All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories

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

17 06, 2018

Tiny Frogs Preserved in Cretaceous Amber

By | June 17th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Amber Fossils Provide Evidence of Cretaceous Frogs Inhabiting Wet, Tropical Environments

The remains of four tiny frogs preserved in Cretaceous-aged amber from northern Myanmar have provided palaeontologists with the first definitive evidence showing frogs 99 million years ago were inhabiting wet, tropical environments.

Preserved in Cretaceous Amber – A Window into an Ancient Terrestrial Ecosystem

Prehistoric frog preserved in amber.

A polished amber nodule from Myanmar showing substantial organic remains including the remains of a frog.

Picture Credit: University of Florida

Electrorana limoae

The new species of Cretaceous amphibian has been named Electrorana limoae.  It was small, a juvenile, measuring around twenty millimetres in length, but this frog and other amazing fossil finds from Myanmar amber (burmite), some of which have been documented on this blog, provide scientists with an improved understanding of the micro-flora and micro-fauna of a tropical forest ecosystem that existed some ninety-nine million years ago.

The frog fossils provide the earliest irrefutable evidence of these types of amphibian living in wet, tropical forests.  They are the oldest-known examples of frogs preserved in amber.

Co-author of the study, published earlier this week in Nature’s “Scientific Reports”, David Blackburn (Florida Museum of Natural History) stated:

“It’s almost unheard of to get a fossil frog from this time period that is small, has preservation of small bones and is mostly three-dimensional.  This is pretty special, but what’s most exciting about this animal is its context.  These frogs were part of a tropical ecosystem that, in some ways, might not have been that different to what we find today – minus the dinosaurs.”

A Life Reconstruction of Electrorana limoae

A life reconstruction of Electrorana limoae.

Electrorana limoae – a life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Damir G Martin

Frogs – Probably Very Numerous But a Shockingly Poor Fossil Record

The fossil record for the Class Amphibia is extremely poor, it is believed that frogs may have evolved during the Triassic, although the fossils of an ancient frog/salamander ancestor discovered in Texas in 1995 might indicate that frogs were around many millions of years earlier.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about the discovery of a potential ancestral link between frogs and salamanders: Amphibian Ancestry a Little Clearer Thanks to New Discovery

Frogs tend to be small, as a result their light, often tiny bones are not likely to preserve well so they are very probably underrepresented in the fossil record.  What fossils we do have of frogs tend to be biased towards more robust species from arid, seasonal environments, although, if we consider today’s frogs, the bulk of frog diversity can be found in tropical rainforests.

Dr Blackburn added:

“Ask any kid what lives in a rainforest and frogs are on the list, but surprisingly, we have almost nothing from the fossil record to say that’s a longstanding association.”

A Computer-generated Model Showing Frog Bones (white) and the Remains of a Beetle (Orange)

Computer generated three-dimensional image of the bones of Electrorana limoae and the yet to be described beetle.

Computer generated three-dimensional image of the bones of Electrorana limoae and the yet to be described beetle in the amber nodule.

Picture Credit: University of Florida

The Burmite Deposits of Myanmar

The amber deposits of northern Myanmar (referred to as burmite), have provided palaeontologists with a unique record of an ancient Cretaceous tropical forest ecosystem. with fossil evidence of mosses, bamboo-like plants, aquatic spiders and velvet worms.  The discovery of Electrorana and the other fossils, the first frogs to have been found in burmite, will add to our understanding of frogs in the Cretaceous.  These fossils demonstrate that frogs have inhabited wet, tropical forests for at least 99 million years.  Frog fossils preserved in amber are exceptionally rare, previous examples have come from the Dominican Republic and Mexico and date back only to about 40 million and 25 million years, respectively.

A View of the Skeletal Remains Preserved in the Burmite

Computer generated images of Electrorana limoae.

Three-dimensional images of the skeletal remains of Electrorana limoae.

Picture Credit: University of Florida

Electrorana is the most well-preserved of the four frog fossils.  Clearly visible in the amber are the frog’s skull, its forelimbs, part of its backbone, a partial hind limb.  The other amber fossils contain two hands and an imprint of a frog that likely decayed inside the resin.

Answering Some Questions but Raising Many More

Many characteristics herpetologists use to discern details of a frog’s life history and determine how it’s related to other frogs, the wrist bones, the pelvis, hip bones, the inner ear, the top of the backbone, are either missing or were not yet fully developed in the juvenile frog.  The researchers, which include lead author Lida Xing (China University of Geosciences), have postulated that Electrorana limoae had similar features to extant Midwife toads and Fire-bellied toads, Eurasian species associated with temperate ecosystems.  Further CT scans and more fossil discoveries could help illuminate ancient evolutionary relationships, possibly clarifying how Electrorana fits into the frog family.

A Computer-generated Image of the Fossils of Electrorana limoae (note the presence of a beetle)

Computer generated image of Electrorana limoe and undescribed beetle.

Computer generated three-dimensional image of the bones of Electrorana limoae and the yet to be described beetle.

