisi (2013), however, a more recent reassessment, involving a number of scientists from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, established that there were enough differences in the fossilised bones to permit the establishment of a new genus.  The species name honours Dr William J. Morris, a notable American palaeontologist who did much to improve our understanding of Mesozoic reptiles found in California.  The genus name, which was formally adopted in 2014, pays tribute to Mrs Gretchen Augustyn, a long-time supporter of the Earth sciences and a former Trustee for the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Palaeontology in Claremont, California.

Helping to Spark an Interest in Science, History and Education

Augustynolophus (pronounced Awe-gus-tine-oh-loaf-us), was closely related to Saurolophus, but just three years after being placed into its own genus, the dinosaur has been honoured by becoming one of around thirty state symbols for the most heavily populated state in the Union.  It is not California’s state fossil, that accolade goes to Smilodon californicus, however, after sixty-six million years one of California’s oldest vertebrate residents has been recognised.  Some might think that such insignia are not important, but it is hoped that by raising the profile of the Dinosauria in this way, an interest in science, local history and the story of California will be sparked.

Fossils of Augustynolophus morrisi on Display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Augustynolophus fossils

Augustynolophus fossils on display.

Picture Credit: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

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