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.

26 07, 2017

Unravelling the Mysteries of Complex Life

By | July 26th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

First Non-Destructive Internal Images of Rangea

Travel back in time far enough and the distinction between what is a plant and what is an animal becomes blurred.  For a palaeontologist, unravelling the mysteries of the origins of multi-cellular life is daunting.  Firstly, when examining the few fossils of multi-cellular organisms known from rocks laid down in the Proterozoic Eon, what strikes you is the paucity of the fossil record, in essence there is very little fossil evidence to study. Secondly, some of the lifeforms represented are so bizarre that there is nothing alive today that can begin to provide scientists with any hints as to structure, form, lifestyle or behaviour.

However, an international team of scientists, writing in the journal of “Precambian Research”, have conducted a remarkable assessment on three-dimensionally preserved Ediacaran fossils and they have shed light on the evolution of complex life.  The organism in question is Rangea, a bizarre fern-like animal/plant/? that did not possess bilateral symmetry like us, or indeed radial symmetry like starfish and sea urchins, but a fractal structure, like nothing alive today.

The Fossil and Internal/External Scans of a Three-dimensionally Preserved Rangea Specimen

Fossil and scans of bizarre Precambrian life form.

The fossil (a), an external scan (b) and an internal scan (c) of the Ediacaran organism Rangea.

Picture Credit: Precambrian Research

The picture above shows the fossil (a), a computer-generated model of the external structure (b) and a computer-generated model of the internal structure of Rangea (c).

High Resolution X-ray Micro-computed Tomography

At Everything Dinosaur, we suspect that the fossil specimens come from rocks laid down in shallow, marine sediments that make up the Nama Group in southern Namibia.  Rangea is known from this location and has also been reported from other Ediacaran-aged sites in Australia and Russia.  The Namibian material is remarkable as the fossils are typically moulds and casts of the fern-like structures, preserved in ironstone nodules, which despite representing lifeforms that existed somewhere between 540 and 580 million years ago, have not been squished and deformed to a huge extent as a result of the fossilisation process and the enormous time these fossils have existed in the strata.

The scientists used high resolution X-ray micro-computed tomography (microCT) to investigate the 3-D internal morphology of these exceptional fossils.  This is the first non-destructive internal imaging of Rangea.  Ranging from a few centimetres to tens of centimetres in length, the soft-bodied Rangeomorphs (a natural taxon, established to help classify these frond-like, fractal organisms), are perhaps best known to fossil fans in the UK as organisms similar in structure to Charnia, named and described from a single fossil specimen found in Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire by a school boy in 1957.

A Specimen of a Fern-like, Soft-bodied Charnia

Charnia fossils.

Ancient Precambrian fossils – Charnia.

Picture Credit: British Geological Survey

Analysing the Results

Lead author of the study, Dr Alana Sharp (School of Science and Technology, University of New England, New South Wales, Australia) and her colleagues think that all six fronds may have been inflated like long balloons, they may have touched each other creating a large surface area for the passive absorption of nutrients which sustained the organism.  It had been thought that these fronds, regarded as some form of feeding structure, were flat.

Dr Sharp commented:

“Our work supports a lifestyle of absorption of nutrients through membranes inflated to the maximum, increasing the surface area across which these organisms seemed to feed.”

Soft Bodies but Stone Hearts

The CT scans also revealed something else about Rangea.  It had a cone-shaped channel running vertically up its central trunk.  The lower part of this channel seems to have been filled with sediment that has a different composition from that seen in the rest of the fossil.  The researchers have concluded that this was probably present in the organism when it was alive, helping to prevent it from buckling or being compressed.  The sediment acted like internal scaffolding for Rangea, a sort of primitive skeleton.  These findings support the idea that Rangea was benthic (lived on the sea floor) and that it was probably sessile (attached to the sea floor and immobile).

Despite these remarkable computer-generated images, one big mystery remains, as Dr Sharp explains.

“They may or may not be animals, we can’t say from this study.  But they are the first of the truly large, multi-cellular organisms that radiated broadly before the first true animals evolved.”

The Scientific Paper: “First non-destructive Internal Imaging of Rangea, an Icon of Complex Ediacaran Life” by Alana C. Sharp, Alistair R. Evans, Siobhan A. Wilson and Patricia Vickers-Rich, published in the journal “Precambrian Research”.

25 07, 2017

Eureka! We Have a Fossil Spider

By | July 25th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Maevia eureka – Miocene Spider

Researchers have described a new fossil species of jumping spider found embedded in a piece of amber that dates from the early-mid Miocene.  The beautifully preserved specimen was collected from lignite-sandstone sediments that date from between 23 and 15 million years ago.  The little spider has been assigned to the Salticidae (jumping spiders) and it close resembles living species of jumping spider such as Maevia poultoni which is also found in the New World.

The Newly Described Miocene Spider M. eureka Preserved in Amber

M. eureka preserved in amber.

Maevia eureka preserved in amber.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The First Jumping Spider Species Described from Chiapas Amber

The specimen was found near to the town of Totolapa in Chiapas, south-western Mexico.  Writing in the academic, peer-reviewed journal “PeerJ”, the authors Francisco Riquelme​, (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, Jojutla, Morelos, Mexico) and Miguel Menéndez-Acuña (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico), conclude that this fossil represents the first jumping spider species to be described from Chiapas amber.

Dorsal and Ventral Views of Maevia eureka

Maevia eureka fossil.

Preserved in amber M. eureka.

Picture Credit: PeerJ

The picture above shows two views of the fossil spider (A) dorsal view, seen from the top down and (B) ventral view, seen from underneath.  The scale bar equals 1 mm.  The fossil marks the southernmost record of the Maevia genus in North America.  The story of its discovery explains the trivial name “eureka”.  The amber piece containing the fossil was found by chance as field team members were digging a latrine.