Picture Credit: University of Florida

If ecosystems of today are anything to go by, it seems likely that there may be numerous frog fossils awaiting discovery, locked away in burmite.  We do not have a lot of single-species frog communities in tropical forest environments in the modern world, so it does seem likely that more frog fossils will be found in northern Myanmar.

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

For further news stories about fossil discoveries from Myanmar burmite:

Evidence of insect mimicry preserved in amber: Those Clever Cretaceous Lacewings

A blood-sucking story: A Blood-sucking Story – Dinosaur Parasites

The tale of the spiders with tails: A Tale of the Spiders with Tails

Enantiornithine bird preserved in amber: Watch the Birdie!

15 06, 2018

Mexico’s Oldest Member of the Ankylosauria

By | June 15th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Acantholipan gonzalezi – Coahuila’s Oldest Dinosaur

A new genus of armoured dinosaur has been described.  This dinosaur roamed northern Mexico around 85 million years ago (the Santonian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous).  Described as a nodosaurid, the dinosaur has been named Acantholipan gonzalezi and it is the oldest dinosaur described to date from the Coahuila region of Mexico.  Its discovery is no real surprise, some osteoderms (dermal armour), associated with ankylosaurids have been described from the geologically younger (Campanian), Cerro del Pueblo Formation exposed in the Coahuila region.  In addition, a single tooth identified as nodosaurid, has been discovered in the Mexican state of Baja California.  This fossil tooth was found in Campanian-aged deposits.  Palaeontologists had expected that armoured dinosaur fossils would be found elsewhere in Mexico, extending their known range further south.

The Southernmost Nodosaurid from North America – Acantholipan gonzalezi

A life reconstruction of Acantholipan gonzalezi.

A model of the Mexican nodosaurid Acantholipan gonzalezi.

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto (Mexico)

Identified from Fragments of Bone

Fragmentary fossils found near to the city of Ocampo in northern Mexico, back in 2011, suggested that nodosaurids roamed this part of North America during the Late Cretaceous, but it was thought that the fossil material was not sufficient to support the establishment of a new species.  The fossils consist of a single dorsal vertebra, a tail bone (caudal vertebra), a partial ulna, a fragment of rib, one large spike (osteodermal spine) along with a portion of an upper arm bone (distal end of a humerus).

The Fragmentary Fossil Material (CPC 272)

Acantholipan fossil material.

Fossil fragments representing a nodosaurid from Coahuila, Mexico (Acantholipan gonzalezi).

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto (Mexico)

The photograph (above), shows the nodosaurid fossil material from Coahuila.  Although very fragmentary, subsequent comparative analysis with younger North American nodosaurids has permitted the establishment of a new species.

Key

Distal end of right humerus in (a) dorsal, (b) ventral, (c) anterior, and (d) posterior views.
Dorsal vertebra in (e) cranial, (f) caudal, and (g-h) lateral views.
Right ulna in (i) dorsal, (j) ventral, and (k-l) lateral views.
Osteodermal spine (m-p).

Note: Scale bar = 5 centimetres

A Skeletal Illustration of A. gonzalezi – Known Fossil Material Outlined in Red

Acantholipan gonzalezi skeletal drawing.

The known bones of A. gonzalezi are shown in red.

Picture Credit: Museo del Desierto (Mexico)

Armoured Dinosaur Bones Found in Marine Shales

The fossil material was discovered in marine shales associated with the Pen Formation.  The research team studying this material have concluded that the carcass of the dinosaur, a juvenile approximately 3.5 metres long, had been swept out to sea, before sinking to the seafloor and becoming buried by sediment.  If this dinosaur had reached maturity, the scientists estimate that it could have reached a length of about six metres and weighed several thousand kilograms.  With the naming of Acantholipan gonzalezi, this dinosaur becomes the oldest member of the Dinosauria described from the Coahuila region, and the first member of the Ankylosauria clade to have been named from Mexican fossils.

Commenting on the new species of armoured dinosaur, José Rubén Guzmán Gutiérrez of the Museo del Desierto and one of the co-authors of the scientific paper describing the dinosaur in the Swiss Journal of Palaeontology, stated:

“Here in Mexico, we have a significant palaeontological wealth, specifically in the state of Coahuila.  We have this palaeontological richness and it is worthwhile for the population to get involved in getting to know this heritage that belongs to all Mexicans.”

The name of this new species of armoured dinosaur honours its Mexican roots.  The genus name comes from the Greek “akanthos”, which means spine, combined with the name of the native Indians which inhabited this part of northern Mexico.  The species name honours Arturo González-González, the director of the Museo del Desierto.

To read an article from 2017 reporting on the discovery of a new species of horned dinosaur from the Coahuila region of Mexico: Yehuecauhceratops – A New Horned Dinosaur from Northern Mexico

11 06, 2018

Scientists Calculate the Cost of Powering a Dinosaur Theme Park

By | June 11th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Scientists Calculate the Cost of Powering a Dinosaur Theme Park

This week, twenty-five years ago, saw the release of the film “Jurassic Park”, the Steven Spielberg directed blockbuster that brought to the world’s cinema screens CGI generated and animatronic dinosaurs.  As cinema-goers currently enjoy the latest instalment in this multi-billion-dollar franchise – “Fallen Kingdom”, we could reflect on how our perceptions regarding the Dinosauria has changed since the adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel first hit our screens.

Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Jurassic Park

The front cover of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

The first edition of Jurassic Park published in 1990, Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster followed three years later.

We could comment on how these movies have enthused a whole generation of new scientists, with many opting for a career in palaeontology, first inspired by the amazing prehistoric animals brought to life on the silver screen.  Instead, let’s leave the speculation to others about whether it would ever be possible to resurrect a long extinct group of animals, the last of which roamed the Earth sixty-six million years ago and consider one of the more practical aspects of converting an island into a dinosaur themed tourist attraction – how much power would it take to run Jurassic Park?

Thanks to E.ON and the assistance of some very clever physicists at Imperial College London, we have an answer to this question.

It would take 455 million kWh to power a real-life Dinosaur Kingdom.  That’s enough to power half the homes in Harrogate for a year.   Furthermore, team members at Everything Dinosaur have calculated, that based on an average UK household’s power consumption of around 5,000 kWh per annum, the annual power consumption of your typical prehistoric animal populated park would permit you to run the average UK home for around 91,000 years!   That should be enough gas and electricity to see you comfortably through the next Ice Age.

The Cost of Powering a Prehistoric Animal Theme Park

The running costs of a dinosaur themed tourist attraction.

The energy costs involved in running a “Prehistoric Park”.

Picture Credit: E.ON

Running a Real-Life Jurassic Park

From a huge aquarium to house the semi-aquatic Spinosaurus to a dinosaur embryo cooling fridge and egg incubator, the physics experts investigated how much energy each feature would need to keep the park running over twelve months.  The final figure calculated was 455,145,418 kWh, costing approximately £131,732 a day.  We wonder how much money the owners of the theme park would have saved if they had instructed their geneticists to re-create dinosaurs as they probably were, that is, equipped with their own insulation in the form of downy, feathery coats.

If Feathered Dinosaurs had been Genetically Engineered – This Might Have Reduced the Annual Fuel Bill

Artwork by Zhao Chuang (PNSO).

If dinosaurs had been genetically engineered so that they retained their feathers, would insulated dinosaurs have reduced the annual fuel bill?

Picture Credit: Zhao Chuang PNSO

Modern Energy Solutions to Accommodate Ancient Animals

For any billionaire with aspirations to build a real-life “Jurassic Park”, having an understanding of the running costs would be an important component of the business plan.

Scott Somerville, E.ON’s Head of Advertising, PR and Campaigns, stated:

“With huge 10,000 volt electric fences and an aviary designed to house pterosaurs to name just two of the Dinosaur Kingdom’s unusual features, we suspected the energy needed to power the whole park would be big – possibly equivalent to powering a whole region within the UK.  But what our figures show is that it’s actually a massive amount!  It’s about the same as powering 30,142 average UK households a year – roughly equivalent to powering half the homes in Harrogate – but by adopting modern solutions, the power requirement and costs could be even less.”

Prehistoric Poo Turned into Power

The operators of any theoretical theme park, in which the main attractions would have quite happy consumed visitors for their breakfast, would need the very latest in safety features.  There have been five films in the “Jurassic Park/Jurassic World” franchise to date and we all know what happens when things go wrong – it does not end well for the tourists.  However, innovative and environmentally friendly methods of power generation could be adopted to keep those fences charged.  The dinosaurs themselves could play a role in helping to keep running costs from mutating into monstrous proportions, as E.ON’s Scott Somerville went onto explain:

“By generating electricity using technology like a biomass fuelled Combined Heat and Power station, park owners could turn dinosaur droppings into electricity.  Add on other solutions like solar and battery storage, then the park could ultimately benefit from a cheaper, sustainable and more reliable source of electricity instead having to deal with a ‘raptor rampage’ every time the generators that power the electric fences go down.”

For any would-be entrepreneurs with a few billion burning a hole in their pocket, further information on E.ON’s estimates of the running costs of a real-life dinosaur theme park can be found here: Dinosaur Kingdom Running Costs.

As for the rest of us, read the books, watch the movies, it is likely to be a lot less expensive and a good deal safer too.

If anyone or any organisation did really set out to create a dinosaur themed tourist attraction, populated by living, breathing, albeit genetically engineered prehistoric animals, then we suspect it would “spark” a Tyrannosaurus rex-sized debate.  Feathers would be well and truly ruffled!

10 06, 2018

Fallen Kingdom Posters Donated to School

By | June 10th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Drawings, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Main Page, Radio Reviews|0 Comments

Fallen Kingdom Posters Donated to School

Yesterday, team members at Everything Dinosaur were able to take a break from their busy schedule and visit the cinema to watch “Fallen Kingdom”, the latest film in the “Jurassic Park/Jurassic World” franchise.  We shall leave it to others to provide a review, but we were able to pass a couple of pleasant hours marvelling at how CGI and animatronics can bring about the resurrection of long extinct species.