23 07, 2017

Following the Footsteps of Chinese Dinosaurs

By | July 23rd, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Dinosaur Tracksites Identified in Guizhou Province

Everything Dinosaur has received media reports from several Chinese news agencies reporting the discovery of extensive dinosaur tracks in Guizhou Province (south-western China).  A total of sixty-eight tracks have been identified from sediments exposed in a river valley close to Tongmin Town.  The largest of the prints is estimated to be nearly fifty centimetres long.

Yesterday, a field team consisting of palaeontologists from the China University of Geosciences and Guizhou Provincial Museum arrived at the site to map the tracks and to conduct a full survey of the trace fossils.  In a press statement, Assistant Professor Xing Lida, (China University of Geosciences, Beijing), commented that three types of trace fossil (ichnofossils) had been recorded, suggesting that the tracks were made by three different types of dinosaur.  A preliminary assessment suggest that one type of track was made by a plant-eating Ornithopod, whilst the other two tracks were made by Theropod dinosaurs.

One of the Theropod Tracks from the Site

Theropod track.

One of the Theropod tracks identified by Chinese scientists.

Picture Credit: CBS/China University of Geosciences 

The photograph above shows one of the Theropod footprints.  The researchers have highlighted the track and indicated the toes along with the claw impressions.

Xing Lida stated:

“About three types of dinosaurs passed by here.  The rock surface is quite flat and the footprints head to different directions, which means a group of dinosaurs might have come here often for water and food 100 million years ago.”

Improving Knowledge on Late Cretaceous Chinese Dinosaurs

The tracks were made in the soft mud surrounding a lake (a potential lacustrine environment), although it is not possible to tell exactly when the impressions were made in terms of which dinosaurs passed by and when, the tracks are helping Chinese researchers to better understand the dinosaur fauna of this part of the world some 100 million years ago (Cenomanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous).

An in-depth analysis of the tracks is to be undertaken.  The research team are confident that they will be able to measure the stride length and calculate the velocity of the dinosaurs (estimation of walking speed).

These tracks are significant, as Assistant Professor Xing explained:

“The dinosaur footprints here are well-preserved compared with those in other places in China.  It would be easy to calculate the length and the speed of the dinosaurs and to know what they did in this place 100 million years ago, according to their footprints.”

In 2016, Chinese media reported the discovery of a series of dinosaur tracks at a location approximately 120 miles to the south-west of the Tongmin Town site (Bijie).  These tracks, represent four individual dinosaurs and the strata that they were formed in, now part of a cliff, is also around 100 million years old.  These tracks were made as dinosaurs traversed the soft, sticky mud adjacent to a lake (another potential lacustrine environment).

A Photograph of the Dinosaur Tracks at Bijie

Dinosaur tracks from south-western China.

Dinosaur tracks (south-western China).

Picture Credit: CCTV

It is hoped that data from these two locations, representing contemporaneous fauna will help scientists to gain a better understanding of which types of dinosaurs lived in southern China during the early Late Cretaceous.

19 07, 2017

Albertavenator – Something to Get Your Teeth Into

By | July 19th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Albertavenator curriei – Implications for the North American Troodontids

World-famous Canadian palaeontologist Phil Currie has been honoured by having a new species of North American troodontid Albertavenator curriei, named after him.  Phil Currie has been at the forefront of vertebrate palaeontology for a long time now and it is great to see that his fellow scientists have honoured his contribution to the science in this way.  However, whilst other media outlets have focused on this accolade, in this article, we look at the what this means when it comes to identifying other small “raptor-like” dinosaurs from their teeth and fossilised jaws.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Troodontid Albertavenator curriei

Albertavenator curriei.

An illustration of the newly named Albertavenator curriei.

Picture Credit: Oliver Demuth

“Currie’s Alberta Hunter”

This new dinosaur species has been described from fragmentary skull elements found in the Horseshoe Canyon Formation (Horsethief Member).  Albertavenator roamed this part of Canada some 71 million years ago (Early Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous).

The name translates as “Currie’s Alberta hunter”.  Professor Currie has had a number of dinosaurs named after him already, including a member of the Tyrannosaur family (Teratophoneus curriei), fossils of which come from Utah.  Albertavenator is the second dinosaur from Alberta named in honour of Professor Currie.  Epichirostenotes curriei, a bird-like maniraptoran Theropod assigned to the Caenagnathidae family, fossils of which also come from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation, carries his name.

Phil Currie has made a tremendous contribution, not only to the Royal Tyrrell Museum at Drumheller, but also to the recently opened (September 2015), Philip J. Currie Museum located to the west of the town of Grande Prairie (Alberta).  In a career spanning five decades, Professor Currie has established himself as one of the world’s most-respected dinosaur experts.  He has won numerous awards, including in 2012, the prestigious Explorers Medal.

To read more about this award: Phil Currie is Honoured by the Explorers Club

Award-winning and Highly Respected Palaeontologist Phil Currie

Palaeontologist Phil Currie.

Palaeontologist Phil Currie with a juvenile Pachyrhinosaurus specimen.

Picture Credit: Bruce Edwards (from a video interview)

Albertavenator curriei

Researchers thought that the fossil bones belonged to a species of Troodon, fossils assigned to this genus have been found all over North America from the Dinosaur Provincial Park and Judith River Formations to Alaska, New Mexico and as far south as Texas.  Analysis of the frontal bones (bones from top of the skull), revealed that this dinosaur was different, its skull was shorter and more robust when compared to numerous Troodon skull specimens.  The difference in the shape of the bones was not put down to different growth stages or deformation of the bones during fossilisation, there were enough distinguishing features to establish a new dinosaur genus.

Comparing the Skull Bones of A. curriei and Troodon inequalis

Troodontid skull bone comparison.