Prior to the film starting we got talking to the friendly cinema staff.  They were most interested in our work and as a result, one of the cinema staff members went into their office and returned with two posters.  Free posters are being given out by certain cinema chains to help promote the movie, something that we were not aware of.  Our  posters feature a giant (somewhat oversized), Mosasaurus marine reptile feeding on a shark, a famous scene from the previous film “Jurassic World”.

The Posters that Team Members at Everything Dinosaur were Given

Mosasaurus poster.

The Mosasaurus poster from the film “Fallen Kingdom.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Donating the Poster to a School

We thanked the staff for their gift of the posters, these will go to a good home.  Everything Dinosaur has a school visit arranged for Wednesday of this week, delivering a series of dinosaur workshops to classes in support of their dinosaur and prehistoric animal themed term topic.  We shall take these two posters with us and donate them to the school, perhaps the poster will help the children to remember that an animal like a Mosasaur is not actually a dinosaur.  The poster might even inspire them to have a go at drawing their very own prehistoric animals.

When Everything Dinosaur team members visit a school, we tend to bring extra resources to support the school’s scheme of work and during our dinosaur workshops, the opportunity usually arises to challenge the children to undertake some extension activities in support of the curriculum.

We suspect that these two “Fallen Kingdom” posters will be gratefully received and we are sure that they will help the classes to create their own colourful and informative dinosaur and prehistoric animal displays.

8 06, 2018

South African Fossils Re-write History of Life on Land

By | June 8th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Some of the First Land Vertebrates Lived in Antarctica

The fossilised remains of two newly described Late Devonian tetrapods have helped to shed new light on the evolution of land vertebrates.  Since most of the known Devonian tetrapod fossils are associated with equatorial palaeoenvironments, it had been thought that the first animals with back bones to adapt to a life on land must have lived in very close to the equator.  However, these new specimens lived on the southernmost portion of the giant super-continent Gondwana.  These early land pioneers of 360 million years ago were living within the Antarctic circle.

A Life Reconstruction of the Two Newly Described Tetrapod Species from the Waterloo Farm Site

Waterloo Farm in the Late Devonian.

The Waterloo Farm area of South Africa during the Late Devonian (Tutusius and Umzantsia).

Picture Credit: Maggie Newman

The evolution of the first land animals from fish during the Devonian geological period is regarded as a key event in the history of life on Earth.  Newly described fossils from the Waterloo Farm locality near Grahamstown (Easter Cape Province, South Africa), are challenging current perceptions about where in the world the first land vertebrates evolved.

Lead author of the scientific paper, published in the journal “Science”, Dr Robert Gess (Albany Museum, Grahamstown), explained:

“Whereas all previously found Devonian tetrapods came from localities which were in tropical regions during the Devonian, these specimens lived within the Antarctic circle.”

The First African Devonian Tetrapods

The researchers, including co-author Professor Per Ahlberg (Uppsala University, Sweden), name two new species Tutusius umlambo and Umzantsia amazana from fragmentary bones from a road cutting at the Waterloo Farm site, bones from the shoulder girdle related to these new early tetrapods, are helping palaeontologists to gain a better understanding of the development of the shoulder girdle from a fish to that of a tetrapod, adapted to walking around on land.

Tutusius and Umzantsia, are Africa’s earliest known four-legged vertebrates by a remarkable 70 million years.  The approximately one-metre-long Tutusius umlambo (named in honour of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu) and the somewhat smaller Umzantsia amazana are both incomplete.  Tutusius is represented by a single bone from the shoulder girdle, whereas Umzantsia is known from a greater number of bones, but they both appear similar to previously known Devonian tetrapods.  Alive, they would have resembled a cross between a salamander and a fish, with an amphibian-like head, stubby legs with numerous fingers and a tail that was reminiscent of a tadpole’s.

Scale Drawings of Tutusius and the Smaller Umzantsia

The known fossils of Tutusius umlambo and Umzantsia amazana

New Late Devonian Tetrapods from southern Gondwana.  Known bones highlighted in green.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

The Waterloo Farm site, where the fossils were discovered, is a road cutting first exposed two years ago after controlled rock-cutting explosions by the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL).  This very important fossil site is along the N2 highway between Grahamstown and the Fish River.  The construction crew exposed dark, grey mudstones of the Witpoort Formation.  The strata represent sedimentary deposits laid down in a brackish, tidal river estuary.  The rocks preserve numerous fossils, including animals and plants.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article about the fortuitous discovery of this important fossil site: Roadway Leads to Devonian Deposit

Antarctic Tetrapods

The discovery of these fossils is extremely significant not only for what was found, but where they were found.  Devonian tetrapod fossils are found in widely scattered localities.  However, if the continents are mapped back to their Devonian positions, it emerges that all previous finds are from rocks deposited in the palaeotropics, between 30 degrees north and south of the equator.