Comparing the skull bones of Albertavenator to Troodon.

Picture Credit: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences (Evans et al)

The picture above shows the skull bones (frontals) of Albertavenator curriei from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation (top) compared to comparable material assigned to Troodon inequalis from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation (bottom).  Abbreviations: fc – frontal midline contact, lc – lacrimal contact with frontal, lcb – lacrimal buttress, lsc – laterosphenoid contact with frontal, nc – nasal contact with frontal, or – orbital rim, pc – parietal contact with frontal, pl – parietal lappet, poc – postorbital contact with frontal, scf – supraciliary foramen.

Note: the scale bar = 1 cm.

Lead author of the scientific paper, published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, Dr David Evans (Royal Ontario Museum), stated:

“The delicate bones of these small feathered dinosaurs are very rare.  We were lucky to have a critical piece of the skull that allowed us to distinguish Albertavenator as a new species.  We hope to find a more complete skeleton of Albertavenator in the future, as this would tell us so much more about this fascinating animal.”

Albertavenator is estimated to have weighed about sixty kilogrammes and measured around two metres in length.

A Scale Drawing of Albertavenator (A. curriei)

Albertavenator scale drawing.

A size comparison with a human compared to Albertavenator.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Rare Troodontid Fossil Material – What About the Teeth?

Much of the fossil material used to describe this new species was found in the early 1990’s.  The naming of Albertavenator is yet another example of a new genus being erected from further study of dinosaur fossils within a museum’s collection, in this case the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  Substantial troodontid  body fossils are rare from strata that are dated to the Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Cretaceous, the exception to this are the copious amounts of teeth that have been assigned to this genus.  The researchers note that jawbone shape and the teeth associated with a relatively complete dentary (lower jaw), from the Horseshoe Canyon cannot be distinguished from lower jaws and teeth found in the Dinosaur Park Formation.  If the dentary and teeth from the Horsethief Member of the Horseshoe Canyon Formation prove to belong to A. curriei, then isolated teeth and jaws are no longer able to be allocated to one, specific dinosaur genus – Troodon.  If the teeth and jaws of a dinosaur like Albertavenator cannot be distinguished from the teeth and jaws of Troodon, then these fossils are unusable for identifying dinosaur genera.

Co-author of the study, Derek Larson (Assistant Curator of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum), explained:

“This discovery really highlights the importance of finding and examining skeletal material from these rare dinosaurs.”

Typical Maniraptoran Teeth

Maniraptora tooth morphology.

Troodontid teeth are characterised by their large serrations.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture above shows a selection of different dinosaur teeth, troodontid teeth can be identified by their over-sized serrations (large denticles).  However, the identification of a new species of troodontid in the Late Cretaceous of North America means that  isolated teeth cannot be ascribed specifically to the Troodon genus.  It is very likely that Albertavenator is just one of a number of small Theropods that lived in Canada, the small Theropod dinosaur diversity in the latest Cretaceous of North America is likely to have been underestimated.

Skull Bones Assigned to Albertavenator curriei

Albertavenator skull fragment.

Dinosaur skull fragment (A. curriei) – coin provides scale.

Picture Credit: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences (Evans et al)

The scientific paper:
“A New Species of Troodontid Theropod (Dinosauria: Maniraptora) from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation (Maastrichtian) of Alberta, Canada.” by D. C. Evans, T. M. Cullen, D. W. Larson, and A. Rego, published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

18 07, 2017

T. rex Not a Fast Runner!

By | July 18th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|1 Comment

T. rex Slow Coach Once Again

Palaeontologists have long debated the potential running speeds of big, Theropod dinosaurs.  Indeed, the question as to whether bipedal giants like Tyrannosaurus rex, Giganotosaurus, Mapusaurus and Carcharodontosaurus could run at all has been muted.  Thanks to some new research from Manchester University, a better understanding of dinosaur locomotion could be within our grasp.

New T. rex Study Suggests Giant Theropods Could Not Run Fast

Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur model.

Super Tyrannosaurus rex – but not built for speed.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture shows a Tyrannosaurus rex with an ornithomimid (Struthiomimus), in its mouth.  This new study concludes that there is no way that a T. rex could pursue and catch such a fleet-footed dinosaur as an “ostrich mimic”.  In this case, perhaps this hypercarnivore stumbled across the carcass of a Struthiomimus, we can expect the “hunter versus scavenger” debate to be re-ignited as a result of these research findings.

If T. rex Tried to Run Fast It Could Break its Legs!

According to lead author of this new, scientific paper, Professor Bill Sellers (School of Earth and Environmental Sciences), T. rex could not run, it was just too large and heavy.  Tyrannosaurus rex was unable to pursue prey at high speeds – no chance of catching Jeff Goldblum et al in the famous jeep chase in Stephen Spielberg’s ground-breaking “Jurassic Park”.  In addition, this new research suggests that T. rex walking speed was limited, had it tried to quicken its pace, it was in danger of breaking its legs.

This new study means that scientists will have to reconsider how T. rex might have behaved. We at Everything Dinosaur know, that the BBC are bringing out a new documentary on the “Tyrant Lizard King”, this is due to be shown at Christmas.  Will this new research change the script?

New Biomechanical Study of Tyrannosaurus rex Locomotion Limits Dinosaur Velocity

New study suggests T. rex could not run.

New research suggests T. rex couldn’t run.