Almost all these rare and important fossils come from Laurasia, a super-continent that later fragmented into North America, Europe and Greenland.  Umzantsia and Tutusius have certainly bucked this trend.  Gondwana, the much larger, southern super-continent (made up of present -day South America, Australia, Madagascar, Australia, India and Africa), has hitherto yielded virtually no evidence of Devonian tetrapods.  Footprints ascribed to early tetrapods have been discovered in Australia and an isolated jawbone was found in New South Wales.  When this jawbone fossil was first studied, scientists thought it represented the jaw of a lobe-finned fish.  However, subsequent research led to the conclusion that this single bone came from a primitive tetrapod.  The species Metaxygnathus denticulus was erected.  During the later stages of the Devonian, this part of Australia was associated with the northern Gondwana.  It would have been located in the tropics.  As a result, it was assumed that movement of vertebrates from water onto land (terrestrialisation) also occurred in the tropics.  Attempts to understand the causes of these major macroevolutionary steps therefore focused on conditions prevalent in tropical water bodies.

The fossil Cleithrum of T. umlambo

One of the fossil bones of Tutusius umlambo.

The Cleithrum of Tutusius umlambo (part of the shoulder girdle).

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand

Challenging Current Perceptions and Assumptions About Tetrapod Evolution

The two early tetrapods named from Waterloo Farm fossils, also come from Gondwana, but from an environment associated with the southernmost part of the super-continent.  Waterloo Farm was approximately seventy degrees south, within the Antarctic circle.   Many plant and insect fossils recovered from the road side indicate that the climate was much milder than the Antarctic circle today, but it would still have been cold and during the long winter season, this region would have experienced many months when the sun did not appear above the horizon.  These amphibians would have had to endure long periods of darkness.

The Location of the Waterloo Farm Site in the Late Devonian

Waterloo Farm and Grahamstown Devonian fossil sites.

The location of Waterloo Farm and Grahamstown where a substantial number of Devonian fossils have been found.  Look for the green label.

Picture Credit: University of Witwatersrand with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The researchers conclude that these fossils change our understanding of the distribution of Devonian tetrapods.  We now know that tetrapods occurred throughout the world by the Late Devonian and that their evolution and terrestrialisation could realistically have occurred anywhere.

7 06, 2018

Albertosaurus Helps Protect Against Fraud and Identity Theft

By | June 7th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Alberta Reveals New Driver’s Licence with Dinosaur Design

In a bid to help protect residents of the Canadian province of Alberta from counterfeiting and identify theft, driving licences have been redesigned and they will feature a skeleton of an Albertosaurus.  This iconic, albeit somewhat extinct resident of southern Canada is honoured and the bones in the tail of the dinosaur image helps to improve the card’s security.

The New Driver’s Licence for the Canadian Province of Alberta

Albertosaurus features on driving licence.

The new design for a driving licence in Alberta features Albertosaurus.

Picture Credit: Alberta Government

The provincial government has redesigned driver’s licences and identity cards with updated and improved security features such as clear windows, laser engraving and three-dimensional embossing.  These features are designed to deter fraudsters and counterfeiters but the additional of an Albertosaurus skeleton must make this one of the coolest things that a wallet or purse could contain.

Stephanie McLean, (Minister of Service for Alberta) commented:

“Our government takes identity fraud very seriously.  We are the first jurisdiction in North America to integrate this combination of design and security to protect Albertans from ID theft and prevent fraud.  We are using the latest technology available to safeguard people’s personal information and prevent scams.”

Saving $1,000,000 Canadian Dollars

The new cards are currently in production and although the cards have a suite of security measures incorporated within them, advances in technology mean that they will cost less than the old licences to make.  The Alberta treasury expects to save over $1,000,000 Canadian dollars as a result of the new design.

The driver’s licence design depicts famous landmarks such as Castle Mountain and the Bow River in Banff National Park, while the new identity cards will feature a Wild Rose, Alberta’s provincial flower.  Both cards also include an image of an Albertosaurus, a dinosaur whose name honours Alberta.  Fossils of a very large predatory dinosaur had been uncovered in southern Canada prior to the turn of the Century and this dinosaur was finally named and scientifically described in 1905, the same year that the province of Alberta was established by an Act of Parliament.  Coincidentally, 1905 was also the year that Tyrannosaurus rex,  a famous relative of Albertosaurus was named.

A Museum Exhibit Albertosaurus Skeleton Fossil

Albertosaurus fossil exhibit.

The “Death Pose” of a Dinosaur.  A fossil exhibit featuring Albertosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The last redesign occurred nine years ago and the Alberta government has incorporated advice from law enforcement agencies to ensure the cards have the most up-to-date safeguards against fraudsters and identify thieves.  The Albertosaurus image plays an important role in card security.  The dinosaur’s image is embossed and has a raised feel to it.  This creates a three-dimensional effect, the tail continues on the back of the card and appears to travel through the Alberta-shaped window, which also holds an image of the legitimate card holder.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“It is wonderful to see the authorities celebrating the natural beauty of the province of Alberta in such an interesting way.  Having an iconic dinosaur on the driver’s licence will remind holders of the rich fossil heritage of this part of Canada.”

A Life Reconstruction of Albertosaurus (A. sarcophagus)

Albertosaurus illustrated.

An illustration of Albertosaurus (A. sarcophagus).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

6 06, 2018

Three-toed Dinosaurs from the Tatras

By | June 6th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Scientists Discover Dinosaur Footprints in the Tatra Mountains

The beautiful and rugged Tatra mountain range forms a natural border between Poland and Slovakia, but during the Late Triassic, the sediments that formed part of these peaks were sandy shores close to large rivers where many different types of dinosaur wandered.  Dinosaurs left their footprints in these soft sands, and remarkably some of these trace fossils have survived more than 200 million years and they are helping palaeontologists to better understand the composition of Late Triassic vertebrate faunas.  Media reports from the Centre of Interdisciplinary Biosciences of Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia, confirm the discovery of yet more three-toed Theropod dinosaur footprints, although most are badly eroded, these trace fossils indicate the presence of a sizeable predator, one that may have exceeded five metres in length.

The fossils come from the Tomanová Formation and although dating the strata is challenging, the rocks are thought to have been laid down during the Late Norian to the Rhaetian faunal stage of the Triassic (215 – 202 million years ago approximately).

Palaeontologist Martin Kundrát with a Cast of a Dinosaur Footprint

Dinosaur Footprint cast (Tatra Mountains).

Martin Kundrát holding a cast of the dinosaur trace fossil he discovered in the Tatras.

Picture Credit: Jana Otriová

Recording the Activity of Dinosaurs from the Late Triassic

The first dinosaur fossil footprints found in the High Tatras were described in 1976.  These fossils and subsequent footprint discoveries led to the establishment of a new ichnospecies – Coelurosaurichnus tatricus.  However, these new finds, ten dinosaur trace fossils, have helped shed further light on vertebrate fauna at an important time in our planet’s history.  At around this time, a mass extinction event occurred and a number of terrestrial vertebrates (and other types of animal) became extinct, providing the Dinosauria with even greater opportunities to diversify and produce new species.

Commenting on these fossils, one of the palaeontologists who discovered them, Martin Kundrát (Centre of Interdisciplinary Biosciences of Pavol Jozef Šafárik University), stated:

“The locality is extremely rare for Slovak dinosaurology.  It is located at high altitude.  This does not mean, however, that dinosaurs have been hiking.  The truth is that the sediments in which the traces were preserved were created hundreds of kilometres from Slovakia almost at the level of the then advancing sea.  The layers of the tracks were later transported to the territory of Slovakia and raised to the stars.  This is our modest dinosaur association.  Two of them are complete, the rest are only fragments.”

One of the More Complete Footprint Fossils

Dinosaur footprint fossil from Slovakia.

Coelurosaurichnus tatricus?  Footprints previously ascribed to the ichnospecies C. tatricus may have to be redefined in the light of these new fossil discoveries.

Picture Credit: Martin Kundrát

Important Fossils Although Fragmentary Fossils

The fossil record for dinosaurs from Europe during the Late Triassic is relatively poor, so even these fragments are very helpful to palaeontologists as they attempt to piece together the biota of Pangaea.  The trace fossils, although quite indistinct, help scientists to gain an understanding of the various types of dinosaur that roamed this part of the world more than 200 million years ago.  Moreover, these new discoveries allow palaeontologists to revise their knowledge about an ancient ecosystem.   Based on studies of similar imprints from South Korea, the United States, Iran and China, scientists have been able to make two important deductions.

First, the researchers have concluded that the former ichnotaxonomy (classification of an animal based on its footprints, burrows, or other traces) of Coelurosaurichnus tatricus is not valid.

Secondly, the number of imprints confined to a small area indicates that it was a very often frequented locality.

The Dinosaur Footprints Indicate a Theropod Around Five Metres in Length

Liliensternus drawing.

Liliensternus dinosaur drawing,  It is probable that the Slovakian Theropod looked like Liliensternus from the Late Triassic of Germany.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

In total, this part of the High Tatras has yielded several different types of dinosaur footprint.  Several papers have been published previously describing Ornithischian prints and the large, rounded tracks of what are assumed to be Sauropodomorpha, as well as numerous types of three-toed (tridactyl) prints assigned to the Theropoda.

4 06, 2018

New Study Provides Fresh Insight into Ancient Africa’s Climate

By | June 4th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Hominin Ancestors Had to Cope with Climate Change Too

It seems that climate change for hominins is not a new phenomenon, our ancient ancestors living in southern Africa almost two million years ago, had to cope with climate change too.  A new study published in the academic journal “Nature Ecology and Evolution”, reveals that the climate of the interior of southern Africa during the Early Pleistocene (Gelasian stage), was like no modern African environment.  The hominins around at the time would have had to cope with much wetter conditions.

The Entrance to the Wonderwerk Cave (Northern Cape Province)

Wonderwerk cave in South Africa.

The entrance to Wonderwerk cave in South Africa.

Picture Credit: Michaela Ecker/University of Toronto

That is the conclusion reached by an international team of scientists who conducted an analysis of the fossilised teeth of herbivores found in two-million-year-old sediments in South Africa’s Wonderwerk Cave.  Lead author of the study,  Michaela Ecker, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Toronto’s Department of Anthropology, in collaboration with colleagues such as Michael Chazan the director of the University of Toronto’s Archaeology Centre, mapped the environmental change recorded in the sediments and fossils found in the Cave.