Picture Credit: University of Manchester

The Gait and Biomechanics of the World’s Most Famous Dinosaur

The research team used a combination of two separate biomechanical assessment techniques coupled with sophisticated computer programming to model locomotion results.  The biomechanical techniques, known as multibody dynamic analysis (MBDA) and skeletal stress analysis (SSA), in conjunction, create a new, more accurate assessment of T. rex and its cursorial abilities.  The size and weight of an adult T. rex means that it could not move at high speed, its leg bones would have buckled under its own colossal weight.  N8 High Performance Computing (HPC), was used to create a three-dimensional model of the skeleton and to assess the forces involved as this giant predator was put through its paces.  Running did not end well for the T. rex,  had this monster survived to the present day, it seems that most of us humans could have easily out run it.  The paper, published in the academic journal “PeerJ”, suggests a top speed of around 12.5 mph (20 km/hour) for Tyrannosaurus rex.

Not Capable of Running Fast

Previous studies, that predicted running speeds of up to 45 mph for very big Theropods have been de-bunked.  Running at such a speed would have placed “unacceptably high skeletal loads” on the animal, T. rex would have broken its legs had it attempted to sprint.

Professor Sellers explained:

“The running ability of T. rex and other similarly giant dinosaurs has been intensely debated amongst palaeontologist for decades.  However, different studies using differing methodologies have produced a very wide range of top speed estimates and we say there is a need to develop techniques that can improve these predictions.   Here we present a new approach that combines two separate biomechanical techniques to demonstrate that true running gaits would probably lead to unacceptably high skeletal loads in T. rex.”

Tyrannosaurus rex – A Lumbering Giant

A feathered T. rex - but a slow mover.

A feathered Tyrannosaurus rex – but a slow and ponderous dinosaur.

Changing the Way We Think T. rex Behaved

This new study challenges the way in which T. rex and similarly sized Theropods could have behaved.  High-speed chases were out of the question.  It is likely that these predators were limited to walking speeds, a direct contradiction to the fast-moving, highly cursorial depiction seen in some movies and postulated by other researchers.  The University of Manchester team may have concentrated on the largest tyrannosaurid, but this research has implications for other super-sized Theropods too.  The scientists conclude that other large, bipedal dinosaurs, predators such as Giganotosaurus, Mapusaurus and Acrocanthosaurus were also slow coaches.

Acrocanthosaurus Too – Likely to be a Slow Coach

Papo Acrocanthosaurus.

The Papo Acrocanthosaurus model – not a sprinter!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Professor Sellers added:

“Tyrannosaurus rex is one of the largest bipedal animals to have ever evolved and walked the earth.  So, it represents a useful model for understanding the biomechanics of other similar animals. Therefore, these finding may well translate to other long-limbed giants so but this idea should be tested alongside experimental validation work on other bipedal species.”

This is not the first time MBDA and SSA methodologies have been used to measure the walking and running ability of dinosaurs.  However, it’s the first time they have been used in conjunction to create a more accurate picture of potential locomotion.

The professor concluded:

“Our previous simulations of Theropod bipedal running did not directly consider the skeletal loading but these new simulations do calculate all the forces in the limb bones and these can be used directly to estimate the bone loading on impact.”

The Research Implications

If Tyrannosaurus rex and other large Theropods were essentially limited to walking, then this study directly contradicts those arguments for a more athletic, active lifestyle for these huge carnivores.  Unable to pursue prey, this suggests that a fully-grown Tyrannosaurus rex may have been an ambush predator or perhaps entirely reliant upon a durophagous existence, crunching the bones and feeding on the carcasses of dead dinosaurs.

This study suggests that palaeontologists may have to change their views on the effects of body size and shape as large, bipedal dinosaurs grow.  Earlier research has suggested that the torso became longer and heavier, whereas the limbs became proportionately shorter and lighter as T. rex grew.  These changes would mean that the running abilities of T. rex would also change as the animal matured, with adults likely to be less agile than younger, lighter individuals.

Could a Large Theropod Dinosaur Really Do This?

Tyrannosaurus rex fighting a horned dinosaur.

Tyrannosaur fighting a horned dinosaur.

If this dinosaur was limited to a walking speed, then images of T. rex as an agile, active predator could be highly inaccurate.

This new paper, is likely to spark a debate once more about the lives of these iconic prehistoric animals.  A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“The problem is, whilst we have large quadrupeds to study, animals such as elephants and rhinos, there is simply no extant equivalent of a huge, bipedal dinosaur!  This might be fortunate from a personal preservation perspective, but for palaeontologists, this poses a huge problem when it comes to considering how these creatures moved.  Sophisticated biomechanical studies such as this one from Manchester University, provide probably the best chance we have when it comes to unravelling the mysteries of dinosaur locomotion.”

The scientific paper: “Investigating the Running Abilities of Tyrannosaurus rex Using Stress-constrained Multibody Dynamic Analysis” by William I. Sellers, Stuart B. Pond, Charlotte A. Brassey, Philip L. Manning, and Karl T. Bates

To read a selection of other articles looking at the running abilities of various dinosaurs:

T. rex Could Run at Nearly Eighteen Miles per Hour!

Argentinosaurus Walks Again

How Fast Could T. rex Run?

Dinosaurs at the Movies – the Anomalies of “Jurassic Park”

17 07, 2017

Dinosaurs of China Exhibition Reviewed

By | July 17th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Main Page, Teaching|3 Comments

A Review of the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition by Thomas Clarke-Williams

Budding young palaeontologist and all-round dinosaur enthusiast Thomas, very kindly sent in a review with photographs of The Dinosaurs of China exhibition to Everything Dinosaur.

Thomas Outside the Splendid Wollaton Hall

Thomas Clarke-Williams at Wollaton Hall.

Thomas, all ready to explore the Dinosaurs of China exhibition.

Picture Credit: Thomas Clarke-Williams

Here is his review….