Commenting on the significance of the study, Michaela Ecker stated:

“The influence of climatic and environmental change on human evolution is largely understood from East African research.  Our research constructed the first extensive palaeoenvironmental sequence for the interior of southern Africa using a combination of methods for environmental reconstruction at Wonderwerk Cave.”

A Different Climate to East Africa

While East African research shows increasing aridity and the spread of savannah (grassland habitats), this new research showed that during the same time period, southern Africa was significantly wetter and housed a plant community unlike any other in the modern African savannah.  The scientists conclude that early humans were living in environments other than open, arid grasslands.

The Interior of Wonderwerk Cave

A view of the interior of Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa).

The interior of Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa), the sediments have been studied for over seventy years.

Picture Credit: Michaela Ecker/University of Toronto

The limestone Wonderwerk Cave is located in the Kuruman Hills between Danielskuil and Kuruman in Northern Cape Province, the sediments deposited in the cave provide a palaeoenvironmental record of the climate of southern Africa.  These sediments and the artefacts and fossils found within them have been studied since the 1940’s.  Analysis of the cave sediments to date has established a chronology for hominin occupation of the anterior portions of the cave stretching back two million years.  In this research, Ecker and her collaborators were able to reconstruct the vegetation by using carbon and oxygen isotope analysis on the fossil teeth of herbivores found at various sediment layers within the cave.

Ecker added:

“Understanding the environment humans evolved in is key to improving our knowledge of our species and its development.  Our work at Wonderwerk Cave demonstrates how humankind existed in multiple environmental contexts in the past, contexts which are substantially different from the environments of today.”

The scientists propose that Oldowan and early Acheulean lithic industries (distinctive periods of stone tool making), in this part of Africa took place in a much wetter environment than when compared to sites of showing similar stone tool cultures in eastern Africa.

The scientific paper: “The Palaeoecological Context of the Oldowan-Acheulean in Southern Africa” by Michaela Ecker, James S. Brink, Lloyd Rossouw, Michael Chazan, Liora K. Horwitz and Julia A. Lee-Thorp published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

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

2 06, 2018

The Mother of All Dragons – Megachirella

By | June 2nd, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The Mother of All Dragons – Megachirella wachtleri

A team of international scientists, including palaeontologists from Bristol University, Midwestern University (Arizona) and the University of Alberta, have identified the world’s oldest lizard fossil, permitting fresh insight into the evolution of extant snakes and lizards (Squamata).  Writing in the journal “Nature”, the researchers, including co-author Dr Massimo Bernardi from MUSE – Science Museum, Italy and University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, built the largest dataset of reptiles ever assembled in order to assess where in the evolutionary tree of the Reptilia a fossil from the Dolomites of Italy should be placed.

The Holotype Specimen of Megachirella wachtleri

The origins of the Squamata - The holotype of Megachirella wachtleri.

The holotype of Megachirella wachtleri.

Picture Credit:  MUSE – Science Museum

Megachirella wachtleri

The fossil, consisting of an articulated partial specimen was discovered in marine sediments in the Dolomites of Italy and named Megachirella wachtleri in 2003.  Although, found in marine sediment, the fossil, which represented the front portion of the animal, showed no adaptations to an aquatic existence.  On the contrary, it had strong legs with claws and although small at around twenty centimetres in length, it was probably a capable climber.  It was concluded that the carcass of this reptile had been washed out to sea following a storm.

An analysis in 2013 concluded that Megachirella wachtleri was a member of the Lepidosauromorpha, a group of diapsid reptiles defined as being closer to Squamata than to the Archosauria.  Lepidosaurs include modern snakes and lizards, many extinct forms of reptile and the Order Rhynchocephalia, once very diverse, but now only represented by the tuatara of New Zealand.  This new research, which drew upon an enormous database of skeletal and molecular information about 129 different types of reptile, revealed that Megachirella had characteristics that are only found in the Squamata.  It was concluded that M. wachtleri was a stem squamate – think of it as being the “the mother of all dragons”.

Co-author Dr Randall Nydam of the Midwestern University in Arizona stated:

“At first I did not think Megachirella was a true lizard, but the empirical evidence uncovered in this study is substantial and can lead to no other conclusion.”

The 240-million-year-old fossil, Megachirella wachtleri, is the most ancient ancestor of all modern lizards and snakes discovered to date.  The study also found that geckoes are the earliest crown group squamates not iguanians as previously thought.

A Life Reconstruction of  Megachirella wachtleri

Megachirella wachtleri in the Dolomites 240 million years ago.

A life reconstruction of Megachirella wachtleri.

Picture Credit: Davide Bonadonna

The beautiful illustration of M. wachtleri produced by Davide Bonadonna is featured on the front cover of the journal Nature, which provides details of this scientific study.

The research team conclude that the Squamata probably evolved in the Late Permian and therefore, the ancestors of today’s snakes and lizards survived the most devastating mass extinction event known to science – the end Permian extinction.