The Dinosaurs of China exhibition, at Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Lakeside Arts is an amazing, informative, fun, enjoyable and a one-off experience that I highly recommend for all ages.  I particularly enjoyed the Mamenchisaurus and Sinraptor skeletons as they give you a fantastic insight to how big some dinosaurs really were.  It was a nice touch to add a mirror next to the towering display so people can become fully immersed with the size of the whole animal.  I also like how you can go up to the banisters and look down on most of the Mamenchisaurus and the Sinraptor, it adds to the shock and awe of how large these dinosaurs really were.

The Enormous Mamenchisaurus on Display

Mamenchisaurus on display.

The rearing Mamenchisaurus dinosaur exhibit.

Picture Credit: Thomas Clarke-Williams

The art on the walls and in the book, was captivating and amazing to look at.  It helped you to imagine these dinosaurs were alive and moving around, just like they did millions of years ago.  One helpful feature to viewers was the information plaque next to each exhibit.  They included a variety of important facts which were then repeated in the books.

Spectacular Artwork Helps to Bring the Dinosaurs to Life

Artwork by Zhao Chuang (PNSO).

Amazing artwork by Zhao Chuang (PNSO).

Picture Credit: Thomas Clarke-Williams

Something that I did notice is that the Dilophosaurus sinensis and the Alxasaurus are housed in a separate building.  Unfortunately, this separate building is not labelled very clearly in my opinion, and some people, such as myself, missed this part of the exhibition entirely.

Nottingham Lakeside Arts – Well Worth a Visit

All I can say is, when you go, make sure not to miss the Nottingham Lakeside Arts building, it’s well worth visiting.  I also recommend going simply because the exhibition organisers connected the displays at Wollaton Hall with the exhibition displays for a fun experience where you’re constantly switching between modern day and prehistoric times which adds to the experience.  The paleoart used for each exhibit was beautifully done and helps the viewers to see what the dinosaurs may have looked like when they were alive.

Helpful Information Panels Throughout the Exhibition

Confuciuosornis information panel

Helpful and informative display panels throughout the exhibition.

Picture Credit: Thomas Clarke-Williams

The book, which you can pick up and buy from the entrance to the exhibition, is packed with detail and amazing art of the creatures.  The front cover shows the world where Microraptor and Sinornithosaurus lived, which gives a great insight into the lives of dinosaurs right from the start.  Some of the really in-depth facts are missed but it’s only minor as the average person does not need to know all the “nitty gritty stuff” like how a type specimen of Dilong is possibly a juvenile, or the fact that Linheraptor is actually smaller than Velociraptor.  But these minor details are insignificant to the overall presentation of the exhibition.

Birds from the Mesozoic

Using Chinese and Asian Dinosaurs is, in my opinion, the best way of getting people to understand how dinosaurs evolved into birds, as many of the dinosaurs at the exhibition have feathers and some could even glide.  I also like the inclusion of three Mesozoic-aged birds Yanornis, Confuciusornis and Protopteryx.  A pterosaur (Wukongopterus), was used to show the differences between the two lineages.

Genuine Fossil of a Prehistoric Bird

Yanornis fossil on display.

A genuine fossil of a Cretaceous bird (Yanornis martini).

Picture Credit: Thomas Clarke-Williams

Another useful feature that was included on both the information boards, and in the book, tells you how to pronounce the names.  For example, “Yi qi” is pronounce ‘ee chee’.  Another helpful feature was the inclusion of what the name actually means.  A point that may prove interesting to viewers is the comparison on the wall and in the book of some of the Chinese dinosaurs to some American and European dinosaurs.  The fact that Lufengosaurus is included helps people viewing the exhibition to get a good view of where titans such as Mamenchisaurus came from, the dinosaurs they used to dwarf, and it makes you wonder how a 5 to 9-metre-long dinosaur turned into a 23-metre-long one!

Towering Over You the Giant Mamenchisaurus Skeleton

Mamenchisaurus on display.

The head and neck of the immense Mamenchisaurus.

Picture Credit: Thomas Clarke-Williams

More Theropod Dinosaurs Please

Personally, I would have liked for a wider selection of dinosaurs to be on display but that’s just me!  I would have liked the awesome and terrifying Yutyrannus and Sinotyrannus to have been there together as they are large, fearsome, but interesting and in the case of Yutyrannus, beautifully feathered.  Both Chinese tyrants would have made for an excellent exhibit with the two locked in a fierce rivalry with one another.  It would have also been cool if Therizinosaurus made an appearance too, since he is quite popular with his huge claws that would have made for another amazing exhibit.  The theme used for the event sums up what the exhibition is about perfectly, “Ground shakers to feathered flyers”, the transition between prehistoric dinosaurs into modern day ones.  The inclusion of the fake Archaeoraptor fossil is a fun learning experience showing what some people are capable of doing to fossils.  The fake fossil has the tail of Microraptor, the legs of
an unknown animal, and the head and body of a Yanornis, a complete hybrid!

In conclusion, The Dinosaurs of China Exhibition was a great, amazing and enjoyable learning experience for the whole family to enjoy and immerse themselves in and a one-off experience too.  To miss the exhibition would be a real shame, so come to Nottingham to Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Lakeside Arts as fast as you can to meet some of the amazing dinosaurs of Mesozoic China before it’s too late!

Meet Some Amazing Dinosaurs!

Sinraptor - Theropod dinosaur.

The powerful jaws of Sinraptor.

Picture Credit: Thomas Clarke-Williams

Written by: Thomas Clarke-Williams

13 07, 2017

A Whale of a Time at the Natural History Museum

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

Turning our Attention to Mantellisaurus

All change at the Natural History Museum in London with the refurbished main gallery (the Hintze Hall), opening to the public tomorrow.  Suspended over the hall, and replacing the Diplodocus cast (Dippy), will be “Hope” a 25.2-metre-long skeleton of a female Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) symbolising the Museum’s focus on conservation and the natural world.

Ready to Greet Millions of Visitors – The Blue Whale Skeleton (Hintze Hall)

Blue Whale skeleton.