Tiago Simões, lead author of the scientific paper and a PhD student at the University of Alberta (Canada), explained:

“The specimen is 75 million years older than what we thought were the oldest fossil lizards in the entire world and provides valuable information for understanding the evolution of both living and extinct squamates.”

10,000 Squamate Species

It has been estimated that there are around 10,000 species of lizards and snakes living today, twice as many different species as mammals.  Despite this modern diversity, scientists did not know much about the early stages of their evolution.

Student Tiago Simões added:

“It is extraordinary when you realise you are answering long-standing questions about the origin of one of the largest groups of vertebrates on Earth.”

Co-author of the study, Dr Michael Caldwell from the University of Alberta, explained that fossils represent the only accurate window into the ancient story of life on our planet.  The new understanding about Megachirella and its significance is but a point in deep geological time, it does tell us things about the evolution of lizards that we simply cannot learn from any of the extant species today.

Co-author Dr Massimo Bernardi from MUSE – Science Museum, Italy and University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, commented upon the importance of such fossil specimens, stating:

“This is the story of the re-discovery of a specimen and highlights the importance of preserving naturalistic specimens in well maintained, publicly accessible collections.”

The scientific paper:

“The Origin of Squamates Revealed by a Middle Triassic Lizard from the Italian Alps” by T. Simões, M. Caldwell, M. Tałanda, M. Bernardi, A. Palci, O. Vernygora, F. Bernardini, L. Mancini and R. Nydam published in the journal Nature.

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

1 06, 2018

Pterosaur Models Go on Display

By | June 1st, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Photos|1 Comment

Pterosaurs at the Field Museum

Visitors to the famous Field Museum in Chicago (USA), might get into a bit of flap today, as they will be coming face-to-face with life-size replicas of flying reptiles.  The pterosaurs are part of a $16.5 million USD re-fit for the Museum.  They will be installed into the enormous Stanley Field Hall, sharing the space with a giant Titanosaur exhibit.

Unloading the Head and Neck of Quetzalcoatlus

Quetzalcoatulus head being unloaded.

The head of a life-size Quetzalcoatlus model being unloaded at the Field Museum (Chicago).

Picture Credit: (c) Field Museum, photo by John Weinstein

A Flock of Pterosaurs

The flock of pterosaurs will give visitors a lifelike look at the animals that shared the Mesozoic with the dinosaurs.  They’ll also serve as a way-finding tool from Stanley Field Hall up to the rest of the dinosaurs in the permanent exhibition – “The Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet”.  The life-size pterosaurs and the thirty-seven-metre-long Titanosaur will be displayed amongst a series of hanging gardens, as staff at the Field Museum prepare to commemorate the institution’s 125th anniversary.

Commenting on the new exhibits, Field Museum president Richard Lariviere stated:

“Our goal as an institution is to offer visitors the best possible dinosaur experiences and we want that to start right when visitors first enter Stanley Field Hall.  The new hanging gardens and the flock of pterosaurs will take our visitors back to the age of the dinosaurs and will complement the new Titanosaur.”

The Body of a Giant Quetzalcoatlus is Unloaded

Unloading Quetzalcoatlus.

Unloading a giant pterosaur.

Picture Credit: (c) Field Museum, photo by John Weinstein

Rhamphorhynchus, Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus

The pterosaur replicas include nine hawk-sized, long-tailed replicas of the Jurassic flying reptile Rhamphorhynchus, two Pteranodon figures and two huge replicas of Quetzalcoatlus.  Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus are associated with Upper Cretaceous strata.  Flying reptiles from the Pteranodon genus were thought to have been the largest flying vertebrates that ever existed, that was until 1975, when the much larger azhdarchid Quetzalcoatlus was scientifically described.

Manhandling a Pterosaur Replica (P. sternbergi)

Unloading a Pteranodon.

A life-size Pteranodon replica is unloaded.

 

Picture Credit: (c) Field Museum, photo by John Weinstein

Senior Exhibitions Project Manager Hilary Hansen exclaimed:

“The pterosaurs are nothing short of amazing.  Since Stanley Field Hall is such a massive room, we had the opportunity to add a Titanosaur and an entire flock of pterosaurs.  It’ll really transform the space.”

The models were created by Blue Rhino, under the supervision of the scientists at the Field Museum, the brief was to create the most up-to-date and scientifically accurate figures possible.

Pteranodon Taken up the Stairs

Taking Pteranodon into the museum.

Carrying Pteranodon up the steps.

Picture Credit: (c) Field Museum, photo by John Weinstein

Wingspans the Length of a Bus

The giant Quetzalcoatlus replicas really help to convey the size and scale of these magnificent reptiles.  The wingspan of the models is a little under twelve metres, that’s about as long as a school bus!  The skulls of these types of pterosaur are immense.  Azhdarchid pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus had the largest skull of any terrestrial vertebrate.

The Huge Head of a Quetzalcoatlus Replica

Carrying the head of a replica Quetzalcoatlus.

Carrying the head of Quetzalcoatlus, it certainly is a team effort.

Picture Credit: (c) Field Museum, photo by John Weinstein

 

 

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