The female Blue Whale skeleton at the London Natural History Museum.

Picture Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

A Conservation Success – So Far

The whale skeleton, some 4.5 tonnes and all 221 bones of it, had previously been on display in the mammals gallery of the museum but it had been partially hidden from public view.  Newly restored and augmented, thanks to some subtle 3-D printing to supplement the bones in the right flipper, this spectacular exhibit is depicted plunging towards the main gallery entrance as if the leviathan is attempting to scoop up visitors.  The Blue Whale helps to highlight a conservation success story.  Fifty years ago, the Blue Whale population had plummeted to just a few hundred and this, the largest animal known to have existed, was on the verge of extinction.  International conservation efforts to help preserve and support populations of baleen whales have paid off, at least in the case of Balaenoptera musculus with an estimated 20,000 individuals swimming the oceans of the world today.  Still this represents less than one tenth of the estimated Blue Whale population at the beginning of the 19th Century.

A Spectacular Pose for “Hope” the Blue Whale Skeleton

The Blue Whale exhibit.

The Blue Whale exhibit (Hintze Hall).

Picture Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

A Nod to Whale Evolution

Visitors to the gallery, may miss a tiny pair of bones located under the massive spinal column of the beast.  If you look up around the mid-point of the spine you might just be able to make out two tiny triangular bones, supported by wires underneath a vertebra.  These are the remains of the hip bones and hind limbs.  These bones are not visible in the living animal, they serve no real purpose anymore, except to prove that whales are descended from four-legged, terrestrial animals.  In fact, whales (Cetacea), belong in the Order Artiodactyla, the even-toed hoofed mammals and molecular studies suggest their nearest land-living relatives today are the Hippopotamuses (hippos and whales are grouped into the Whippomorpha).

Proof that Whales are Descended from Terrestrial Mammals

Hind limbs of the blue whale.

Evidence of the hind limbs of the Blue Whale.

Picture Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Lorraine Cornish, the Museum’s Head of Conservation, exclaimed:

“Hope is the only blue whale skeleton in the world to be hung in the diving lunge feeding position.  Suspending such a large, complex and historical specimen from a Victorian ceiling was always going to be challenging, but we were determined to show her in as lifelike position as possible and we are thrilled that the result is truly spectacular.”

Wonder Bays – Look out for Mantellisaurus

“Dippy” may have gone but the Hintze Hall will be home to one dinosaur at least.  In one of the side bays a mounted skeleton of the iguanodontid Mantellisaurus (M.atherfieldensis) has been put on display.

A Nod to Gideon Mantell – Mantellisaurus

Mantellisaurus on display.

Mantellisaurus on display in the Hintze Hall.

Picture Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The mounted Mantellisaurus specimen represents one of the most complete dinosaur specimens excavated from the UK.  At Everything Dinosaur, we think the specimen is NHMUK R5764, if it is, this is the holotype and it was discovered in 1914, by a local fossil collector called Reginald Hooley whilst he was exploring several, large shale blocks near Atherfield Point (Isle of Wight).  During his lifetime, Sir Richard Owen, the anatomist who helped found what is now called the Natural History Museum, did a great deal to denigrate the work of his contemporary Gideon Mantell.  Dinosaur fans as well as distinguished palaeontologists we think, will approve of the Museum’s recognition of Mantell’s contribution to the nascent study of dinosaurs.  Owen’s statue might look down on the exhibits, but the mounted skeleton, once assigned to the Iguanodon genus, now stands proud on the eastern side of the Hintze Hall and it bears the name of one of the other great contributors to early palaeontology.

We look forward to visiting the Museum in the near future.  We will marvel at the spectacular Blue Whale nodding its head in our direction as we walk in, but in turn we will stand before the Mantellisaurus and nod our heads in recognition of the work of Gideon Mantell who did much to shine a light, where before there was only darkness.

12 07, 2017

Feathered Dinosaurs from Iran

By | July 12th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Tracksites Suggested Jurassic Troodontids in Iran

Iranian scientists in collaboration with researchers from China and the United States, have published details of a remarkable set of fossilised dinosaur footprints that provide tantalising evidence of the presence of fast-running, potentially feathered dinosaurs from the Middle Jurassic of Iran.  The tell-tale, two-toed tracks are consistent with the sort of tracks associated with dinosaurs that are assigned to the Eumaniraptora clade (also referred to as the Paraves).  Dinosaurs such as dromaeosaurids and troodontids are characterised by having an enlarged, sickle-shaped claw on the second toe of each foot.  In a number of species, this claw is raised, so any footprints preserved, show just two toes in contact with ground (didactyl tracks), such tracks have been never been reported before from Iran and pre-Cretaceous tracks of this nature are exceptionally rare.

Evidence of Two-Toed Tracks from Iran

Two-toed dinosaur tracks reported from Iran.

Dinosaur tracks from Iran.

Picture Credit: Historical Biology

The picture above shows two of the tracks with accompanying line drawings and a digital analysis of track reference BA-T12 that shows the topographical outline of the track when transposed as a hyporelief print.  A illustration of a typical Eumaniraptoran dinosaur running on just two toes of each foot is shown above the prints.  Note the presence of feathers on the forearm in the illustration.

Didactyl Prints from the Middle Jurassic

Reporting in the academic journal “Historical Biology”, the researchers, which include Lida Xing (China University of Geosciences) and corresponding author Nasrollah Abbassi (University of Zanjan, Iran), along with Martin Lockley (University of Colorado), report the discovery of a small number of footprints preserved in sandstone from the Dansirit Formation in the Alborz Mountains (northern Iran).  The sediments laid down in this area, close to the city of Baladeh, have been dated to the Middle Jurassic based on the extensive plant fossils that have been found in this locality.

As a number of fossils have been found elsewhere in the world, notably China, that reveal these types of dinosaurs to be feathered, it can be inferred that these Iranian dinosaurs too, might have had feathers.  The scientists speculate that these tracks could have been made by a troodontid-like dinosaur.

Two-toed dinosaur trackways have been discovered at several sites, but as far as we at Everything Dinosaur are aware, nearly all of them are reported from much younger, Cretaceous-aged strata.  For example, Dr Martin Lockley, a specialist in ichnofossils (footprints and tracks), has reported didactyl prints from the western United States.

To read more about this discovery: Raptor Tracks from Colorado

For an article published in 2007 about tracksites that suggest pack behaviour in “raptors”: Chinese Dinosaur Tracks Indicate Pack Behaviour in Theropod Dinosaurs

Commenting on the importance of these fossils, Associate Professor Nasrollah Abbasi stated that this discovery was significant for two main reasons, first, it proves that Iran was home to feathered dinosaurs in the past, and second, it sheds some light on the behaviour of these two-toed dinosaurs.

An Illustration of a Typical “Raptor” Dinosaur

A typical dromaeosaurid dinosaur.

A typical dromaeosaur dinosaur.

Picture Credit: John Sibbick

Aalenian-Bajocian of the Middle Jurassic

The research team report that the tracks superficially resemble footprints attributed to small deinonychosaurian dinosaurs known mainly from the Cretaceous of Asia.  They comment that the relative lengths of digits III and IV are atypical of deinonychosaurids, especially dromaeosaurids, but they could potentially have come from a troodontid-like dinosaur.  The research team conclude that the possibility of small, cursorial Middle Jurassic  deinonychosaurids cannot be ruled out.  However, the researchers are very aware of the problems associated with confirming the presence of these types of dinosaurs from the Aalenian-Bajocian faunal stages of the Middle Jurassic.  If these tracks were made by these types of dinosaurs, this would demonstrate that dromaeosaurids or troodontid-type Theropods lived some 175 million years ago.

Reports of two-toed (didactyl) prints that date from before the Cretaceous remain exceptionally rare and such trace fossils predate all known deinonychosaurian body fossil occurrences.

A Model of a Member of the Dromaeosauridae (Microraptor)

Microraptor dinosaur model.

A member of the Dromaeosauridae sub-family the Microraptorinae.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

11 07, 2017

Explosive Radiation of Bird Species After Dinosaur Demise

By | July 11th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page|0 Comments

Birds Evolved Very Rapidly after Cretaceous Mass Extinction

The discovery of the fragmentary remains of a tiny bird is helping scientists to piece together the evolution of modern types of bird.  It seems that the Aves (birds), were very quick off the mark after the demise of the dinosaurs and the flying reptiles at the end of the Cretaceous*, within a few million years of the extinction event, the ancestors of most types of today’s birds had evolved.  Palaeontologists had been aware of the rapid evolution and radiation of the Mammalia after the end Cretaceous extinction event, but the birds too underwent a speedy period of evolution to exploit the environmental niches vacated by extinct organisms.  Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – USA (PNAS), researchers describe the discovery of a new species of fossil bird from New Mexico.  As the oldest known tree-dwelling bird species amongst modern bird groups, the fossils of this nuthatch-sized creature support the theory that birds underwent an explosive period of evolution in the aftermath of the dinosaur extinction.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Early Paleogene Bird – Tsidiiyazhi abini

Tsidiiyazhi abini life reconstruction.

Life reconstruction of the Tsidiiyazhi abini.

Picture Credit: Sean Murtha

The Significance of Tsidiiyazhi abini

Scientists from the Bruce Museum (Connecticut), the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science (Albuquerque, New Mexico) have published a paper detailing the discovery of the fragmentary remains of a bird from the from the Nacimiento Formation of New Mexico.  The fossils date from 62.221 to 62.517 million years ago (Late Danian faunal stage of the Palaeocene Epoch), less than four million years after the extra-terrestrial impact event in the Yucatan Peninsula that marked the extinction of around seventy percent of all terrestrial life forms.  The bird has been named Tsidiiyazhi abini, the name being derived from the local Navajo (Diné Bizaad) and it translates as “little morning bird”.  At Everything Dinosaur, we have checked with the Bruce Museum to ensure we can relate the correct pronunciation, our apologies to any native Navajo speakers, but we think the name is pronounced – “City-ya-zee ah-bin-ih, with a focus on a “dee” sound in “City” rather than an emphasis on the “Tee” syllable.

Tiny Fragmentary Fossils Tell the Story of Bird Evolution

Tsidiiyazhi abini fossils.

Fragmentary fossils including limb bones.

Picture Credit: PNAS

Supporting Evidence from “Molecular Clocks”

Palaeontologists are aware of the growing evidence from molecular studies into evolutionary relationships that suggests the birds diverged and evolved rapidly after the K-Pg extinction.  Unfortunately, the fossil record of birds is exceptionally poor.  Very few fossils of birds are known from the Early Palaeocene.  These animals tend to be small, their bones are delicate and the arboreal environment all tend to greatly reduce any fossilisation potential.  The New Mexico fossil find is highly significant as T. abini has been assigned to the Sandcoleidae family, an extinct basal family of stem mousebirds (Coliiformes).   The discovery of Tsidiiyazhi pushes the minimum divergence ages of as many as nine additional major neoavian lineages into the earliest Palaeocene, suggesting a very rapid evolution of Aves after the Cretaceous mass extinction.

Thanks to developments in genetics, scientists can study the evolutionary relationships of living organisms by comparing details of their genetics.  A time when two, now distinct and separate but related organisms shared a common ancestor can be calculated using the idea that the molecules which form genes accumulate mutational changes in a clock-like, constant rate over geological time.  Researchers can use the changes in genetics of an organism to plot the approximate time when these species diverged from a common ancestor.  The “molecular clock” data points to a period of rapid evolution for the Aves just a few million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs, fossil finds, such as the fragmentary fossils of Tsidiiyazhi abini provide further evidence to support this idea.  In essence, the ancestors of all the major groups of modern birds we see today, had already evolved just a few million years after the last dinosaur (non-avian dinosaur) died.

Fossil Hunting – It’s a Family Affair

The tiny fossil bones were found by eleven-year-old twins Taylor and Ryan Williamson, the sons of Dr Tom Williamson, a palaeontologist specialising in the study of Palaeocene vertebrates based at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, who co-authored the scientific paper.  Mousebirds are only found in sub-Saharan Africa today, however, these fossils help to confirm that these gregarious, fruit and seed eaters were much more geographically widespread in the past.  Analysis of the delicate foot bones show that Tsidiiyazhi abini had evolved specialisations of the foot that let it reverse its fourth toe to better grasp and hold onto branches.

Twins Ryan and Taylor Williamson Found the Fossil Remains

Tsidiiyazhi abini fossil site.

Twins Ryan and Taylor Williamson found the bones of the Palaeocene bird Tsidiiyazhi abini.

Picture Credit: Dr Tom Williamson (New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science)

The ability to reverse the fourth toe is referred to as semizygodactyly, this is an adaptation for life in the trees and the fossils of Tsidiiyazhi provides evidence that many groups of birds arose just a few million years after the K-Pg extinction event and had already begun to evolve specialisations of the foot bones to allow them to exploit different ecological niches.

The scientific paper: “Early Paleocene Landbird Supports Rapid Phylogenetic and Morphological Diversification of Crown Birds after the K–Pg Mass Extinction” by Daniel T. Ksepka, Thomas A. Stidham, and Thomas E. Williamson published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

*Note

It is a common misconception that only the Dinosauria, marine reptiles and the Pterosauria were casualties of the mass extinction event that marked the end of the Cretaceous.  Several other types of terrestrial vertebrate also suffered extinctions including the Aves and Mammalia.  Many kinds of primitive bird along with different genera of mammals died out either at or shortly after the K-Pg boundary.  Marine ecosystems were also badly affected and in addition, several families of plants did not survive this extinction.

10 07, 2017

Swiss Fossil Discovery Solves Triassic Reptile Mystery

By | July 10th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

The Marine Reptile That Wasn’t –  Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi

A team of scientists from Zurich University and the University of Oxford have resolved a scaly, fourteen-year mystery concerning a small reptile that lived some 241 million years ago in the Middle Triassic.  The little diapsid named Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi has had quite a chequered history, but thanks to a remarkable fossil find, palaeontologists have a much better idea of what this reptile looked and equally importantly where it lived.  This animal was very much at home on land and not a marine reptile as previously thought.

An Illustration of Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi

Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi.

Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi illustrated.

Picture Credit: Beat Scheffold, Palaeontological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich

Fossil Discovery in 2003

Named from a single, disarticulated specimen found in marine strata on the Swiss-Italian border some fourteen years ago Eusaurosphargis was thought at first to be some form of fish, after all, the fossil was found in rocks formed from sediment laid down in a shallow lagoon.  Once the skeleton had been prepared, the fossil material was identified as a diapsid reptile and the taphonomy suggested that this was a reptile that lived in the sea.  Taphonomy is the study of the fossilisation process.  It concerns everything that happens to an organism from death until the time when, if serendipity permits, its fossil is discovered.  A new fossil find, this time from the Grisons Mountains (Graubünden canton of Switzerland), a much more complete and articulated specimen, has revealed the true nature of Eusaurosphargis, it was definitely a land-lubber and as such has a superficial similarity to the extant girdled lizards (Cordylidae) of southern Africa.

A Beautifully Well-Preserved Fossil Proves Eusaurosphargis was Terrestrial

Eusaurosphargis fossil.

The articulated fossil skeleton of Eusaurophargis.

Picture Credit: Torsten Scheyer, Palaeontological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich

No Sign of Marine Adaptations

The Swiss specimen measures around twenty centimetres in length and as such, it represents a juvenile.  However, the skeleton shows a flange of osteoderms on the side of the body along with a number of bony scales on its back.  The sprawling limbs show no signs of adaptation for a swimming lifestyle and the tail is very short, so short, that in water it would not have provided much propulsion.  This fossil, excavated from the Prosanto Formation near Ducanfurgga at an altitude of 2,740 metres, strongly supports the idea that this was a terrestrial animal.

Writing in the academic journal “Scientific Reports”, the Anglo-Swiss team of researchers led by Torsten Scheyer, a palaeontologist at the University of Zurich, and James Neenan from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have concluded that the carcass was washed off a nearby island into the sea basin and became embedded in the finely layered marine sediments after death.

Convergent Evolution

Commenting on the superficial resemblance between the Triassic Eusaurosphargis and modern-day members of the Cordylidae family, Dr Scheyer explained:

“This is a case of convergent development as the extinct species is not closely related to today’s African lizards.”

The Site of the Fossil Discovery – in the Middle of a Mountain Range

Triassic reptile fossil site.

The location of the Eusaurosphargis fossil discovery.

Picture Credit:  Christian Obrist

The Irony of the Phylogeny of Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi

Based on this new, and much better-preserved fossil material, the research team were able to conduct a more detailed phylogenetic study of E. dalsassoi to establish where, in the extremely diverse Diapsida this little reptile should be nested.  The phylogenetic analysis indicates that its closest relatives were marine reptiles, animals such as Ichthyosaurs.  Eusaurosphargis may even be the sister taxon to Helveticosaurus, a Mid Triassic marine reptile, fossils of which, also come from Switzerland.

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